(L-R) HEART Trust National Training Agency (NTA) industry liaison officer Jodi-Ann Shaw; Spanish Ambassador to Jamaica Josep Maria Bosch Bessa; Ruben Dario Romero, project manager, operations, TSK Group; Rev. Sandra Nembhard, Faith Baptist Church; Joseph Williams, senior VP, generation, JPS. (Background) Lloyd Grant, councillor, Old Harbour South DivisionPhoto: Contributed
The community of Old Harbour Bay is extremely delighted with the J$17 million investment by Spanish firm TSK Group to renovate its community centre in Blackwood Gardens, says Rev. Sandra Nembhard one of the main crusaders who lobbied for the project.
“My heart is extremely overjoyed and the community on a whole is overjoyed,” said Rev.Nembhard at the centre’s grand reopening on November 4.
Nembhard, who is head of the Jamaica Faith Baptist Church based in the community, added: “It is a community effort that really makes this possible. So we are very, very grateful as a community as we partner together with vision to move this community as Nehemiah envisioned.”
Built in1976, the centre fell into disrepair following the passages of three major storms, the last being Hurricane Dean in 2007.
But with residents like the very passionate reverend and others they were able to get buy-in from the Spanish company presently in the area constructing the 190 megawatt power plant at the Jamaica Public Service Company facility located in the community.
Robert Pike is one of the longstanding campaigners for the centre to be rehabilitated. He grew up in the community and though he resides outside, remains integrally involved.
Pike tells Old Harbour News their struggles have been an uphill task for many years.
“It’s a tremendous blessing,” he said on the night of the event attended by the Spanish Ambassador to Jamaica and several other dignitaries.
“We have been trying over the years to get a community centre and now we have a proper one.”
A part from natural disasters, vandals from within the community also contributed to the destruction of the centre, noted Pike, who also credited the efforts of Rev. Nembhard.
“We still fight to get something going and Miss Nembhard and her crew re-established a committee which played a significant role,” he said.
Former government Senator and attorney-at-law Dr Keste Miller, who is a native of the community, says the facility will empower the community, while recounting the journey to its present state.
“It’s very important because of the direction it has taken and the momentum it has gathered to take us to where we are now,” said Dr Miller of the centre.
“The names I’d called in my presentation namely John Fothergill, Muriel Gordon, Ken Clarke, SJ Campbell, those were the persons who actually signed the contract to purchase these six acres of land and to build this community centre.
“But as kids, for them to have gotten the funds to buy it, they had a lot of fundraising dance and our job as children was to gather the bottles because they say that’s where the profit is to buy the place.”
This was the mid-1970s, but in 1976 the people approached then Member of Parliament Rudyard Lawson, who supported the initiative wholeheartedly, the noted attorney informed.
“He gave the first set of money, buy the material and pay the contractor. But he said you guys must put in the labour. And we all get together and that’s how the first piece went up,” he said.
The facility will be used for training thousands of residents and host community functions, while a committee is already in place to manage the day-to-day operations.
Dr. Miller said: “It will be the centre point for all community activities. Of course later on we will develop the playing field and a multipurpose court and so on. So this is a good start.”
Hearing such plans to preserve the facility is refreshing to the ears of Joseph Williams, who is the senior vice-president of generation at the Jamaica Public Service Company.
Williams has spent most of his 27 years at the JPSCo’s Old Harbour Bay facility where majority of the island’s electricity is generated and is acutely aware of the culture of the community.
Speaking to Old Harbour News, Williams says the community needs to “show appreciation by taking care of it (the community centre) because this is not the first time that there has been investment in improving this – not to the extent that TSK has taken it, certainly…
“But we were not pleased with how the community took care of it,” he added in reference to previous attempts made to restore the centre. “I’m not saying it’s the entire community, you know it just take a small number of persons to destroy it.
“So they can really demonstrate this time that they really appreciate this. And this will certainly encourage more persons to do things like these and identify true potentials from this community that can just do a lot for the community of Old Harbour.”
The construction of the facility lasted five months with over 200 volunteers and majority of the skilled labour utilized drawn from the community.