Sunday, November 19, 2017

Civic group the Old Harbour Development Area Committee (OHDAC) has strongly criticized the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) after the state agency terminated its lease agreement regarding the management and development of the historic Colbeck Castle.

In an October 18, 2017 letter to its stakeholders, former chairman and current chief project officer of the Colbeck Castle Heritage Park Project Randy Finnikin, says the JNHT was motivated by “the money” once state housing agency, the National Housing Trust (NHT) signaled its intention to construct the Villages of Colbeck housing development.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness broke ground in July at the more than 300 year-old site where an estimated 2,000 new homes and two institutions of learning will be built along with other amenities such as a recreational park and commercial offices.

In his 12-point communiqué, Finnikin argued that while the JNHT – owners of all declared heritage sites on the island – “reserves the right to do what they want” with Colbeck Castle, the state body showed “scant regard” towards the OHDAC with whom they had entered into a 15-year lease agreement effective January 2015.

In that contract signed on January 30, 2015 by both parties was a one-year provisional lease for the first year, with the option for an extension once certain obligations are achieved by the OHDAC during first 12 months.

At the end of year one the OHDAC received a six months lease extension, ending June 30, 2016, Finnikin reports, with the Trust requesting of them to “complete one building drawing deemed necessary” before a further extension is granted.

But an extension has not been forthcoming despite OHDAC demonstrating the willingness to develop the site and transform the wider Old Harbour area that would generate direct income for the country.

In OHDAC’s view a clandestine operation has been hatched to get them off the land, with the riches of the NHT waiting in the shadows.

a digital layout of what would be the Colbeck Castle Heritage Park and Gardens (Photo: OH News)

“OHDAC started receiving unofficial messages from JNHT personnel (via caretaker at the castle) demanding that we pay caretaker which was being done by the JNHT prior,” Finnikin said.

“A meeting was sought by OHDAC following the expiration of the provisional lease to advance discussions to secure the lease in order to proceed with pending negotiations and plans.

“A meeting was convened at the JNHT in November 2016. OHDAC was advised that due to the change of government, a new board was being installed and they would have to be briefed on the collaboration, so we are to resubmit our proposal. We protested that there is no need for that given they already have same which is the basis of the lease. The meeting agreed that a project update would suffice and that was submitted within two weeks of that meeting.

“OHDAC received email on May 17, 2017 in response to November 2016 meeting, advising that they will get back to us about the lease. However, JNHT was evoking right of ownership effective June 1, 2017.”

In effect, the JNHT has retaken the day-to-day management of the castle without giving any reason, Finnikin opines, noting that this all happened a month the grand groundbreaking ceremony for the $5.4 billion Villages of Colbeck development.

“You may have noticed our (OHDAC's) deafening silence over the past months on plans for the CCHPP. We have been silenced by a" knockout" or "kick out punch" by the Heritage Trust from the site effective June 1, 2017,” said Finnikin. “Since then we have sought justification for their decision and have received none,” he continued.

“OHDAC responded by letter seeking clarification of email given that ownership was never an issue. There was no response

“During this time personnel from the Trust continue to poison the relationship with OHDAC, the Trust and the caretaker, unofficial messages continued to include instructions for us to retrieve OHDAC’s lawn mowing equipment only.”

He added: “Then the NHT groundbreaking ceremony invitation - note we weren’t contacted by our partner the JNHT about this. All other times before when a request for use of the castle was made of the Trust, they would refer enquirers to OHDAC- whether for a tour or the filming of a movie etc. not this time. I believe for the reason I stated above - the smell of NHT money.

“OHDAC planned a protest to coincide with the groundbreaking ceremony to bring attention to the heavy handed and dissatisfactory approach by the JHNT and others including the Minister of Culture who has not responded to three letters sent to her, also to the Prime Minister.

“NHT asked us not to protest because they are not in conflict with us or vice versa and they will seek to convene discussions with the JNHT and us.

“JNHT convened meeting with OHDAC at their offices to reiterate that OHDAC has no lease because they are considering other options. Asked why is that? They responded (saying) ‘due to dissatisfaction with our management of the place’. Asked how we have never received correspondence to the effect? The response was ‘no correspondence meant dissatisfaction’.

Asked about their plans, they replied ‘they don’t have one at the moment.

“Incredible! But OHDAC who has a plan was booted.

In concluding Finnikin said: “Don’t get me wrong. I believe the JHNT reserves the right to do what they want, which must be in the best interest of preserving the site and showcasing same to our people and others.

“What I detest and vehemently oppose is their approach, which is heavy handed and show scant regard for the principles of good governance, formality, ethics and conduct reflecting an agency of government. Their disrespect to OHDAC and by extension the people of Old Harbour must not be tolerated and those agents of the state must be enlightened about what is acceptable in communication, relationship and partnership building.”

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Colbeck Castle Heritage Park and Gardens will come alive with an exciting array of fun activities in a family fun day, as the Emancipendence Family and Food Fest is expect to rock the historic site on Emancipation Day on August 1.

