She’s the “accidental” travel agent who knows more than most about the circle of life.
Because for more than 30 years Beverley Lindsay’s Birmingham firm has been helping families return to the Caribbean for births, marriages and deaths – among a string of other reasons.
And she knows a fair bit, too, about the longing for home experienced by those flying back to the sun from the city’s often-chilly climes.
Beverley arrived in Birmingham from Jamaica as a teenager in the 1960s.
She was a single mum-of-two before she turned 20 and lost a child to suicide – but these adversities have only propelled her forward.
She started Diamond Travel on a whim in the 1980s as she needed office space to continue her other part-time work.
Three decades later, the company has become a lifeline for many families crippled by the huge costs of travelling to the Caribbean.
For many, the shop in Dudley Road, Edgbaston, has been the only way to return to the country of their birth, attend a family funeral and get married.
With lockdown measures and airlines in chaos due to the coronavirus pandemic, the travel industry is fighting to stay afloat. But Diamond Travel is holding on.
“Through all of the trials and tribulations over 30 years, maybe calling the firm Diamond was the right name,” Beverley said. “You can’t crush a diamond, it’s the toughest stone.”
Beverley, who would not reveal her age, moved to Birmingham as a teen with her older brother.
It was a huge change for the pair, who were used to big homes and a ‘helper’ – a normal practice in Jamaica employing someone to help out with housework.
“When I arrived in Birmingham it was a bit of a culture shock,” she said.
“When we came to England we were looking for this nice, big mansion. It was winter, it was dull, wet and cold. My mother picked us up from the airport and we turned up at a gate. There was this red brick house with smoke coming out of the house.
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“I thought it was a factory. That was my home. It wasn’t anything like we imagined.”
Life soon took an unexpected turn for Beverley.
“I became a teenage mother,” she said. “I had two children before I was 20. When I found out I was pregnant I ran away from home. I was expected to do well. In the 1960’s it was frowned upon and you brought disgrace on the family. It was extremely challenging.”
In a desperate attempt to make a life for herself, Beverley made the heart-breaking decision to continue working – forcing her to send one child back to the Caribbean and the other to be cared for by a childminder.
Living on £40 a month she worked long hours and took on extra shifts.
“It was quite a sad time for me,” she said. “I had challenges, being faced with two children at that time.
“Living on my own I worked hard, double shifts and saw my son on my days off.
“I started working as a nurse in a hospital and trained as a midwife. I didn’t tell the hospital I had children. It was a different time. A single mother, and especially a black single mother, you weren’t accepted.”
‘I am the accidental business’
After ten years in nursing, Beverley began working as a community organiser.
During the 1980s Caribbean financial institutions began coming to the UK to promote their services to Jamaican migrants.
Using her organising prowess, she became a marketing co-ordinator for the Jamaican Consulate.
“When I was doing it at first it was just volunteering. They offered me a job and I was looking for an office to rent to do it.
“I knew someone who had just lost their job in travel. I knew a little bit about travelling from working as a nurse. I just needed an office upstairs in the building just to occupy the space. I eventually ended up purchasing the building.
“Diamond Travel began and 44 years later I’m still there. I am the accidental business.”
The travel shop has been open since 1987 but it has not come without a fair share of challenges.
“It was not easy,” she said. “I knew nothing about business. I started out on my own.
“I had no central heating, nothing at all in the building. I had pneumonia because it was so cold in there.
Despite the challenges, business boomed and Diamond became a permanent fixture for many black families wanting to travel to the Caribbean.
“We are fortunate I have a contract with British Airways,” Beverley said. “They call it special fares. We allow people to pay a deposit to pay their flight. They can wait to pay the balance. It is a cultural thing.
“It’s not just going on holiday, it’s going home. The family wedding, the family funeral or the 100th birthday.
“Our people like to go home with their families. You might find a family of five or six and it is difficult to pay for all of this. It’s quite a lot of money. It’s more than sun, sea and sand.”
But the last six months, during the pandemic, have been the most testing times for the shop. Many have been forced to cancel holiday plans – putting the future of the business at risk.
“I need some divine intervention,” Beverley said.
“In 30 years in business we’ve seen wars, hurricanes, ash clouds and 9/11. But this coronavirus is another story.”
“The biggest blow is we have to refund people. We’re a small business, we’re living hand-to-mouth. There was a time I worked until midnight answering calls.
“I don’t know what the future will bring and what lies ahead.
“By some miracle I am still here, holding on by a thread.”