KINGSTON –– Government and opposition officials yesterday put aside their political differences and joined hands with volunteers in downtown Kingston to renovate the historic Ward Theatre and Central Police Station. Both buildings were the main focus of National Labour Day activities in Kingston being observed under the theme: Restore, Preserve, Beautify.
The Ward Theatre, which sits in the heart of downtown Kingston, has been idle for close to a decade, while Central Police Station, which has held some of the country’s most notorious criminals, has, over the years, deteriorated.
Yesterday morning when the Jamaica Observer visited the Ward Theatre volunteers from government agencies as well as the private sector suited in protective gear and, clutching paintbrushes, climbed ladders and scaffolding as they applied paint to the building.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who also did his fair share of painting, said that it is important to preserve Jamaica’s culture.
“It is very rare that we see wealth in our culture. If Jamaica was to be measured by its cultural worth it would be a very wealthy country. But because sometimes culture gets sidelined because of all kinds of social issues . . . we reject things because we say that they are old, and they are not modern, they are not in keeping with what we are doing in the sense of recency,” Holness said.
As a result of that, he said the country’s wealth is oftentimes destroyed by the ravages of the time, neglect and ignorance.
However, the prime minister said that the government will ensure that the historic theatre is restored.
“We cannot allow this monument of our country, this storage of what we call our heritage, to be destroyed,” he said, adding that he has decided to make an allocation to the national monument.
The Ward Theatre was donated to the city of Kingston by Colonel C J Ward in 1912, and was declared a national monument in January 2000. Prior to the structure’s deterioration it was the venue for the annual pantomime and other premier entertainment events.
In addition, Holness said he is anticipating the day when his children will be able to watch pantomime at the theatre.
“I would love to see the day when we are having world-class performances in the arts here and everyone can come. Whether you are from Dunkirk, whether you are from Tivoli, from Southside, from Olympic Gardens, from wherever, that you can come and experience the upliftment of culture, and so we are making that investment to protect our wealth,” the prime minister added.
While acknowledging the resistance and courage of the nation’s foreparents and the labour movement, Holness said citizens must now use their labour to fulfil their dreams.
Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia Grange said the theatre has been in disrepair for too long.
Grange, who was quick to point out that renovation commenced a few days ago, said the work will continue and that she is hoping that the Ward will be reopened in August.
While noting that she is grateful for the support, Grange said the reopening of the building is a priority to central and local government.
Opposition Leader Peter Phillips, who also participated in the Labour Day activities, said they demonstrate that, despite political differences, people are able to come together for the upliftment of the country.
“All across Jamaica there are people putting some work into Labour Day as part of their contribution to building Jamaica. And I want to take this opportunity to applaud all those people all over the country who are demonstrating their . . . commitment through volunteerism today,” Phillips said.
He also expressed hope that the surrounding communities in downtown Kingston will be enhanced.