Going to the beach is a popular cultural pastime in the Caribbean, especially during the hot holiday months of June to August. Without a doubt, UWI students and staff are no exception! So what would the first University in the English-speaking Caribbean be without its own beach front property?
At a meeting in November 1949, UCWI Principal, Dr Thomas Taylor, expressed concern that the College needed to make provision for the more than “150 students from the other islands in the Caribbean who would not be in a position to afford to leave Jamaica during each summer vacation, and who could not afford to pay the normal price for hotel or even boarding house accommodation in Jamaica.” Taylor thought a “seaside holiday camp for these students should be started without delay and that accommodation should be as simple and as cheap as possible”.
Out of this concern came the UWI’s Lyssons Beach in St Thomas, Jamaica. This idea, when shared with the undergraduates, was well received. The college students were “prepared to accept low [accommodation] standards, and are anxious to save some money by doing some of the building themselves”. The undergraduates were so excited that they even suggested that transportation be organised to take them to the area for a day’s work.
Lyssons beach was known as Swimmers Bay and formed part of the Lyssons Land Settlement. It is located thirty-eight miles from the University and one mile east of the historic town of Morant Bay, St Thomas. The Government of the day approved the leasing of 5 acres of land for the development of the holiday camp for the University College. This holiday camp would have formed part of the plans for a housing development scheme, a proposed hospital (now Princess Margaret Hospital) and the then existing recreation and show ground. The holiday camp would not only be available for use by university students but also other youth groups such as Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, in addition to ordinary family accommodation.
While the original site was landlocked, it was a short distance away from the Swimmers Bay Beach. However, by 1952, the designated area was pressed into hurricane relief for the provision of emergency hurricane housing. The University agreed to accept and lease the 2 acres of land adjoining the Swimmers Bay Beach, which is now the site of the present day property.
The records are replete with various plans and schemes to develop the holiday camp facilities, even at its bare minimum. Unfortunately, the finances never materialized. Happily, a changing facility was eventually constructed and forms part of a tranquil seaside property, with picnic tables and benches, for the enjoyment of the university community.
Thanks to the vision of the University College’s first Principal, The UWI has a beach of its own.