St Helena Online

Author: clickonclingham

Girls at risk as Ascension declines, says Guardian writer

Ascension is losing families because of employment policies, says Guardian writer Fred Pearce
Ascension is losing families because of employment policies, says Guardian writer Fred Pearce

Long-held resentments over treatment of Saints on Ascension have been aired in a lengthy article on the UK’s Guardian website.

It accuses the UK of depopulating the island – with teenagers facing sexual pressures as a result.

Writer Fred Pearce says people who have lived on the island all their lives are being forced out because they have no right to stay without work – and the number of jobs is being systematically reduced.

“Jobs are being shed and workers moved on to short-term contracts,” he writes. “Families now only accompany workers if that is essential to fill positions, say officials.

“The loss of families means that three-quarters of the population is now male. Sexual exploitation of the remaining teenage girls is becoming a serious problem.”

The school is losing pupils and in danger of becoming unviable, says the article – quoting prominent resident Caz Yon, who was recently awarded the MBE for services to the island.

The discontent dates back to 2006, when UK foreign secretary Jack Straw went back on promises to give resident workers the right to live on the island without a job, and rights to own property.

“Businesses set up during the ‘Ascension spring’ have lost their value because they cannot be sold and have no secure land tenure.”

Administrator Colin Wells defends the UK’s “necessary U-turn” in the article.

He also denies that the island is seeing “a slow motion repeat” of the ongoing scandal of Diego Garcia, another British territory whose people were expelled to make way for a US air base – and are still fighting to return.

Pearce quotes Lawson Henry, now an executive councillor on St Helena, where retired Ascension workers are denied local pensions because they have not worked on their native island for the required 20 years.

Little has changed since Jack Straw’s U-turn, but now the island is seeing the effects of Britain’s decision to avoid having to pay pensions or unemployment benefit.

But maybe noises are about to be made again, says the article, which is headlined, US and UK accused of ‘squeezing life out of’ Ascension Island.

“The issue is expected to come to a head in elections later this year for the island council – a purely advisory body that is the island’s only semblance of democracy after 198 years of British rule.”

Democracy: another promise that didn’t quite come off.

Read the full article here


Docking procedures complete: wharf plan moves ahead

The dream of ships berthing at a permanent dock in St Helena has moved closer to reality.

Approval has been given for work on the proposed permanent wharf in Rupert’s Valley to move to a final design stage.

It was not made clear whether any other hurdles would have to be cleared, apart from gaining approval from the island’s planning body for changes to the original scheme.

The project will bring more jobs to the island, but some specialist workers will have to be brought in from overseas.

The new wharf would bring an end to the unloading of cargo on Jamestown’s historic wharf – though cruise ship passengers and yachties will still be able to step ashore the traditional way, at the landing steps.

The current landing stage at Rupert’s is only temporary. It was built specifically for the airport supply vessel – effectively a large landing craft – and is not suitable for conventional ships.

The decision to move forward on the project was made during the annual visit to the island by Nigel Kirby of the UK Department for International Development (Dfid) and Jimmy Johnston, of construction firm Basil Read.

It was announced by Janet Lawrence St Helena Government at a news conference on Monday, 9 September 2013.

She said: “This phase is going to involve preparation of the final designs.

“We are going to seek an amendment to the development permission that was previously granted so we can update it.”

She said a special edition of the airport newsletter would give details of the new look, which is understood to involve moving the wharf to a new position within the bay.

“There is going to be a public consulation,” she said. “Over the coming months there will be a lot more information coming out.”

Moving the proposed location of the jetty has meant more research.

Jimmy Johnston, Basil Read’s airport director, said: “We have now moved to 3D modelling, which is something to see if you haven’t seen it before.

“The modelling tank will be 30 metres by 40 metres and it will model all the aspects of the wave action that can happen on the wharf, which we have already done computer simulation for. This is just the final confirmation.

“That should be finished by the end of October.

“The designs are always being tweaked a little bit here and there but we are fairly happy with where we are now on the design side.

“The intention is to start construction in about April next year. Prior to that we will be doing a lot of testing work, before we start putting our feet into the water.”

Environmental issues have already been addressed. Divers working on a Darwin project on St Helena’s marine lift agreed to start work in Rupert’s Bay so their results would be available to the planning team.

They also looked out for signs of marine archaeology – but made no discoveries, reporters were told.

A key issue will be the level of noise and dust from trucks running through Rupert’s Valley, but this was raised at a residents’ meeting in April. Measures to minimise impact were promised.

The project looks set to bring more jobs for Saints, though Jimmy Johnston said not all could be filled from within the island.

“Probably we will be bringing some more workers from South Africa or Thailand,” he said.

“We may have some specialist divers from Ireland. We are discussing this, because it’s industrial diving.

“We are looking at two very large, 200 tonne and 150 tonne crawler cranes, so these things need specialist operators coming in.

“(In) the pre-casting yard I would like to start with Saints as much as possible. It’s a case of what is in the labour force and what is available.

