Frank Bailey was born in Guyana, like many other Caribbean’s of his generation, came to the UK in the 1950s. By the 1950s, many of the country’s key workers in vital sectors were of Caribbean origin, these included London Transport Network and nursing.
Frank, however, challenged the status quo and is particularly remembered for his role as one of the UK’s first full time Black Firefighters.
In an interview in 2007, Frank recalled being told that fire brigades ‘were not hiring black men because they lacked the physicality and mental capacity to do the job.’ Challenging this injustice, he applied to join the service in 1955, where he was successful in joining the West Ham fire brigade in East London. Frank was not only a talented firefighter; he was also a dedicated trade unionist. Despite breaking into a previously closed-off profession, Frank still experienced discrimination and, because of this, left the brigade in 1965, citing that he was consistently passed over for promotion.
Although Frank’s career in the fire brigade could be considered his most enduring legacy, he also broke new ground in his subsequent career as a social worker. He became one of London’s first black mental welfare officers and psychiatric social workers.
Frank’s knowledge and passion for self-organisation and progression in society should remain an inspiration to us all.