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Chamber President Reflects on Lib Day

I was wondering what to write for my Contact column and at that moment my inbox bleeped.  The email was a sepia tinted photo of my mother as a young girl with her siblings, cousins and childhood friends, sitting, wrapped up warm, on a wintry farm gate in Shropshire.  It is in the middle of the 1940’s, and the children are young evacuees from Guernsey, and now as a parent I understand their smiles.  They are not smiling because they were deeply happy, but because they reflected the smiling relief of the photographer, my grandmother, then a young mother, who would have felt, in that moment, hope that she could settle the children safely in the bosom of the English countryside.  After a traumatic evacuation from Guernsey, her duty in the war was to raise the children sitting on the gate in front of her.

Yet the family still in Guernsey had an uncertain future, early in the Occupation, there were grave concerns as to the motivations of the occupying Germans.  Then later on, there was the fear of being caught in collateral damage from the advancing Allies.  In response, some islanders became diarists.   One of these was my father’s aunt, Dorothy “Doy” Higgs, a silversmith, who like many, would pen letters believing that their letters could be their legacy.   However, after the war, Doy was persuaded to publish her letters as a collection.  In response Doy produced a modest run of “Life in Guernsey under the Nazis” , there was a small flurry of local interest, and eventually over time, like many diarists her collection would sit gathering dust on the book shelves of Guernsey’s guest houses.  That was, until American author Mary Ann Shaeffer was fog bound in the island. To pass the time she pulled off two books from the book shelf, one was Ebenezer Le Page, and the other Doy’s publication, and then Mary Ann Shaeffer began reading. After cogitation and rumination, she was inspired to write New York Times best seller – the Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie society, with her niece Annie Barrows.  I am pleased that today we can celebrate the Guernsey book, the film and all those, like Visit Guernsey, who have supported its production.  However, it goes to show the power of inspiration, our actions today can inspire a bigger, bolder action, decades or generations later.

The film should also be another call to recognise Guernsey’s value as a cultural centre, and the broader reach of cultural diplomacy.  For a small collection of islands our cultural output is phenomenal, note the 2017 BBC adaptation of SS-GB by local resident Len Deighton, or even shows in the West of End of London, like Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo, all written here, all powering modern culture.

It is because of the power of culture that Chamber has always been at the front to celebrate not just our business entrepreneurs but also our social and cultural entrepreneurs too.  Leading lights are those such as the Guernsey Literary Festival, the Arts Commission, the Dandelion project and Art for Guernsey.  They are all punching above their weight to put globally leading creatives into the orbit of Guernsey.  They and many other forward-thinking organisations build a Guernsey brand that all businesses can benefit from.

Of course, creativity goes beyond art, our innovation and thought leadership stretches across many industries, and we will continue to thrive because smaller islands like ours can bring people together who wouldn’t otherwise connect. All we need is space for an enjoyable coffee, or even perhaps, one of our three local artisan gins.  On that note, gin artisan, Luke Wheadon, had his gin appointed as the official gin of the Guernsey movie.   My grandmother would have been proud, not least because it all helps tell the occupation story, but because Luke’s father was one of her charges there in the picture, sitting on that gate in Shropshire.  So let’s celebrate the arts, and also on 9th May, let’s make this a very special liberation day in memory of all those in the channel islands who were liberated in 1945, and of course, the children who came home from their evacuation to inspire us.










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