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Inspirational Black nurses : Princess Campbell, Bristol’s activist nurse

Today, we celebrate nurse Princess Campbell, not only one of Bristol’s first black nurses but also one of the first black ward sisters in the NHS and a pioneering figure in the activist scene in Bristol. Nurse Campbell came to the UK in the early 60s where she experienced racism both at work and in her personal life. This led her to actively fight for the rights of her fellow Black people from early on in her career until hear death.

Nurse Princess Campbell - Source : Bristol Museums

Nurse Princess Campbell was born in Kingston Jamaica in 1939, and decided to come to England after hearing the “Your Mother Country needs you” plea on the radio.

At aged 23, encouraged by her mother, she travelled to the UK and arrived in Bristol in 1962 , where she stayed with a friend before starting her nursing training in 1964. Upon arrival, she recalls having a hard time finding decent housing and employment because she was Black and also witnessed the racism Black people like her experienced in Bristol at the time. Her early experiences of racism led her to join the fight for equality for Black people in Bristol and the year she arrived, she took part in the protests against the Black drivers ban on Bristol buses . The Bristol bus boycott resulted in the bus company dropping the ban a year later.

In order to settle quickly in her new city, nurse Campbell originally worked at the Wills Tobacco Factory for a couple of years (she was the first Black person to work there) until she decided to pursue her ambition to become a nurse. She started her general nurse training at Manor Park and once she completed it, she worked at Glenside Hospital in Fishponds, where she noticed unequal distribution of workload within the ward. She remembers that "the English nurses would have the easiest jobs; we, the black nurses, would be in the sluice cleaning bedpans and vomit boards. You couldn't complain because the ward sister made a report. You had to put up or shut up."

"You had to put up or shut up." - Nurse Campbell on her experience with racism when she first started working as a nurse

However, despite the discrimination she and other Black staff faced, nurse Campbell persevered and stayed at the hospital, gaining additional qualifications in psychiatric nursing , receiving the support of her colleagues along the way. In the early 1970s, when nurse Campbell decided it was time to progress her nursing career, she applied for a ward sister position at her hospital where she was up against a White colleague. Despite her White colleague being younger, less experienced and unqualified, nurse Campbell didn’t get the job. This decision caused an uproar amongst the hospital’s staff as nurse Campbell was popular with her colleagues and even they could tell that she had been victim of discrimination. This led to the hospital apologising to her and promising her to give her the promotion she deserved next time a ward sister role came up. In 1974, her hard work, patience and perseverance eventually paid and she finally became a ward sister.

In the 1980s, after decades of being refused decent accommodation by racist landlords, she played an important role in setting up the United Housing Association, which helps Black people access good quality housing. She also became involved in the management committee of the Malcom X community centre in the and Golden Agers Club in Bristol, the two main associations catering for older people from the African-Caribbean community. Nurse Campbell was also one of the founders of the Bristol Black Archives Partnership and in 2007, she played a key role in the 200 anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. In 2011, she received an MBE for her continuous working towards improving her local community. The following words from Nurse Campbell summarise her philosophy : “Use determination and your self-esteem: value yourself and let no one crush you. When you come up against challenges and adversity, don’t run away; stay and fight if you want to change things.”

She died in 2015 at the age of 76 where her funeral filled the streets of Easton in Bristol.

Nurse Campbell was a key figure not only within the NHS but also in her local community where she fought for equality and better living conditions for Black people from the day she arrived in the UK until she died. She’s a model of hard work and perseverance in the face of adversity and a positive inspiration for all Black nurses fighting for racial equality and justice within the NHS.

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