Mr Renel Newman

Renel Newman was born in Manchester, Jamaica in 1939. He came to the UK by plane in 1968, having briefly worked in the US.

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A Jamaican childhood

Renel Newman remembers a childhood free of pressure.

His father had married again after being widowed which meant Renel had six grown-up brothers and sisters who were not living at home.

He started at Comfort Hall School when he was seven and remembers classes starting at 8am. School was fun – but rural educational standards were not high. The emphasis was on discipline rather than teaching pupils to read and write.

Renel recalls how one teacher (Miss Anderson) would often beat the children on the school steps, simply for being at the back of the queue.

Renel attended school until his father fell ill when he was fourteen. After that, he was needed on the family farm to take care of the animals.

Renel’s father was not a churchgoer; however, he always respected the religious holidays of Good Friday and Easter Sunday and insisted his children were quiet at home on both days.

Young adulthood

When he was 16, Renel moved to Kingston, leaving his younger brother to take over the farm work. He stayed in the city for eleven years, before leaving Jamaica in 1962 to do farm work in America for nine months.

In the US, farm workers lived on camps and were known by number rather than name. Renel has never forgotten his number – 263. The men did not leave the fields to eat, but were brought food on a truck.

Upon his return, Renel and his girlfriend set up a little shop in New River but it wasn’t successful so they returned to Kingston.

Moving to the UK

Renel always planned to come to England; however, while he was working in the US, Jamaica had gained its independence. This meant Jamaican nationals no longer had the right to live and work in the UK, but needed a work visa (or to marry a British national).

His girlfriend had two sisters living in Newport and they were able to help secure her work visa around 1965; however, it wasn’t until 1968 that Renel himself was able to join her. His brother-in-law found him a job in London, thus securing the necessary work visa. Renel left Jamaica in March, the day before his 31st birthday.

Having built up a picture of Britain in his mind – all buildings, roads and cars – Renel was pleasantly surprised to discover that Wales was a green country, with lots of farmland. Furthermore, the weather was warm enough for animals like cows and sheep to graze outside.

Renel believes that the first Caribbean immigrants who came to the UK in the 1950s and 1960s were able to ‘blunt all the sharp edges’, thus making it easier for those who came later.

Jobs and employment

Unfortunately, Renel’s first London job didn’t last long – his employer was sorry but there was insufficient work to keep him on. Determined to stay in the UK, Renel soon found work as a kitchen porter at a hospital.

Now he was working, Renel turned his attention to his number one priority: bringing his two small children to the UK (they were currently being looked after by his girlfriend’s parents in Jamaica).

Renel felt Wales would be a better place to bring up a family, so after just nine months in London, Renel moved to Newport in December.

He quickly found a job at the Saunders Valve in Newport. Despite being a complete novice in heavy industry, Renel knew he had to stick it out. His hard work paid off and soon he was taken on as a machine moulder – a better-paid job.

Not everyone was pleased with Renel’s promotion; one man who had worked with him at labourer level believed the job should have been his and refused to work with Renel that first Monday evening.

Renel eventually retired from heavy industry in 2004; however, he soon got bored of doing nothing. He found a cleaning job in a children’s nursery and stayed there for three years.

By this time, his long-time friend Toni Smith had set up Dutchy’s Jerk Shack in Caerleon and Renel was working as his chef, juggling the two jobs. Eventually, Renel was forced to choose and he decided to continue at Dutchy’s.

Living in Pill

When Renel arrived in Newport in December 1968, he had no real feelings about the place other than he needed to earn the necessary money to get married and bring his children over from Jamaica.  In 1971, he picked them up from Heathrow Airport – they were eleven and nine years old.

Renel believes that most Caribbean people settled in Pill because it was the only area that would accept immigrants. There was little choice, he said, people had to take what they could get in terms of accommodation and jobs.

On a positive note, Pill’s small Caribbean community was very close-knit in the 1970s. At Christmas time, families would go from house to house, eating together and playing dominoes.  

Returning to Jamaica

Renel loves his Jamaican roots; however, when his family was young, he wasn’t able to return to the island as often as he’d have liked. Now, he tries to go every two years and stays for six weeks at a time.

He has one daughter living in Jamaica and she has twin daughters.

Renel loves the fact that everything is fresh in Jamaica, and that he gets the opportunity to talk once more the Jamaican way – not what he considers patois but much faster than the way he speaks in Newport.  

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