Minister of Culture Stephen Lashley today gave an assurance that the island’s first free village at Rock Hall, St Thomas — a major plank of this island’s heritage tourism product — would soon be restarted, after a team from Barbados TODAY visited the abandoned site where an incomplete currently statue stands with raw steel jutting out at the base.
A pool of stagnant water has also settled in a shallow trench surrounding the statue.
St Thomas MP Cynthia Forde further pointed out that a bridge, which was to be built to link the area where six kiosks are located, was overgrown with bush and that the paved area in front of the kiosks is strewn with strips of metal, wood, nails and fallen mangoes, while the compound is fully fenced around with corrugated iron.
Work began on the six kiosks back in 2011 but three years later Forde complained that they were still incomplete.
“Nothing has been completed, nobody has been allocated any. Fencing is still around the site and it is overgrown with bush. The residents are still looking for an opportunity especially in these hard times,” the MP said.
She also told Barbados TODAY the six shops had cost more than a million dollars in construction, adding that she had received assurances from the Government while the shops were under construction that the residents would be given the opportunity to ply their trade with visitors from
the west coast.
“These visitors would also learn about the history of the free village and buy souvenirs and refreshments. This has not reached fruition at all,” she said.
She also complained that the young men of Fire Hill Village, which was an integral part of the Free Village, said they saw containers roll into the compound but they were never invited to apply for any jobs on the site.
When contacted, the Minister of Culture said: “I have to get a matter resolved with an adjoining owner in relation to gaining access to the property and that has delayed the project.
“I did a site visit only this week and the Ministry of Transport and Works is to clean up the site and there are certain actions to be taken to get the project going. It is a very important project in our heritage tourism programme, but when these things happen you have to stop and get the problems solved. The first thing to be done is to clear the way to have electricity supplied to the property,” he said.
Research has shown that 38 former slaves had set up the island’s first free village at Rock Hall, after Reynold Ellcock, owner of Mount Wilton and Farmers Plantation, bequeathed land to them in the mid 19th century.
History has also shown that he rewarded his slaves with a monetary bequest of five pounds sterling for not participating in the 1816 rebellion which was led by National Hero, the Right Excellent Bussa.
The statue was unveiled on August 2, 2005, by then Prime Minister Owen Arthur and parliamentary representative for St Thomas, Cynthia Forde.