Though upset at the manner in which their fire station was closed St James North residents now want to convert the abandoned area into a commercial and community hub that includes the fish market next door.
At a town hall meeting, several villagers in Weston and its environs, floated ideas ranging from remodelling the fire station into part-museum, part-teaching restaurant to a micro-business craft market, while promoting food and entertainment in a rejuvenated fish market on weekends similar to the famed Oistins fish fry.
In the process, they want full community consultation before any changes to the two public properties, and involvement in managing the affairs of what Westoners see as their zone to develop into a bustling commercial and cultural hive.
The residents revealed their plans during a town hall meeting organized by their MP, Minister of Home Affairs Edmund Hinkson, in the Weston Community Centre parking lot.
As the Minister responsible for the fire service, he has delayed signing over the building to the Government’s landlord, the Ministry of Housing, in order to get input from constituents before letting it go, he said.
Minister of the Blue Economy Kirk Humphrey also attended the meeting to update the community on marine matters and get feedback on the development they envision for the fish market.
There has been simmering community anger since last May when the past administration, without warning, closed the Weston Fire Station. This was coupled with long-held complaints of neglect of the Millie Ifill Fish Market.
The residents deemed the fire station pivotal to the community for fire prevention – the nearest fire station serving the densely populated northwest corridor is at Arch Hall, St Thomas.
But they also saw the fire station thwarting illegal drug smuggling in this part of St James, and providing night-time security for the few who sold food and enjoyed Weston’s nightlife.
Ironically Hinkson, who as candidate called on the past government to explain the station’s closure, has now become the person overseeing the fire service as Minister of Home Affairs in the new administration.
But, said Hinkson, he now sits in a Government with no money and so is unable to refurbish the deserted building.
A firefighter and area resident who was transferred to the Airport Fire Station with closure of the Weston unit, Blair Richards, questioned Hinkson on the closure while dismissing reasons he informally heard about the district being flood-prone.
Throughout the almost three-hour meeting, a number of lifetime villagers similarly canned any suggestions of the area being vulnerable to flooding, explaining that the 1995 water disaster that took the life of popular calypsonian Carew was a man-made accident.
“There was only one occasion I know about flooding, and that was the flooding with Carew,” Richards said.
Saying he shared the residents’ anger, Hinkson claimed an examination of ministry files showed the station’s closure was a purely political decision.
“The political directorate has to take responsibility for that, the then Attorney General and the last government …That’s when you become arrogant in terms of your political office,” he said.
Those who live in the area were not short on ideas on what should be done with the currently abandoned building.
Everton Hinds said that there is enough physical and cultural material in northern Barbados to support converting part of the station into a museum. He said that the other space could be used as a training restaurant using teaching services of the Pommarine hotel school.
“There is a lot of talent within this constituency . . . . We could have entrepreneurs in this building. We don’t want two people doing sweet bread, we don’t want two people doing hair because if you’re going to be there you have to be making money. So, it won’t make sense to duplicate the efforts,” said Diana Forde, who said the area has high youth unemployment.
John Jackman said that the building should be annexed to the fish market to combine its new purpose with tourism, presenting an attraction like Oistins and more.
“It hurts my heart to pass and see people selling on Friday nights and if rain falls they go under a little tent to sell things,” he said while calling on Government to do “something more glamorous”.