St Helena Online

Tag: Christmas

The Saints who will be lighting candles this Christmas, because they can’t afford electricity: a councillor’s tale

Many old people on St Helena will spend Christmas in poverty, too poor even to pay for electric lighting, the island’s Legislative Council has heard. The Honourable BRIAN ISAAC told of their troubles at the December 2014 sitting of the council. Here is an extract of his adjournment debate speech. 

Many people are proud to tell how they have lived through the Second World War, and recall the days of hardship on the island. They call those days the Good Old Days.

Picture by St Helena Government
The Hon Brian Isaac

There was strong family support and the island flourished with an abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables and fish.

Pay was low and work was hard. Transport was mainly by donkeys and there were few cars. Respect and discipline played a major role in everyone’s lifestyle.

Candles and wood were the main means of lighting and cooking, and for those who could afford a battery-operated radio, that was a luxury.

Social welfare never existed. Families supported each other. And for those who had no family support, the church gave a few shillings a week out of what was called the black box, and later called the parish and then the poor relief.

Social welfare came in later in the Sixties.

We have now moved very much into the 21st century and those days are long gone. But memories live on.

In this modern age of computers, the internet, telecommunications and television, and air access on the horizon, many of our senior citizens are still suffering hardship in silence.

I am aware of the recent improvements in the benefits system, the basic island pension, and the free medical care for those on benefits.

But the fact remains that many cannot cope with the high cost of living on the island, and  especially those living alone on £50 and £60 a week. Many of these people, when you meet them on the street, will give you a big smile and a warm Hello, but deep down they are suffering in silence.

Many have said that a few years ago they were given an additional payment at Christmas and Easter as a gesture of goodwill by the government, but now they feel they cannot buy anything extra at Christmas or even give their their grandchildren a little chocolate.

It saddens me to say that while many of us will enjoy the best of this Christmas season, many of our elderly will see a “meek and mild” Christmas

Many of our elderly have now reverted to using candles for lighting, which can become a health hazard; and using paraffin gel for cooking fuel, which again is a health hazard in close surroundings. They cannot afford the high cost of electricity.

I recall when social services provided subsidy for water and electricity for those suffering hardship, but this is now just a memory.

I feel it will get harder for these unfortunate people before we see it getting any better.


Councillor Isaac, a member of the island’s social and community development committee, said the government lacked the funding to implement some recommendations of York University’s Sainsbury Report, which led to the 2013 St Helena Social Policy Plan. 

At the time of the plan’s publication, the island had 196 people receiving income related benefit, 32 unemployed people on benefits, and 587 people living on the basic island pension. The report said: “We aim to empower Saints to take control of the present and the future to make the island self-sufficient on all fronts… as well as protecting and supporting vulnerable groups.”

It added that social bonds were strong in St Helena communities. “This sense of society and community flows through all aspects of Saint life, and that needs to be the basis of future social cohesion on the island,” it said. 

Read the social policy plan here

Christmas reflection on a year of tribulations and triumphs

Sean Burns, the Acting Governor of St Helena, has issued the following Christmas message: 

When we found out that we were coming to St Helena, our friends on Tristan assured us of a warm welcome. We were not disappointed. It was astonishing how many people here approached us in the street to welcome us and tell us about friends they had down on Tristan.  It was a great start. Thank you.

Reflecting on the last year or so, it has been a busy time for everyone.  The airport project has continued on track and on budget. We have visited the site three times over the last nine months and never ceased to be amazed at what everyone has achieved there. The Dry Gut fill is an astonishing piece of work.

After much deliberation and discussion, decisions were taken on the Jamestown hotel and Enterprise St Helena, with its refocus on supporting local businesses, both new and existing, has seen a significant increase in the number of loans and grant applications it has received and approved. Economic development is on the way.

In the education sector we saw some of the best results and I was honoured to represent the Governor at the awards ceremony at Prince Andrew School only a few weeks ago, where so many of the students received their well-deserved awards.

We also recognise the work of charities and others in the voluntary sector who do so much to enrich their community – and of our sporting youth who were such fine ambassadors for St Helena at this year’s Commonwealth Games.