“We are looking at integration of their current work to see where we can fit in with training of the people we have.

“If we don’t have sufficient, we will have to bring in people. We do have sufficient accommodation at the camp area.

“We are talking about an additional 40 people.”

At one stage, two competing schemes to build new landing stages were being pushed forward by both the UK and island governments.

St Helena Government continued to press ahead with its plans for a jetty at Jamestown, even after international development secretary of the time, Andrew Mitchell, let slip that it was being dropped.

He said in May 2012 that the plan for a commercial dock in Rupert’s Valley had become the favoured option.

It later emerged that neither scheme had enough funding behind it. Eventually, the finance pots were put together to allow the Rupert’s scheme to go ahead.

Time was running out, because it needed to be done as part of the airport project, while the expertise of Basil Read was still available on the island.

Once the airport was built, it would not have been economical for Basil Read to remain on the island.

At the latest meeting, Jimmy Johnstone was able to promise: “We will have the wharf finished before the airport will be complete.”

Jetty delayed by four years to pay for Rupert’s Bay dock
Island’s two wharf schemes both struggle for funds

Saint FM is back on the web

The Saint FM website is back online at, after computer wizard Johnny Clingham managed to sort out a problem with its registration. The St Helena Independent can also be downloaded from the site.

Airport stoppage ends with promise of no reprisals

A two-day strike by South African workers on St Helena’s airport project has ended.

Sixty five workers were reported to have returned to work after a meeting with management related to employment conditions.

Basil Read, the company building the airport, said the workers’ grievances did not relate to living conditions in the workers’ accommodation at Bradley’s Camp.

The company said no workers would be dismissed or sent back to South Africa because of the stoppage, though some would be leaving the island on home leave.

The Sentinel newspaper quoted staff as having said: "It is not a strike – we have just put down tools and are not working."

The paper carries reports indicating a serious breakdown in relations between staff and the island-based management. The stoppage coincided with the arrival on St Helena of Jimmy Johnston, Basil Read’s overall director on the project.

However, the paper’s suggestion that the strike put the airport schedule in jeopardy has proved to be somewhat overblown.

African airport workers down tools in St Helena’s first strike

South Africans working on St Helena’s airport have gone on strike, in what is thought to be the first industrial action on the island in half a century.

It is understood they are in dispute over employment terms and conditions.

The upset appears to relate to the pre-fabricated steel huts built to house workers at Bradley’s Camp, close to the airport site on Prosperous Bay Plain.

St Helenian workers were not thought to be involved.

Deon de Jager, Island Director for contractor Basil Read, said: “We can confirm that the SA Workers has downed tools and are refusing to return to work.

“We are treating the matter internally according to Basil Read policies and procedures, and have set up a meeting with the committee to hear and address their grievances.

“At this time we cannot comment further as we do not know what these grievances consist of, or what it entails.

“We will make an official statement at a later stage"

Janet Lawrence, airport project director for St Helena Government, said: “SHG is aware that discussions are taking place between workers at Bradleys Camp and Basil Read management. All staffing

matters are internal to Basil Read.”

It is understood that terms of employment for South African workers are different from those of Saints, because they receive only part of their pay on the island, with the rest paid at home. Saints do not need to be housed at Bradley’s.

Island businessman and historian Nick Thorpe said it was another example of the visiting workers bringing new influences to the island, where strikes were unknown within living memory.

He said: “There was some industrial action in the early 1960s, incited by Fred Ward’s General Workers’ Union, but I am not sure it came to anything.

“However, following the end of the Fishers Valley Dam project there was a march of paid-off contract workers who had left their jobs in the flax mill. There was the assumption in those days that a job was for life – I don’t think they understood contracts

“The South Africans have brought a slice of South Africa with them. Saints can walk away from it all.”

Luck of the draw for airline bidder

Captain Carl Haslam
Captain Carl Haslam

The team hoping to launch an airline to serve St Helena has been given a significant financial boost at the annual Reading Sports.

Carl Haslam and his colleagues had turned up to share their plans with UK Saints, and hand out free pens.

In an interview, they were politely coy about their funding sources, but St Helena Online is happy to confirm that the project is now on a firm financial footing.

Captain Haslam won fifty pounds in the raffle.

Eddie puts up his own cash to start kidney fund

Eddie Leo presents £200 to Vilma Clingham-Toms to launch a dialysis appeal
Eddie Leo presents £200 to Vilma Clingham-Toms to launch a dialysis appeal

A fund has been launched to save the lives of people on St Helena who have kidney disease.

Eddie Leo put up £200 to start the fund after a neighbour died because the island had no dialysis machine to take over the work of patients’ failed kidneys.

He handed it over to the St Helena Association at the Reading Sports, the annual gathering of Saints in the UK.

“If we haven’t got a dialysis machine, people die,” said Eddie.

“We got nothing. So I think it would be wonderful if we could raise funds for one.

