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By Gemma Handy

One of the nation’s most celebrated historical sites will be the focus of attention this weekend with a special event being held to raise funds towards its upkeep.

This month marks the 59th anniversary of the reopening of Nelson’s Dockyard following the extensive restoration that transformed it into what is today a lynchpin of the country’s tourism product.

The intriguing complex – named after its most famous erstwhile resident – was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016. The status has also increased the need for scrupulous maintenance which costs thousands of dollars a year, heritage resources officer Desley Gardner told Observer.

This Saturday, creative residents are invited to attend a ‘Paint and Sip’ evening being hosted by the National Parks Authority in collaboration with local art group ‘Wadartli’.

Just 25 places are available, in keeping with Covid-19 protocols, and tickets are EC$175 which includes unlimited wine and hors d’oeuvres.

Gardner said the money raised would help pay for the dockyard’s ongoing preservation which requires traditional materials and methods of craftsmanship sympathetic to its era. The use of imported yellow bricks, hand-cut stone and lime mortar racks up costs which are also supported by grants and donations.

The 18th century dockyard was built by enslaved Africans to maintain Royal Navy warships protecting Britain’s valuable sugar-producing islands. After the sugar industry waned in the mid-19th century, Britain turned its attention elsewhere and the dockyard was closed in 1889.

These days it is the scene of some of the world’s most prestigious sailing regattas while its surrounding waters and hiking trails also attract visitors in droves.

“The most interesting thing about the dockyard is the complex activities that happen here. It’s not just a great historical site, it’s also a diverse environment with beautiful thriving ecosystems,” Gardner explained.

Painters of all abilities are welcome to attend Saturday’s waterfront event. The Wadartli team will be on hand to offer step by step guidance to novices.

In addition to raising cash, the evening will also offer historical information about the dockyard and the role it played in imperialist Britain’s ruthless crusade for wealth and power.

“Its contribution to maritime and naval history is so important because much of what is standing today was built by African labourers, and many of us are descendants of these people,” Gardner said.

“To see these buildings still standing, along with the people still working within them and contributing to Antigua’s economy, continues the legacy of what our ancestors started and ensures that it stays in Antigua’s hands.”

The November 14 event takes place from 5-8pm. Call 481-5021/2 to reserve a place.

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