The Emancipendence Family and Food Fest will feature the best of Jamaica’s cultural heritage, including traditional cuisines, live performances, kiddies village, prizes and surprises. The venue, Colbeck Castle is estimated to have been built in 1680, is a massive and impressive stone and brick ruin with walls standing to their full original height, two miles north of Old Harbour. Hosted by the Old Harbour Development Area Committee (OHDAC), the second staging of the annual event is anticipated to double its patronage, up from some 1000 patrons who participated in last year’s activities.

Desmond Whitley, Chairman, ODHAC said over the past five years, the organisation has worked closely with the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) to preserve the site and the support has been positive from key stakeholders. The Emancipendence Family and Food Fest aims to bring people closer to the site for a unique experience, instill a sense of pride in residents and to garner support from across the country to attract funding to develop the project.

“We are proud to have the second consecutive event which will welcome families near and far to a day of fun and relaxation,” Whitley said. “This event is important to the community as it brings into sharper focus the significance of the 17th century Castle and its new role in becoming Old Harbour's first publicly accessible fun green space.”

Whitley added: “This is critical when viewed in the context of the PIOJ (Planning Institute of Jamaica) Population Report (2007) which cited Old Harbour as the fastest growing urban centre in Jamaica, but also noted that it is at risk of urban blight due to the absence of communal spaces in the area.”

The Emancipendence Family and Food Fest forms part of a multipronged approach aimed at developing the heritage site into Old Harbour's premier ‘edutainment’ hub. The concept is centered on the preservation, utilization and development of the facility similar to the Devon House model in Kingston City.

Cultural items on display at last year's festival

Colbeck Castle Heritage Park and Gardens is poised to become a vital link in St. Catherine parish Heritage tourism ventures, as the OHDAC executives continue to instill cultural pride in the residents of approximately 60 districts of Old Harbour District Associarion who flock the annual event.

Randy Finnikin, project officer, ODHAC said: “Old Harbour has been abuzz with anticipation for the Emancipendence event. It will be a day to reflect and to celebrate, so we are inviting the entire family to come and have a great time, while contributing to the development and preservation of our most prominent historic green space.”

The proceeds from the Emancipendence Family and Food Fest will go towards purchasing park furnishings such as gazebos and benches, fencing the property as well as beautification of the surroundings.

“We want to ensure that we preserve the park and ensure that it develops to benefit the community and visitors,” Finnikin noted.

The event will run from 9:00 am - 6:30 pm; tickets cost $200 pre-sold and $300 at the gate. Contributors to date include Netcom Computers, Spring Village Development Foundation and Kaluga Group of Companies.

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The Spring Village Homecoming UK Chapter, on Friday donated approximately £600 worth of medical supplies to the Spring Village Clinic.

The official handing over of the primarily pharmaceutical goods took place at the clinic which opened to the community in 2013.

Jacqueline Banton, president of the United Kingdom Chapter, led a team of Jamaican-British nationals in making the presentation which could not have come sooner for a grateful Paulette Simms, resident nurse at the health facility.

Speaking to Old Harbour News afterwards, Nurse Simms said: “I want to say many, many thanks to you guys because we are actually out of everything. We were really scraping the bottom of the pot to reach where we want to go.

“You’ve brought a lot of stuff that is really well needed because I have persons in the community who really need these stuffs. I have some really large wounds to deal with… but with this that you’ve brought I know it will do much better.

“So again I really want to thank all those who put their hands and heart together in sending these to the Spring Village Medical Centre. Thank you very much.”

It is the biggest donation yet by the UK chapter of this Diaspora body of predominantly expats who also contribute monetarily on a monthly basis to assist with paying staff and managing the facility which forms part of the Spring Village Development Foundation. Since the clinic opened its doors to the community, keeping its doors open remains a continuous challenge said Randy Finnikin, executive director of the foundation.

“It’s a welcome one because sustaining this health and wellness centre is a big problem. We have no support other than support that is mobilized by the foundation. The (Spring Village Homecoming) UK Chapter’s contribution is big because most of what they’ve contributed is consumables and that goes very fast. This will certainly help with the sustainability issues that we have right now,” Finnikin told Old Harbour News.

“It cost us roughly £600 to £700 and that includes shipping,” said Banton following the presentation. “When we giving to the community we giving back to ourselves basically because we are a part of this community. This community is us. This is where we are from so whatever we’re doing we are doing it for ourselves. So it gives us a sense of pride, a sense of achievement and makes us feel really, really proud… and our endeavour is to continue to build the community.”

It was heartwarming listening to Nurse Simms, Banton added before urging others to give back to the community.

“I am pleased that we have been able to facilitate so that her job can be a little bit easier and do a better job in the sense that more people will be reached, there’ll be more supplies for individuals who really need it,” she said. “We are an inclusive group, so anybody who wants to be a part of this endeavour is welcome. You don’t have to be specifically from Spring Village to be part of what we are doing. It’s not exclusive.”

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In an effort to continue its promotion stakeholders of the Colbeck Castle Heritage Park & Gardens project will be hosting “Emancipendence” – a family and food festival – on Independence Day.