“I think Saints over here in the UK will donate for a good cause. I think they are very generous and they will help.”

The St Helena Association – which gives thousands of pounds a year to island charities – has promised to match any donations, up to a certain limit.

Eddie said: “I think the government should pay so much towards it, but it doesn’t appear to be coming forth.”

In the UK, patients with advanced kidney disease spend several hours a week connected to dialysis machines, which remove waste fluids from the body. The only alternative is a kidney transplant.

Eddie lived in the UK for 63 years before retiring to St Helena.

He was one of The Hundred Men who left their homes and families at only a few days’ notice shortly after World War Two, when the British government offered work and free passage in response to an appeal from the poverty-stricken island.

He served for many years as chairman of the St Helena Association. He is pictured handing over his donation of Reading Sports organiser Vilma Clingham-Toms.

Wrangham’s wrangle exposes conflicts over heritage

A plan to remove heritage protection from one of St Helena’s historic houses has been thrown out by councillors. They acted only days after The Castle issued a newsletter about the importance of the island’s built heritage for future tourism.

From the upstairs windows of Wrangham’s, one might have seen Napoleon wander down to take tea at Mount Pleasant, just across the valley. From its elevated psotion above Sandy Bay, the jaded mansion has seen some plenty of comings and goings in three centuries or so.

Just lately, though, matters have been more hither-and-thither for those charged with care for historic assets such as Wrangham’s.

On Friday, 23 August 2013, the government press office said councillors were to discuss “the downgrading of Wrangham’s from II to III listed building”.

The idea, it later emerged, was to allow the government to sell it off. It has stood empty for five years.

Meanwhile, Enterprise St Helena was declaring the importance of the island’s built heritage in its latest newsletter – also dated 23 August 2013.

“St Helena’s historic built environment is crucial to developing tourism on the island,” it said. “The heritage of the island is acknowledged as being globally unique, both on account of its role in world history and the remarkable intactness of the historic landscape.

“However, this heritage tourism resource is in a poor and deteriorating state of repair. St Helena will only capitalise on its assets through retaining and bringing them to life. This entails fully restored buildings…”

The newsletter went on to promote a training course on traditional building crafts.

As it was, executive councillors quickly threw out the idea of downgrading the status of Wrangham’s, to get round rules that say grade-two buildings can only be leased. It would have taken away much of the protection for its remaining original features.

Afterwards, councillor Ian Rummery said: “I was concerned at the principle of both selling historic properties and in particular downgrading properties in order that they can be sold.

“These buildings are part of our history and not just properties to be traded to the highest bidder.

“We are not just making decisions for the present. We must consider the effect that our decisions will have on future generations.”

Councillors declared Wrangham’s to be a significant cultural asset, and recommended that it should be put back on the property market – for long-term lease.

They refused to start allowing historic buildings to be downgraded simply to make it possible to sell them – which would have undermined the entire system of listing them.

Nick Thorpe, a strong critic of the government on conservation, said: “If SHG want to sell it they should change their policy rather than downgrade the building.

“Wrangham’s has fallen into disrepair whilst in the government’s possession.

“It is worth saving as an example of a late 18th Century house in three acres, and could look smashing.”

Wrangham’s dates back to the days when the island was run by the East India Company, though its original interior was ripped out long ago.

An inspection in 2011 found it was deteriorating and needed treatment for white ants – but that it could be brought back into use as a home, or as tourist accommodation.

Ian Rummery said he hoped any offers to lease it would be judged on both economic and social grounds, “so that it can be developed for the benefit of the whole community”.

Heritage may be ‘critical’, but making money comes first

With its unchanged Georgian capital, clifftop defences and country mansions, St Helena’s built heritage has been described as globally important.

Government policies say it is key to hopes of attracting tourists to an island without beaches or guaranteed sunshine.

“Conservation of the historic built environment is critical to the success of tourism growth,” says the new Land Development Control Plan.

But not at all costs. The official policy is one of "carefully balancing the need to conserve our rich heritage and the need for economy to grow."

In other words, conservation matters until money-making matters more. “Development of the island is paramount if it is to meet its primary objective of becoming economically independent," says the control plan.

“As such there will be a balance to be met between the preservation of the historic asset, and the wealth generation necessary to help fund such preservation.”

In other words, there is no promise to protect the buildings that help to make the island special – and attractive to tourists who don’t worry about the shortage of sand.

Where a building must be lost, says the development plan, "processes will be put in place to record and mitigate."

As one critic has told St Helena Online: “From a distance it seems like the upper echelons of SHG want to feel heritage is an optional add-on to the real work of building a market economy.

“Eventually a market economy will save some of the heritage of the island. Sadly it will save too little, too late, and be done in such a pedestrian fashion that it will be wasted effort.”

Tough decisions would be needed and there had seemed to be a lack of will to take them – until, that is, the executive council refused to downgrade Wrangham’s in Sandy Bay so it could be sold.

“Perhaps this is the start of some of those tough decisions.”