Manchester is widely regarded as the most orderly parish in the nation and its people are considered the most disciplined in Jamaica. As journalist Barbara Ellington, who grew up there, says “You can drive north, south, and west and you will see no slums or depressed areas or zinc fence type living. “


Some say Manchester is simply god blessed. It is within easy reach of the island’s three main bauxite companies which gives it a very stable economic base. It has abundant rainfall and is agriculturally rich. And its cool climate attracted many of the more well heeled and hence better educated people in the colonial days. Even today it is estimated that over seventy percent of returning residents choose to live in Manchester when they come “back a yard”.


But as Ms. Ellington points out, many other communities with great natural advantages have wasted them. “There has been a great effort among Manchesterians to prevent the parish from becoming run down. They don’t do not have this sit down and do nothing but complain attitude that is so widespread in so many parts of Jamaica.”


This strong community spirit is borne out by a host of volunteer organizations in Mandeville and its surrounding environs. Few areas with such a relatively small population can boast so many service clubs, charities and civic organizations. These include the Kiwanis, Lions, Rotary, Soroptomists, Jaycees, Chamber of Commerce, Manchester Health Trust, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, Girls Brigade, Police Youth Clubs, 28 Neighbourhood Watches, Returning Residents Associations, Concerned Citizens Association, and many many church groups. No town in Jamaica does more to help those in need. And as one of the town’s most involved citizens puts it “No amount of money could buy the kind spirit you find here. You could never put a dollar amount on the time and effort so many people here spend on doing charity work. The benefits it brings to the community are priceless.”


The Mandeville Weekly newspaper not only does a very good job of keeping people well informed about central Jamaica, it takes a very active role in organizing community groups and promoting social programs. One of these is a central region wide agro-processing training program, where it acts as an information dissemination centre and source funding facilitator on both local and international levels. As publisher Tony Freckleton says “Jamaica’s future lies in empowering the people by making them active stake holders in their own development. We can’t just sit back and wait on government to solve our problems. If the nation is to progress we must all learn to help ourselves.”


One of Manchester’s most outstanding features is its number of schools, including the only one of the island’s three accredited universities outside the corporate area, Northern Caribbean University. Church Teacher’s College and Knox Community College also offer tertiary level education and pre-university courses. Manchester High School has A-level courses, as do Munroe College and Hampton High School which are only an hour away. Compare this to the situation in the much larger parish of St. James, where only Cornwall College has a sixth form and only Montego Bay Community College and Sam Sharpe Teacher’s College offers tertiary education. And they have to serve virtually the entire western third of the island!


One of the more interesting projects being conceptualized there is the Manchester Academic Residential Certification Centre (MARCC) plan. Many of Mandeville’s returning residents live in large houses. Since their children are grown, this means many empty rooms and perhaps a little loneliness and the need for a bit of company. So many of these people would not mind having decent and honest lodgers.


There are also many young persons from outside the parish who would like to take advantage of the town’s abundant educational opportunities but have nowhere to stay. The lack of a place of abode has denied many youngsters the chance to get that subject or degree which might have changed their lives.


The MARCC plan hopes to match the returning residents’ empty rooms with the students’ need for lodging by setting up a certified approval system. Young persons, especially young girls, can not stay just anywhere. So persons wishing to take in boarders would register and then be interviewed and have their premises inspected. Of course people do not want just anyone living in their house. So would be boarders would also register and have to undergo a character and background check. A properly monitored certification system would benefit everyone involved.  And it could lead to Mandeville becoming an academic centre not only for Jamaica but for the Caribbean, a sort of West Indian answer to the towns of Oxford or Cambridge. A dream perhaps, but well, who knows?


Many people, especially out of town Manchestarians, often wax poetic about Mandeville’s virtues. It is so beautiful and clean! Why can’t the rest of Jamaica be like Mandeville? Yet the reality is that Mandeville today is beautiful and clean only in relation to the rest of Jamaica. Like the rest of the country it has visually deteriorated over the years. For instance there used to be a beautiful island of blue lilies on the main road leading straight up into the town centre and its famous green park. But the flower island is no more and shop stalls have been built in the park. Mandeville’s town centre is now just another loud unsightly mess.


Nor is ‘cool cool Mandeville’ as cool as it used to be. The many trees that have been cut down to build houses have made it quite hot now in the summer. And like the rest of Jamaica, the insurge of ‘deportees’ means the town is clogged with almost continual traffic between dawn and dusk. But of course people have to live somewhere. And why should only a privileged few own cars? Progress has its price. And yet with proper foresight the price of progress does not have to chaos and deterioration. Well thought out and firmly implemented plans can make traffic run smoothly. And forward looking replanting schemes can keep even booming towns clean and green.


In many ways Mandeville is a test for Jamaica. If this former showpiece of the Caribbean is allowed to degenerate into yet another dirty and squalid ‘third world’ town, what hope is there for the rest of the island? Will Mandeville’s vaunted civic pride allow it not only to stem the rot, but to regain its former glory? The rest of Jamaica will be watching and hoping.



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