We speak to Councillor Lawson Henry, Chairman of the Enterprise St Helena (ESH) Board, about highs and lows of 2016 and looking ahead to a bright 2017.
Last year was an interesting one for St Helena, what do you think was the biggest ESH achievement?
You are right 2016 was an interesting year for us but also a very challenging one. There were so many achievements for ESH last year and it is difficult to speak of just one as they are all worthy of mention and have had a positive impact on the island. We had the refurbishment and opening of Bertrand’s Cottage in Longwood, the Jamestown Market project and the lighting up of High Knoll Fort. Other projects are on-going and of course there were visits to travel shows overseas to market our island and tourist product.
The one thing that does stand out for me however, is the District Clean-Up Competition organised by ESH. The reason why I mention this project is because it was announced shortly after the announcement that the Airport would not be open to commercial flights (a time when morale on the island was very low). I believe the way the community responded to the District Clean-Up Competition brought us together as a community and showed our diversity during a very difficult time.
Those in ESH involved with this project should be rightly proud of this huge achievement which is evidenced by how beautiful the districts look even though we are experiencing a drought.
What are you most excited about for St Helena in 2017, what are the key opportunities?
The one thing that I am most excited about for our island in 2017 is we are now very close to getting commercial flights up and operating from St Helena Airport. I am confident this will now happen and it will bring many opportunities for Saints. Those who took the plunge to invest will start to see the benefits of their investment, and regular flights will mean we have more people travelling to the island on a more frequent basis and this is going to increase the demand for many services.
Key to this will be the opening of the hotel in Jamestown, this will I hope set the standard of what will come in the future. What is more is that it is my hope that St Helenians will be at the forefront in running this facility and in years to come, own it. This is only the beginning of what is to come and my wish is that all Saints will benefit from the income that this new era will bring.
What’s the biggest challenge for business growth on St Helena?
I believe the real challenge for any business on island is lack of demand for some of the key service areas, especially in hospitality. It is in this industry where Saints have most invested in hope that the airport would have created the regular demand, but it is coming and I know our people will rise to the many challenges this will bring.
The other challenge for the service industry will be in our supply chain because once we get commercial flights up and running there will be huge opportunity for growth in goods in much larger quantities than we currently import, and this will mean on-island suppliers will need to up their game. There will be an opportunity for more island produce, so this will be another area where we can expect growth.
There is a lot of interest in visiting St Helena, do you think a scheduled air service will commence this year?
We have learnt so much over the last 8 months about wind conditions, our Airport has been certified as a category C Aerodrome, which means there are special conditions in which planes have to land in. There is nothing wrong with the facilities at our airport, the most important thing we have learnt is that we need a special type of aircraft to operate at our airport because of the wind conditions that exist there. There have been two commercial airlines that have carried out successful test flights at the St Helena Airport using special aircraft designed to land in the wind conditions that prevail at our airport. We are currently carrying out a procurement exercise to see if we can find an airline that is prepared to operate into St Helena providing a regular commercial service. I am confident we will see a schedule air service operating from our Airport during 2017.
You’ve represented St Helena abroad on numerous occasions, what makes you most proud to be a Saint?
There are so many things that make me feel proud to be a Saint, but I think the one thing that stands out for me is who we are and where we came from. It is that journey (our history, our ancestors, the sheer diversity of our gene pool) that has made us into the people we are today. It is special, a very few small island with such rich history and a diverse culture. It is this background that makes us who we are today.
You’re a keen golfer, how would you rate the St Helena Golf Course?
The St Helena Golf Club was founded in 1903 by former Governor Lt Col , Sir Henry Galway, DSO, CMG. The course is 4,783 yards long and is a par 68. It only has 9 greens but 18 tee boxes so is played over 18 holes.
It is a very challenging course with South East Trade winds blowing directly from sea over the course. I have played golf all my adult life, both on St Helena and off island, and I have a handicap of 5. We welcome visitors who are assured of a hearty St Helena welcome, especially at the 19th hole.
What other island pastimes do you enjoy?
I enjoy dancing and cooking, and I also do a lot of reading.