The Pardner Hand and Black entrepreneurship in the UK

Explore how Pardner Hand helped the Windrush Generation overcome financial exclusion to achieve their entrepreneurial dreams
Published on 23 June 2023


Catherine Ross and Lynda Burrell, co-founders of Museumand 

This is the second blog in a series of blogs written by Museumand – the National Caribbean Heritage Museum celebrating the role and contribution of the Caribbean community in the UK. In our first blog, we introduced the history of Pardner Hand, a community-based savings scheme that was brought to the UK by members of the Windrush Generation. Community-based savings schemes are also known as Rotating Savings and Credit Associations (ROSCAs), but the Pardner Hand is much more than just a savings scheme. It has been an essential and fascinating part of African and Caribbean history, heritage and culture for centuries, with deep significance for the Windrush Generation and their descendants.  

The Pardner Hand is an informal, community-based savings scheme based on trust. The scheme is one of community togetherness, a pooling of resources for the enrichment of all. It enables people to save as a group, with everyone putting in a set amount and each person, or ‘pardner’, taking it in turns to have the pot, or ‘hand’. One person is appointed as ‘banker’ to hold the pot until it’s ready to give out.

When the Windrush Generation arrived in the UK from the Caribbean in the late 1940s, many people faced barriers to accessing basic British financial services such as bank accounts. So the Pardner Hand became an important lifeline.

A family poses for a photo in front of a house purchased through savings from Pardner. Image: Provided by Museumand.

Windrushers often had to find additional ways to make ends meet, especially those in low-paid jobs. When society and its institutions hamper people from making money through more acceptable means, they often have no other choice than to turn to alternative means like ‘hustling’. Today, a ‘side hustle’ often refers to a second job or making money from a hobby, but in past ‘hustling’ was associated with being a ‘wheeler dealer’ and was often frowned on by wider society. 

But the Windrush Generation understood the need for ‘hustling’ and used the Pardner Hand system to support this. These ‘side hustles’ started off as cottage industries in the Caribbean and have been operating since the days of enslavement and during periods of economic hard times. Continuing this tradition in the UK, the Windrush Generation, and their descendants were able to develop additional income streams as they used skills learned in the Caribbean, and new ones acquired through employment in the UK.

“Pardner helped us make our dreams come true – start our business, and make Britain home” – The Jacksons

A box for an Avon Fragrance Demonstrator. Image: Provided by Museumand.

Some earned extra money selling products for well-known companies like Avon Cosmetics, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Fashion Fair, Amway, Herbal Life, and Betterware Homecare. Others grew vegetables popular with Caribbeans in their gardens and allotments and sold them to the community. Some were unlucky and were tempted by too good to be true, money-making schemes that turned out to be illegal and fraudulent, such as Ponzi and pyramid schemes, and lost their money.

Many businesses created by the Windrush Generation have been passed down through families or have inspired the younger generation to start their own businesses. Many examples of black entrepreneurs, with some started through participation in a Pardner Hand, can be seen in a variety of industries.

Having a 'set of wheels' has been a goal for many whether that has been for convenience, independence or social status. Learning to drive was the first step for many arriving in the UK, and some Caribbeans even became instructors and owners at driving schools. Elliotts School of Motoring, founded in 1985, was one of the first Caribbean-owned driving schools in Nottingham. (Photo: Provided by Museumand)

Elliott's School of Motoring, which was funded with Pardner savings. Image: Provided by Museumand.

In the early days of the Windrush era, UK hair salons didn’t know how to care for Black hair. Caribbean hairdressers and barbers opened home salons, while others produced Black haircare products and styling accessories. Also, sound systems developed by the Windrush Generation created a unique beat that resonated with Black British-born young people and their friends from across wider society, revolutionising the British music scene. The Pardner Hand system enabled young people to save for the equipment they needed to build the sound systems, including the electronics and vast wooden speaker boxes that created and amplified the sound.

For many Caribbean entrepreneurs, what started as a cottage industry in those early Windrush years became fully-fledged businesses. Many sectors of British life have benefitted from the Windrush Generation’s creativity and skill as they established themselves, taking their place in British business marketplace, contributing to fulfilling society’s needs and still having commercial impact.

With gratitude to the Museumand community for sharing their stories and memories of Pardner Hand.