Barbados Joins International Development Bank’s ‘Living Heritage’ Program: Will Fix Up Speightstown.

By Postdlf, CC BY-SA 3.0, Better times ahead? This is a street in the historic settlement of Speightstown, Barbados as it looked in 2008.
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BRIDGETOWN, Barbados–November 6th,2020–Barbados has formally joined a Regional Technical Cooperation Program of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) – the Living Heritage Program.

During a virtual workshop to launch the Living Heritage Program in Speightstown, it was noted that in July of this year, Barbados became the sixth country to join the program, which started two and half years ago.

IDB’s Country Representative in Barbados, Juan Carlos De La Hoz Viñas, in explaining why Barbados, specifically Speightstown, was chosen stated: “A year ago when I heard about the Technical Cooperation, I knew that I would need to do all in my power to include Speightstown, because of its heritage cultural identity and the potential for economic growth for tourism diversification.”

Mr. Viñas pointed out that the Technical Cooperation Living Heritage Program which “resonates very deeply” with him, is a cultural program that seeks to preserve, conserve and foster sustainable urban rehabilitation for the cities that are selected under the program.

IDB’s Lead Housing and Urban Development Specialist, Robin Rajack, said the program is a “set of cultural and natural assets that represent the history, traditions and identity of a territory that are recognized for their symbolic and identity values, either institutionally or by the valuation and appropriation of their own inhabitants.

“As a basic principle, we propose that protecting and enhancing an urban area’s living heritage has the ability to contribute to the collective construction of this area’s sustainable, resilient and equitable future.”

Participants in the workshop received information on the three phases to determine the future of the Speightstown project.  Phase one is Local Action Framework, which will assess the city’s profile and develop work and communications plans.

Challenges and Opportunities will be phase two, which will involve the collection of information via interviews and field visits, and a shared vision for the project will be developed.

The last phase will be the implementation of the Strategy and Investment aspect of the project.

While it is not clear from this language exactly what the program entails, it seems likely that the bank will be making available low-priced loans for the restoration of historic buildings and landmarks in the Speightstown settlement.

Speightstown, also known as Little Bristol, is the second largest town center of Barbados. It is situated 12 miles (19 km) north of the capital city of Bridgetown, in the northern parish of Saint Peter.

The town is named after William Speight, a member of Barbados’ first Assembly during the Settlement years, and the former owner of the land where the town is located. Little else seems to be known about Speight and his career.

Speightstown was formally settled around 1630 and in the earliest days of Settlement was Barbados’s busiest port. Ships laden with sugar and other commodities left Speightstown bound directly for London and especially Bristol. For this reason, Speightstown is sometimes known as Little Bristol.

The quaint town has now become the center of a tourist area as well as a secondary shopping center.

Speightstown has a long and colorful history reaching back to the 17th century when it served as one of the main ports connecting the island with the “mother country,” England.

Many historic buildings dating from colonial times, including Arlington House, still remain standing in the town and can be seen mostly along Queen Street, Church Street and Orange Street.

Arlington House is rated as the #5 attraction in Barbados by TripAdvisor, however the most recent review written in September, 2020 says:

Hi. Just wanted people to know that this museum is currently closed for renovations! At least that’s what the locals on the street told me, not sure when it will open again. So, check before visiting.

Other reviews from earlier dates have indicated that to obtain admission, it is necessary to knock on the door and then wait a few minutes to be admitted.

Speightstown saw a lot of activity during the reign of the sugar industry and the day of the slave trade. Many slaves would have passed through this town–says Wikipedia–even if they were to be shipped on further to other islands or to what is now the United States of America.

In recent times the government of Barbados has sought to distance itself somewhat from its British heritage as it moves towards replacing the Queen of England with a local head of state, removing statues of British heroes from public places, and so on, so it should be interesting to monitor what IDB has in mind in the preservation of Little Bristol as a living museum of Barbadian history.


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