Residents fear development plan stillborn as economy wanes after sugar; Wakefield not relying on Hampden
More than two decades after it shuttered its sugar-production facilities, residents of several communities in St James and Trelawny who depended on the Hampden Estate for their livelihood are concerned about their districts’ mixed economic prospects and the lack of opportunities for the youth.
Hampden Estate, which is located on lands near the border of the two western parishes, was acquired from the Government by Everglades Farms Limited in 2009, along with Long Pond Estates in Clark’s Town, Trelawny. Since then, Hampden has become better known for the production of the world-famous Rum Fire liquor and the hosting of tours at its distillery.
Eighty-year-old Iteline Henry of the nearby community of Dumfries in St James looks back with regret at the bustling economic prospects that Hampden used to offer, now a fading memory and far cry from the district’s current reality of inactivity.
“My mother and father used to work over there at Hampden, and my son learned a carpentry trade over there because they had a carpenter shop over there, so there were plenty of opportunities there. People used to get their work there, and even on holidays, they used to give the little schoolers work in there. Now the youngsters are not doing anything, just walk up and down and smoke,” Henry lamented.
“They need to develop the community and give the young people an opportunity to learn something. Not even a school or training centre is here,” Henry added. “I don’t see anything going on, and it is very bad. Dumfries needs a whole heap of picking up.”
Fellow Dumfries resident, 63-year-old Wesley Drummond, also fondly remembers Hampden’s heyday.
“I used to work there at Hampden. I drove for them and I would go to Kingston for fertiliser, draw sugar, and then go to the Hampden Wharf in Falmouth, but I didn’t get any benefits from them because I used to travel on the work programme to Canada. The wider area has been left like that from Hampden shut down,” said Drummond, pointing to the nearby acres of cane fields devoid of activity.
“Some of the younger persons [in Dumfries] may work at the hotels, and some do security work. I still survive because I have my kids in Canada, who send a little change come give me sometimes,” Drummond added.
When The Sunday Gleaner visited Dumfries last week, the streets were virtually empty with just the occasional sighting of young men riding motorcycles to and fro. There was some degree of activity at some shops in the main square and along the roadway, and a few commuters seeking public transportation at the local bus stop.
The community’s near-ghost-town appearance is in stark contrast to a development plan which was unveiled for the community in December 2011 by St James East Central Member of Parliament Edmund Bartlett, who has been pledging to transform the area into a major town.
That development, which was originally to have started in 2012, would have seen the creation of 125 housing and commercial lots at a cost of $2 million and overseen by the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ). The planned construction was part of efforts to turn Dumfries into a satellite town, which would have also included the development of Adelphi and other surrounding districts.
The only sign of the plan in the area is a weather-beaten billboard which was then unveiled by Bartlett as he launched the initiative over a decade ago. Although still standing, it is now obscured by another sign emblazoned with Bartlett’s image.
Contacted about the long gestation period for Dumfries’ development, Bartlett insisted that those plans are still in motion.
“The Dumfries development is still active and the first activation will be the renewed community development centre and sports complex, which the Sports Development Foundation is undertaking. Groundbreaking will be in March ... and the other elements of housing are being discussed with the HAJ and the Ministry of Agriculture,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.
“I am also working with the National Works Agency on the bypass road from Salt Marsh [in Trelawny] to Barnett Estate at Westgate [in St James], and this will open the new corridor for the development of the township of Adelphi. Wakefield is not being considered at the moment, but I am sure it will be eventually,” Bartlett added, referring to the Montego Bay Perimeter Road project.
Still, residents like Drummond are sceptical. Without evidence of any concrete steps being taken, they dismissed the plan as empty talk.
“They are not coming, and that is it. They only talk, but they don’t show up. Talking the word and showing up are two different things,” he told The Sunday Gleaner. “If they show up, maybe they would get more support, but nobody nah come around, and we nah hear nothing.”
Marlon Henry, a 27-year-old resident, was likewise dismissive of the proposed plan for Dumfries, bemoaning the general lack of development despite the installation of a public Wi-Fi hotspot in the community square last October.
“Is hustling me deh pon. Nothing nuh come in, and we nuh get no check. The sign is out there till it all a change colour, and it nuh look valid again,” Henry said concerning the billboard. “No real opportunity is there. It’s just that a man will ask you fi do a little something and give you a change.”
Over in Wakefield, Trelawny, a few minutes drive away, 76-year-old Ezekiel Green observed that his home community has also declined somewhat in the years since sugar ceased to be a local economic driver, although its decline is not as bad as that of Dumfries.
“The people relied on Hampden for their livelihood. Now there is nothing in the area for them to rely on,” said Green, who spent part of his younger years in employment as a truck loader at Hampden Estate.
“Wakefield is not that badly off, but it could be better. Everybody is trying to do a little something to make ends meet,” he reflected.
Wakefield, which is home to the Muschett High School, is certainly active with various shops and roadside food stalls open to drive the local economy, but Green noted that this is largely due to residents not relying solely on employment at Hampden.
“I used to work on the trucks, loading sugar cane at Hampden, but I never really relied on that especially, because I used to drive tour buses and so I had another income. Most people don’t rely on the estate alone, as they have their little roadside shops here and there, and some do chicken rearing,” Green explained. “Some people do a little work over at Hampden Estate as they are still making the rum over there, but not many people are employed there.”