It was wonderful to meet colleagues old and new from St Helena last week. Firstly, we had arranged a long time ago for Alonzo Henry to speak to National Trust staff in Swindon. Alonzo has been Head of Operations at the St Helena National Trust for the last six years. He was in the UK for the Bird Fair so it was a good opportunity to connect. Secondly, we learned that Tara-Jane Sutcliffe was about to become the St Helena Trust’s new Director. I’ve known Tara off-and-on since she worked for The Heritage Alliance. And so it was great that she could come along to Heelis as well.
Funnily enough Swindon is the centre of the St Helena diaspora, known as Swindolena! And Jeremy Harris, the previous director, had come over a few years ago, as described here.
Alonzo gave an inspirational talk about his work in Saint Helena. He spoke particularly passionately about the 325 skeletons discovered during the construction of the Island’s new airport. After it abolished the slave trade in 1807, Britain intercepted Portuguese slave ships sailing off the waters of St Helena. Between 1840 and 1865 around 25,000 slaves were freed and released on St Helena. The Trust is now working out how to tell the hitherto untold story of St Helena’s role in the liberation of slaves. Tim Butler, who I sent to St Helena (!) in 2014 writes about the legal aspects in a blog on our site here.
It was also lovely to connect with Tara-Jane, just before she heads off for St Helena. We introduced her to INTO and the sort of services and opportunities we provide to our members. Like Working Holidays, TAP-INTO and the Conference.
After his talk, Alex, Bobbi and I went with Alonzo to Avebury where we had arranged to meet the Head Gardener and Archaeologist. Simon Brooks first showed us around the amazing Manor garden, which he has transformed over the past few years. Then Briony Clifton took us to the Henge and shared the incredible story of the barber-surgeon found buried under one of the stones. Discovered in the 1930 under one of the fallen stones, the skeleton had a pair of scissors with him. Hence the idea of a barber-surgeon. But he had not been crushed, so it seems implausible to think that the stone had fallen on him. How did he get there? It all remains something of a mystery.
In all, it was a wonderful and enlightening afternoon learning more about the National Trust approach and model. How to get visitors in and what to do with them when they are there!
I remember when the St Helena National Trust was established in 2002! When he left the National Trust, Martin Drury, the former Director-General, had visited to give advice. And the first Director of the St Helena Trust, Barbara George, came over to the UK to learn more. And to participate in the launch of the Trust which coincided with the Island’s Quincentenary. I went too and it was a very grand affair in the Durbar Court at the Foreign Office with HRH The Duke of York. He had visited the Island when he was in the military and told a funny story about the Governor falling in the sea!
I have, since then offered support and advice to the St Helena National Trust both in my NT role and with INTO. And it’s wonderful to see that this will continue with our new connections there.
St Helena of Constantinople, after whom the Island is named, is the patron saint of new discoveries. How fitting for Tara as she heads off to the South Atlantic. And for me as at the weekend I set off to the Isle of Wight (not quite such a tortuous journey!). We very much enjoyed visiting Queen Vitoria’s home at Osborne and, of course the amazing Needles! We wish Tara well on her own voyage of discovery and look forward to hearing how she’s getting on.