Tue | Oct 16, 2018

West India Committee renews focus on Jamaica

Published:Wednesday | August 10, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Chief executive of the West India Committee, Blondel Cluff, at The Gleaner's North Street, Kingston, offices yesterday. - Gladstone Taylor/Photographer

Blondel Cluff, current chief executive of the West India Committee, is seeking to make the organisation's presence felt again in Jamaica.

The West India Committee, founded in 1735, is one of the oldest continuously active institutions working in the Caribbean. It is a royal charter company and also a charity, which was founded by the sugar merchants and planters in London to protect their interests. For centuries, it has been a major contributor to the region, providing a wide range of welfare - from disaster relief to educational grants. The committee has been revamped and Cluff, born in England to Anguillan parents, is seeking to re-engage with Jamaica.

"The main object of the West India Committee is to promote agriculture, commerce, manufacturing, trade and industry in the West Indies, for the general welfare of the people of the West Indies," she explained. The committee is also trying to contact existing members and to encourage new membership, both individuals and corporate groups.

"(We're looking for) people who are interested in promoting and engaging the agricultural, commercial, trading sector ... . It's done through education and training, so there are lots of aspects that would be attractive to many people, both young and old," she said.

Celebrating Scottish heritage

Cluff is also trying to promote a Scottish Highland Games event, celebrating the sometimes-forgotten Scottish heritage of Jamaica.

"Scotland is a unique country in that if you simply have a Scottish name, you are automatically a member of the Scottish tribe. It doesn't matter whether you have any blood links, it's just if you have the name," she explained. The games would have all the traditional events including tug of war and tossing the caber (a long, wooden pole). She revealed that 20 per cent of Jamaicans have a Scottish connection.

"Through this (the games) we hope to create a platform for nurturing commercial links between Jamaica and that great country," she said. She pointed out that Scots were among the first indentured slaves to come to Jamaica, so it made sense to start with them.

"But there's no reason we can't embrace other cultures who are part of Jamaica's heritage ... to embrace them on an annual basis and celebrate that cultural link and hopefully spawn commercial relationships from that. That's the plan," she said.

Cluff will be in Jamaica until Saturday, having meetings to seek sponsorship for the games and to assess what projects the committee should undertake here and see how best they can work with Jamaica.

"I have looked at this (renewed push) as a clean canvas. The object of the charity is something we should pursue," she stressed. A retired solicitor, Cluff is aware that the committee might not make many headlines even in the United Kingdom, but was undaunted by that.

"We are more interested in quietly getting the job done. We've been working in Montserrat, Antigua and St Kitts, and we've been invited to work in other countries as well. These are very important jobs of work and we've just been quietly getting on with it. It's about getting the job done."

Interested in joining the West India Committee? Contact them at 44 (0) 7711-005-444 or email blondelcluff@me.com.