Hatters Steel Orchestra in fight for place to call home

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Members of the Hatters Steel Orchestra in the space at Lady Hailes, Avenue, San Fernando, they would like to call home. – Photo by Yvonne Webb

IN the marginal constituency of San Fernando West, the national instrument is fighting a battle for housing as Government plans to increase the eroding population with new housing towers.

Housing versus pan or politics toppling pan, is how the members of the Mad Hatters Steel Orchestra has described its dilemma as it lobbies for a permanent home.

The steelband was temporarily relocated from its 47-year-old home on Lady Hailes Avenue, to make way for the Redevelopment of the San Fernando Waterfront Project at a nearby property which once house the Ministry of Works.

The band’s members said they prefer the space they are presently occupying.

However, that space is earmarked for housing which is seen as critical in the marginal constituency which has seen a reduction in its population over the years.

The area’s current MP is Local Government Minister Faris Al-Rawi.

The band, which has been immortalised in calypso and one of two south-based steelbands to win the National Panorama title, has been in limbo for over four years.

The Redevelopment of the San Fernando Waterfront Project, being undertaken by the Urban Development Corporation (UDeCOTT), had factored in a state-of-the-art pan theatre for Hatters.

However, the steelband’s chairman Whitfield Weekes said the promise is yet to be delivered. In creating a space, he said, part of the acreage has been compromised, limiting the band’s growth. He attributed this to a lack of communication and consultation.

He said promises to remove or relocate squatters from the surroundings has also stunted the band’s growth as its plans to partner with schools in the area have been met with resistance from principals sceptical about the environment in which they operate.

A former politician said the squatting population represents close to 2,500 swing votes which is critical to winning the San Fernando West marginal seat so chances of them being removed before the 2025 election is out of the question.

Weekes said the constrained space is also hampering their return to the large band category and plans to establish a commercial space in its pan yard.

For these and other reasons, Weekes and the band are lobbying for the pan theatre to be permanently housed at the location where it is now.

However, Udecott’s senior project manager Terrence Beepath told Newsday, while they understand the band’s challenges, the space it is eyeing is owned by the Housing Development Company (HDC) and is earmarked for the construction of six-story housing towers.

“It is not ours to give.”

He said Udecott had to give up a plot of its own land adjacent to the original Hatters panyard to the HDC for the construction of four towers, because housing was a priority in San Fernando West.

“San Fernando West is limited in housing. There has not been any housing programme in San Fernando West for over 20 years. In fact, San Fernando West has seen a reduction in its population. People have been moving out of San Fernando West.

“What we are looking at is housing versus a steelband. Housing is a little more critical. The San Fernando West population has been reducing and this is the reason why the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) removed two polling divisions from San Fernando East to the West. Because people are moving out.”

He said he has informed Weekes and the band to continue to lobby for additional space, rather than lose everything.

“I have always told him to seek more land but it just may not be in the city. If they want to stay in San Fernando, then that is a fight to a bigger authority, like the Prime Minister,” Beepath said.

Beepath said Skiffle Steel Orchestra has also applied for the space so it could relocate from its Coffee Street pan theatre, but that request was turned down.