“It was a real cultural shock. I lived near Brixton, so coming to the Wirral was a real eyeopener for my family,” says Garrick Prayogg.
“My kids were the only black children in school, there were no services for black people. Those first few years weren’t easy.”
Liverpool, Garrick says, had its long-established Caribbean Centre, but there was nothing quite like that on our side of the water.
Birkenhead’s Multicultural Centre, originally built as a place of refuge for the Vietnamese boat people, offered some respite. But, as Garrick says: “it mainly focused on Asian culture.
"I wanted to create a deeper network for the African and Caribbean people I’d met, who felt isolated and vulnerable.”
Working with a small group of women who’d set up the Wirral Group for Racial Equality, Garrick set to it. Before long, his Cultural Diversity Network began to make its presence heard. In more ways than one.
“We delivered 20 years of festivals in Birkenhead’s Pacific Road venue,” says Garrick, who’s pretty handy behind a booming sound system too: “aah, that was back in the day,” he laughs.
“Don’t forget, Africa Oyé started on the Wirral,” he reminds us. “We knew how to do these things.”
For Garrick, festivals were a way to break down the cultural barriers that still clung on in some parts of our region.
“It really worked,” he says. “Chinese, Bangladeshi and Indian groups came together and learnt from each other. It was a magical time. We’d talk during the day, and have a big dance in the evening!”
Out of those music-fuelled mash ups came the deeper relationships and new ways of connecting that Garrick is still mining today. Still as driven and determined as ever.
Every Wednesday you’ll see Garrick, and his band of volunteers at Liscard’s Cherry Tree Centre: “We have ladies offering therapy, mental health support, lots of advice for anyone who needs it.”
Each week sees pop-up shops, credit union experts and support organisations ready and willing to do what they can: “We engage with people who are lonely, and who don’t know what services are out there,” Garrick says. “Because I know how hard that can be.
“When I moved from London, the plan was to head to Yorkshire. We stopped at the Wirral, and something made us stay, even though it was tough at first.
“Now there is a real community here. You see more black faces on the street. There’s a sense that we’re all better connected.
"And we’re all benefitting from what that brings.”
Cultural Diversity Network
10-12 Bentinck St, Birkenhead, CH41 4DY
Image credit: Jane MacNeil