Peter Stevens and James Blades of the Barbados Garrison Historical Consortium Inc.
The Barbados Garrison is generally understood to be the most authentic and complete 18th & 19th century British garrison anywhere in the world and its recent recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage site has re-emphasised its significant place in human history. The Garrison Consortium, a non-profit corporation founded in 2006, was instrumental in achieving this international status and continues to work tirelessly in developing the area into one of the region’s foremost heritage attractions while promoting proper practices in its conservation.
‘Under the current economic conditions,which are challenging for both the private and the public sectors, the Garrison needs to become financially viable in its own right. So we have embarked upon a number of initiatives to draw attention to the site and attract more visitors into the area. These include a Changing of the Sentry ceremony and a Garrison Tour, which incorporates various attractions like George Washington House, Charles Fort, St Ann’s Fort and the Barbados Museum. We have also launched a ‘Dinner with George’ experience where guests dine in an authentic candlelit setting. All of these events help to generate income, which we then plough back into the Garrison.
Our most recent and very exciting development has been the discovery and opening of a vast network of tunnels under the Garrison, which have already aroused tremendous interest. These tunnels have phenomenal potential to become a huge attraction.
One of the features of the Garrison that often surprises people is that there is a 5-acre, green gully right behind George Washington House. It has been hidden away for many, many years but we are now opening it up as a green space close to town that can provide some welcome peace and tranquillity.’
‘Over the years there have been several attempts to make use of the heritage value of the Garrison but they have usually been real estate interest driven, so no real thought was given to sustainability. So while we are developing income-generating strategies, we are also highly aware that we must develop a cohesive, unified site. The Garrison is a huge 150-acre area, so we need to plan it properly and create a multi-faceted destination that people can visit, move around easily and discover sufficient attractions and facilities to encourage them to stay for a long time and then want to come back again.
By necessity we have short-term priorities but by design we have long-term plans. The development must be sustainable. We don’t want to waste energy, so we intend to do things right the first time and then keep the momentum going.
We are not trying to create another Disney; we are recreating an authentic atmosphere of life around the Garrison, as it existed during the 1800s. There were no wars at that time, so it was predominantly a recreational space, as it is today. The site retains many of the original roads and military buildings and it is those remarkable physical structures that provide a tangible link to the human aspect – a direct connection to the people who lived and worked in this area hundreds of years ago.
We need to give people what they are looking for. If somebody is interested in a museum, the slave trade, military history or our maritime traditions, then we must make sure they can find what they want and help them to enjoy it. This will make the Garrison a real heritage site. To make it easier for people to get to the Garrison, and help them travel between the various attractions, we want to introduce a Garrison Tram, an exact replica of the mule driven trams that used to operate in and around
Bridgetown between 1884 -1925. The circular route would link nearby hotels to the Garrison and run throughout the day. We have designed the trams and a local company is ready to manufacture them as soon as we can secure the funding to pay for them.’
‘We are seeking investors or sponsors for approximately US$90,000 per tram. And, as the Garrison Consortium is a non-profit corporation, any donations would be enormously helpful and greatly appreciated.’