FOR decades now, the house where boy geniuses Derek and Roderick Walcott grew up on Chaussee Road was an abandoned structure which housed the Lithographic Press after the Walcott family left the premises.
Last Saturday, Derek Walcott returned to his boyhood home where he got to witness the massive effort now being undertaken to preserve his family’s legacy which traces its roots to Chaussee Road near Grass Street.
Scores of dignitaries, community members and interested onlookers spent close to two hours near the Walcotts’ former family home where the sod turning ceremony for the Walcott House project. The project – full name the Walcott Place & Grass Street Urban Enhancement Project – is a collaborative effort being spearheaded by the Saint Lucia National Trust (SLNT) in partnership with the Ministry of Physical Development, Housing and Urban Renewal.
The government of Taiwan has committed $7.5 million to the project and Taiwanese Ambassador to Saint Lucia, James Chang, presented the first tranche of that total ($1.344 million) to the government of Saint Lucia last October.
Among the features of the new project are a reconstruction of the Walcott house to serve as a gallery and museum, an arts centre with additional exhibition space, a 150-seat training and experimental black-box theatre to be used for teaching theatre, as well as art rooms and a reference library. Other amenities will include a gift and book shop, restaurant with indoor and outdoor dining set within a courtyard. Just last week, a work crew demolished a nearby structure adjacent to the Walcott home as plans on the project intensified.
When completed, the project will be named a national cultural landmark as a centre of interpretation, inspiration, learning and celebration of the lives and achievements of the Walcott twin brothers.
The Grass Street community is also expected to benefit from the multi-million-dollar project, with one component being training residents in various income-generating skills that can create a niche market at the centre.
Minister for Physical Development, Housing and Urban Renewal, Stanley Felix, said that despite its many challenges, Castries continues to be a thriving city. The project, he said, will give a major boost to the socio-economic landscape of Castries.
“The continued growth and survival of Castries depends on a sustained investment in the core elements that make up the city, that is its people, places and spaces,” Felix said in his remarks. “The city must continue to maintain its competitive edge in order to attract investment and economic opportunities. Castries must also once again serve its people by providing a facilitating environment for social and cultural enrichment.”
Ambassador Chang said the project has great potential for inspiring Saint Lucians to excel, including nearby residents who can lay claim to Walcott coming from their community.
“It is my firm belief that this meaningful and significant project will bring benefits to the residents, promote cultural activities and provide a new tourism attraction. The success of this project will not only set a model for the future projects to regenerate vitality for individual communities and the entire country, but also further strengthen our mutual ties,” Ambassador Chang said.
Castries Central MP, Richard Frederick, urged Grass Street residents to make the most of the opportunity presented to inspire them. He urged them to be proud of the greatness that Grass Street – despite its negative stigma at times – can produce. He also called on them to treat the project with respect.
“I ask you to take this project as your own, treat it as your own and go out there and say that Derek Walcott belongs to us, He belongs to Grass Street,” Frederick said.
Governor-General Dame Pearlette Louisy said that while the process that led thus far had been a lengthy one, the need to celebrate the achievements of Derek Walcott in this manner was not lost. She cited an excerpt of her Throne Speech in which she spoke to the need of honouring those who excel. She also thanked all involved in undertaking the project.
Walcott, who turns 85 on January 23, and his partner, Sigrid Nama, were also in attendance at last Saturday’s event. Walcott won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992. His brother, Roderick, was an accomplished playwright.