Henry S. Fraser: Philanthropy and preservation lessons from the U.K.

Morgan Lewis Mill

Morgan Lewis Mill, Barbados

Sir Henry S. Fraser

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Monday February 2, 2015 – What moves some people to give and others to grasp? What determines generosity or altruism or selflessness and what determines the opposite. While recent research suggests there is a gene for altruism, the subject of giving is complex. A gift last week, from our son’s mother in law in Britain, brought giving in Britain into brilliant focus, and perhaps provides lessons for us here.

The gift was a magnificent book: A Noble Thing – The National Trust and its Benefactors, by Merlin Waterson. Merlin worked for the British National Trust for more than 30 years as Director of Historic Properties, and this amazing book tells the story of giving in Britain. The stories are rich and wonderful; they range from the enormous bequests of the rich and famous to the two shillings and sixpence gifts of working people; from castles to cottages, mansions to monuments, gardens and parks to whole estates and coastlines.

The author makes the point that while Britain has a wonderful culture of philanthropy, it’s not just the wealthy who give, but passionate people across the whole population. In fact, between the end of World War II and the centenary of the British National Trust in 2007, membership of the Trust multiplied from 7,800 to four million, while the Trust came to own 37,000 buildings, 600,000 acres and more than 200 gardens and parks. And income generated from visitors runs into almost 500 million pounds, while tourist income to historic Britain runs into billions.

What can we learn from this? First let’s remember our own generous philanthropists. The five major benefactors of the Barbados National Trust and in turn Barbados, have been Mr. Ronald Tree, Mr. Egbert Lawrence Bannister, Mrs. Iris Bannochie, Mrs. Edna Leacock and Mr. Peter Moores. Ronald Tree was the founder and first President of the Trust in 1961, recognising the wealth of heritage sites in Barbados that were crying out for preservation. He was ably abetted by Mr. Peter Stevens Sr., our first Chief Town Planner, and they would both weep if they saw the state of Swan Street, Queen’s Park House and our other derelict treasures. And at his death his bequest and gifts from his friends bought the first Trust headquarters, Govan in Belleville, in 1983.

Soon after the start of the Trust, Mr. Lawrence Bannister, father of our famous Dr. Lance Bannister, the late Dr. Pat Bannister and attorney Yolande Bannister, gave the Morgan Lewis Mill to the Trust. He recognised its global importance; it was the last mill to grind sugar cane, until 1947, and the only one to survive cannibalisation of machinery and dismantling of housing, arms and sails. It was restored by the Trust in 1999, with the help of American Express, World Monuments Fund, Trust funds and other donations, and after lightning damage is now in need of further restoration.

Our third major donor was Mrs. Iris Bannochie, widow of the late, great Dr. Harry Bayley, physician extraordinary of Barbados, whose Diagnostic Clinic and state-of-the-art medical laboratory made Barbados the medical referral centre for the region in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Iris developed the unique Andromeda Gardens at Bathsheba on just over 6 acres of hillside, and bequeathed it to the Trust. In recognition of her passion for research, a link with the UWI was forged, and our fourth major donor was Mr. Peter Moores, who funded a lectureship for training and research in horticulture.

Our fifth major donor was Mrs. Edna Leacock, widow of the Hon. Dick Leacock, chairman of Barbados Shipping and Trading and Banks Breweries. At the suggestion of her son Christopher Leacock, passionate horticulturist, Mrs. Leacock bequeathed their family home, Wildey Great House, to the Trust for their headquarters.

Many others, of course, have contributed in many ways to the work of the Trust. The purchase of the home of Sir Grantley and Lady Adams – Tyrol Cot – its restoration and the creation of the Heritage village of chattel houses, was made possible by a major fund raising effort and donations from many people. But the challenge for the Trust has been accepting gifts like Andromeda and Wildey House without funds to restore and maintain, which has created major debts for the Trust in its efforts to save our patrimony. Ironically, most Barbadians think that the Trust is the recipient of huge funds from donors and government, while nothing could be further from the truth! Where, oh where, are other generous donors?

Meanwhile the Cabinet of Barbados created a Preservation Task Force, charged with fund raising to restore our numerous derelict treasures. An independent Preservation Trust has now been set up to receive donations. The priority project for this Trust is restoring the abandoned Carnegie Free Library, which needs only a modest 1.8 million dollars. The number one priority of the National Trust is re-restoring Morgan Lewis Mill. Our treasures are the treasures of every Barbadian, and in today’s heritage tourism world they’re worth their weight in gold. We must save them and donors are needed … from the millionaire to the widow with her mite! The lesson of the British is loud and clear – nearly EVERYONE there has given their share.

Bouquets: Lots of Bouquets this week; first to the Prime Minister for stating loudly, clearly, and hopefully putting to rest foolish talk about a possible devaluation. It’s a “no brainer” now, that devaluation, which destroyed the economies of Jamaica and Guyana, makes no sense. The problem is, I suspect, that just as devaluation was accelerated by Jamaican businessmen keeping their profits in the USA, some of our own less-than-patriotic businessmen may have been keeping foreign earnings in the USA out of fear … contributing to the dramatic downturn of 2012.

My second bouquet is to Acting Commissioner of Police Mr. Tyrone Griffith, for tackling the iniquitous disgrace of rogue officers in the force. May God give him strength.

And my third bouquet is to Samuel Robinson and wife Sammie, exercise physiologists, who have just opened their gym Forever Health and Fitness at the old Humphrey’s Complex, Dayrell’s Road. As exercise physiologists they’re trained to work with patients with chronic illnesses, providing exercise “as medicine”, as well as training top athletes. Check them out at www.facebook.com/sam.foreverfitness.

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henry-fraser-150Sir Henry Fraser is past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI and Professor Emeritus of Medicine. Website:  profhenryfraser.com