2015 promises to be an even busier year as the airport opening fast approaches. We also have work on the Rupert’s Wharf project, hospital refurbishment, the new prison and new fire station to push forward. These projects are all for the benefit and long term wellbeing of the community at large.

Later on in the year we look forward to welcoming visitors and dignitaries to the island for the bicentenary of Napoleon’s arrival here, when an exciting programme of events is being organised.

Work continues on providing a sea freight service to St Helena and Ascension after the RMS, as does the contract to provide an air service to the Island.  We should be able to say more about these in the next few weeks. There is still a considerable amount of work to do as we prepare for airport certification and there are many across SHG and elsewhere engaged in this work.  We look forward to seeing test flights in July!

But there have also been problems to address this year, not least around safeguarding those most vulnerable in our society. We have taken steps to increase capacity in this area and with the help of our partners in London, and have secured additional staff and other resources to improve and embed the way we approach these difficult issues.

The creation of a new Safeguarding Directorate is a really positive move as is the opening of Ebony View, which will replace the Challenging Behaviour Unit in February.

As you know, the Foreign Secretary has commissioned an Inquiry into the way we manage these issues. The team arrives in March and will be here for just over two weeks. We welcome this and look forward to delivering those recommendations that come from the Inquiry. We have a real opportunity here to make a big and lasting difference.

So as you can see, we have many challenges ahead, but as we all pull together I am confident we can achieve a great deal over the next twelve months.

Christmas is also a time when we remember those who have lost close friends and family and think of those who are unwell or lonely at this time.  Our thoughts and prayers go to you all.

The Governor is looking forward to returning to the Island on 3 January, just in time to welcome the arrival of the yachts taking part in the Governor’s Cup, the first big event of the year.  Both he and Mrs Capes send their best wishes for the Christmas period and wish you all a peaceful and happy time over the festive season.

Marina and I join them in this and wish you all a Happy Christmas and New Year.

Santa’s coming (or going) on a Royal Mail Ship

Picture by Barry Hubbard

A sunburned Santa lounges by the pool, and there’s a snowman watching over the sun deck.

Xmas RMS 250 Barry HubbardYes, it’s Christmas – even in mid-ocean.

The decorations on board the RMS St Helena were photographed by Barry Hubbard, who was returning to the island with his family on the run down from Ascension.

And Bruce Salt snapped the old ship as she slipped away below Half Tree Hollow on her Christmas voyage down to Cape Town.

It’s an unusual but striking view of the RMS. Bruce’s comment: “Dratted power lines in Tungi Town :-(”

Scroll down to see larger images in a click-through gallery.

RMS departs 640 by Bruce Salt

Click on the thumbnails to see the full-size images:

Radio station closure puts Christmas messages in doubt

Christmas messages from overseas may go unheard by people on St Helena because of the closure of the island’s only independent radio station, it is feared.

Johnny Clingham has recorded 50 personal messages from Saints in the UK, for a programme that was due to be broadcast on Saint FM on Christmas Day.

He was part-way through editing the programme when he learned that the station was to close on Friday, 21 December 2012.

Listening to personal greetings on the radio has been an emotive part of Christmas on St Helena for many years.

At one stage, Radio St Helena linked up with the Falkland Islands Broadcasting to share messages between family members who were separated for months or years at a time.

Johnny, who runs the St Helena and Ascension Island Community website, told St Helena Online he was still hoping to get the recordings to the island. They were also due to be heard on Ascension Island, where many Saints work.

He said: “I collected personal Christmas messages from three different St Helena gatherings round the south of England, in Reading, Cirencester and Swindon, where most of St Helenian community lives.

“This history is that this was previously done by Owen George of the St Helena Association and other organisers, who took personal messages from the UK. It would get air-mailed to Ascension in time for the nearest sailing to Christmas.

“Now I can upload the programme via the internet and Saint FM can download it.

“I did one from the St Helena Reading Sports which was very successful, hence the reason to continue with Christmas messages.

“At the moment I have about 50 recorded messages, along with a wedge of emails to be read for family and friends.