The event will showcase a wide array of local cuisines as well as provide entertainment through several national and community-based acts.

“The Colbeck Castle Heritage Park & Gardens development project continues to make small strides towards achieving a monumental task of creating Old Harbour's first publicly accessible "edutainament" park,” Randy Finnikin stated.

Since the project was launched early this year after securing the rights to manage the centuries old heritage site, stakeholder groups led by the Old Harbour Development Area Committee (OHDAC) have been working assiduously towards realizing a dream that will transform this semi-urban town.

Laying the foundations of the project has been very, very challenging, however.

“Since Labour Day (May 2015) we continue to appeal locally, nationally and to the Diaspora with very little success to date, nonetheless with goodwill, and credit from a few Old Harbour businesses we continue to build,” said Finnikin, who is chairman of the OHDAC.

“We recently completed the widening of the roadway leading to the park, it includes cleaning and removal of debris from the vicinity of the bridge on the Colbeck main road to the entrance of the park approximately 400 meters, creating a grand entrance effect, and clearing and widening the approximately half-mile road leading to the park to between 25 to 30 feet to communicate to all that Colbeck is open for business.”

Financial and other contributions towards the Labour Day activities, he said, came from Bruce Donaldson and family of Old Harbour Estates, Rev Saunderson and family, Sunbeam Children's Home, Spring Village Development Foundation, Colbeck Citizens Association, The Colbeck Castle Heritage Park & Gardens Management Committee, Old Harbour Heart VTC, OHDAC and a host of individuals.

While the project is open for investment no investor has come forward to date, Finnikin noted. But the committee has decided to utilize the services of the experienced Colin McDonald who will operate as chief executive officer (CEO) of the project. McDonald, a member of the management committee, is tasked with seeking investors to raise capital for the project from which he will be paid an agreed sum.

In the meantime, Finnikin said the committee will be implementing a community share ownership plan (CSOP), “a local funding vehicle”, where individuals or groups can invest in the start-up of the park.

“They can invest in park furniture ($6,000 - $25,000) Gazebos, ($50,000 - $150,000) restrooms, plants, jogging trail, lawn care equipment etc. For park furnishings persons, families/entities will have their names inscribed to mark their investment in the park,” he explained.

He said the committee intends to make the "Emancipendence" Family & Food Fest an annual affair.

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Phillip ‘Danny’ Bunting and Randy Finnikin said to be recognised by their own community was “most touching” after both gentlemen received the 2015 Carl March Awards of Excellence for community service.

It was a surreal moment for two of Old Harbour’s most prominent sons, who have contributed to the community through various spheres, as they accepted the award at the 20th Carl March Awards of Excellence at the Lions Civic Centre, Old Harbour on May 13.

Bunting, who was conferred with the Order of Distinction in 2009 for his immense contribution in the field of agriculture, said he was deeply moved by the recognition.

“Yes, because this is coming from people that I know,” Bunting remarked in reacting to how he felt. “A lot of the people in the audience I have known for as long as I know myself, some school friends, adults that I have known from I was a child. So (to be recognised) by them sort of give it a personal touch.”

“I wondered why… because I am not a man to blow my own trumpet,” added Bunting who has contributed to the community and the nation by providing educational and other social support. “When I was a child I used to wonder why my father worked so hard, so I think it’s in my genes because in my family we just can’t stop working.”

A social activist for many years, Finnikin has been the author of several initiatives in the community primarily through the Sunbeam Boys Home, Cornerstone Ministries, Spring Village, Development Foundation and Training Institute and the Old Harbour Development Area Committee.

It is not the first time Finnikin is being honoured by a group for the inspirational role he plays at the grassroots but the Carl March award, is indeed “special” he admitted afterwards.

“I want to thank God, my neighbours and my peers for recognizing the work that I have been doing. I consider myself to be a missionary to Old Harbour, so I do this out of a missionary zeal.

“I love my people but I also believe that God has placed me here in Old Harbour, just like how he placed Adam in the Garden of Eden to tend to it. I have a drive to see Old Harbour and its people achieve its full potential. I am amazed by the level of giftedness, the level of resources that is in Old Harbour and I am convinced that Old Harbour can be the next, not just tourist attraction, but be the first compliant town in Jamaica by 2030.

“This is most special because when one is attempting to do the things that I am doing, if it doesn’t get the approval from the people you want to serve then it can be futile.

“I feel the love of the Old Harbour people, I am appreciated… and to have chosen me to be awarded is an important achievement to me and it just served to encourage me to go on to greater things,” Finnikin told Old Harbour News.

Guest speaker at the function Lynton Weir, principal of Old Harbour High School, urged the awardees to “not rest on their success but to strive towards higher goals”.

“Mr. Randy Finnikin and Mr. Phillip ‘Danny’ Bunting your achievement in the realm of leadership, community service and character are being honoured here this evening. Each of these characteristics is the sum of many individual decisions, they embodied a positive attitude backed by purpose,” said Weir, who also lauded the sport programmes in high schools.

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