“The problem now is that it cannot be broadcast via Saint FM because of the station closure. The programme is 50% done and there is nowhere to send it.

“It’s taken me about six hours of recording, and I’ve spent three nights until about one in the morning collating it all together.

“I have also got a company to put together two professionally-made jingles for the radio station to be broadcast. That will all go by the wayside now.”

Radio St Helena has been asked if it would be willing to broadcast the messages instead. The government-funded station is due to close at midnight on Christmas Day after 45 years on air, in order to make way for three new stations.

They too will set up with state funding.

Johnny, who now lives in Wiltshire but hopes to return to St Helena one day, said the messages were a valued Christmas tradition. “I think they mean quite a lot to the local people on the island,” he said. “It’s a big highlight.

“Over the years more and more people have left the island, and it brings them a little closer to their family. They look forward to the messages we deliver more than the Queen’s Speech.”

Unlike Saint FM, Radio St Helena is not relayed on Ascension Island or the internet, meaning switching radio stations would still leave many people unable to hear the messages.

Mike Olsson of Saint FM has expressed his regret at being unable to broadcast the messages on Christmas Day.

A great year and an exciting future – by Governor Capes

St Helena Online is happy to publish this Christmas message from His Excellency Mark Capes, Governor of St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ and as another year draws to an end, many people will pause to reflect on the events of the past year. I see it as a year of progress and adjustment.  A year in which, at last, we have seen the airport project really get underway.  We should warmly congratulate all those working with Basil Read, Saints and non-Saints alike, including Halcrow and many others – on a year of impressive achievements.  Well done to all and may 2013 be another safe and productive year for you as you labour to deliver this massive and vital project on schedule.

As the work on the airport project has progressed, so everyone on St Helena, and Saints everywhere, have started to adjust to the reality that we will soon have air access. They have begun to consider how it may change their lives, their hopes and expectations, their way of doing things.  Exciting times indeed as we begin to adjust to the changes ahead.  But how we adjust is key to the way forward.  Let us not fear change, let us embrace it and the new opportunities it will bring.  Let us pull together as one to achieve the prosperity and the improved standard of living it will make possible – better social services, better infrastructure, better opportunities for our young people for rewarding careers on St Helena.

In addition to the tremendous progress on the airport project there have been so many other really positive developments this year at so many levels, big and small, that I can’t mention them all here, but I’ll note just a few. I recall the excitement as we bid Godspeed to our cricket team as they sailed away to compete in international cricket for the first time; and what pride there was in their success. In this Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee year we saw great strength and unity in our communities on St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, as together we marked this happy occasion.  A new community owned newspaper, The Sentinel, was born. Starting from scratch, with a young and talented all-Saint team, it has developed into an excellent media operation, providing crisp and refreshingly objective reporting, soon to be complemented by three new FM radio stations.  Just recently we were impressed at the skill and energy of the RMS crew who managed to undertake difficult repairs to the ship’s port engine, in what must have been record breaking time, so that the RMS could catch up with her schedule at this busy time of the year. I saw for myself on the ship what they had to do and I was mightily impressed that they managed it so quickly.  That’s just a few of the many positive events of 2012 that come to my mind as I write this Christmas message.

Some friends of mine in the community passed on in 2012 and I know that this can be a particularly emotional moment for those celebrating Christmas for the first time without loved ones who have recently passed away; let us remember them in our prayers.  And as we observe the grief and tragedy in some parts of the world  – here I think particularly of the devastated families of the young victims of the recent massacre in Connecticut and the terrible loss of life in Syria – let us also count our blessings that we live in safe and caring communities.  St Helena also marked, with customary dignity, the recent Remembrance Day commemoration.  My thanks go to the men and women of our emergency services for all that they do to keep us safe and let us give special thanks to those that will be on duty over the Christmas and New Year festivities.

Last year Tamara and I celebrated Christmas in St Helena, while this year we are in England with our daughters. We thank you all for giving us such a rewarding and happy 2012 and look forward to our return to St Helena early in January.  Our best wishes for a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year.