Governor Philip Rushbrook reports on his first year in post.

Governor's Message: One Year On

One Year On: Governor’s message to Tristan da Cunha

Edited from a full message also to St Helena and Ascension

Monday, 11 May 2020, marks the completion of my first year as the Governor of our three unique islands in the South Atlantic. This time last year my wife and I remember the wonderful inauguration and reception given to us by the community on St Helena and the warm wishes of welcome from Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. Our many engagements and meetings with people from each island during the year have been a truly satisfying and unique experience.

HE Governor Rushbrook with his wife Janis
during the inauguration ceremony on 11th May 2019

Last year in Jamestown, I mentioned areas I intended the Governor’s Office to pursue with councillors and administrations. The important roles of any government are to create a stable set of laws, services and infrastructure. These let people live in a society that encourages innovation and opens up opportunities for commerce to thrive and diversify, all reinforced with reliable international connections. Let us reflect on some of what we have achieved together over the last 12 months.

Governor-elect Dr Philip Rushbrook meets Chief Islander James Glass at the Tristan da Cunha Annual Gathering 2019 in Southampton

Governor Philip Rusbrook with Chief Islander James Glass and his wife Felicity
at the 2019 Tristan Association Annual Gathering held in Southampton.

On Tristan da Cunha, we were thwarted in my plans to visit last September by the storm damage. My wife and I are looking forward immensely to coming to the Island. I can only hope we will not be prevented again this year by the various travel and quarantine restrictions now in place. Following the departure of Sean Burns to his next post in January, I was privileged to welcome Fiona Kilpatrick and Stephen Townsend on behalf of the FCO as the first ever job-share Administrators. The year also saw the return of Wave Dancer. Its major refit was recognition of the importance of the lobster industry to the Island. Alas though, two storms defined the year but not the spirit of the Island. I am aware the extreme weather led to the considerable damage, the repairs from which are only now approaching the end with the reroofing of the school building. I am pleased the recent repairs and strengthening of the harbour were finished before the winter arrives. The collective effort and determination of all on the Island to carry on with their lives has been an inspiration to Tristan da Cunha’s wide international following, for example, I thoroughly enjoyed the interviews on Piers Morgan’s ‘Good Morning Britain’ television programme (or should I say, ‘Good Morning Tristan da Cunha’ as it appeared on screen). Most recently, congratulations on the promotion of the northern rockhopper penguin’s success on Twitter as the world seabird champion!

If you had asked me to describe the future one year past, it would certainly have not looked like the scenes we see today. I can sincerely sympathise with the many Islanders who have loved ones locked down or stranded far away. The very flights that brought me to St Helena are grounded, so unexpectedly my wife too is unable to return.

The gains of our past year are at risk. The recent events of the global Covid-19 health emergency have been seismic in their impact on the world. Understandably this has led to much uncertainty about the future. As three of the few places without any positive cases, our Islands’ isolation and firm action have protected us so far from the virus. As with the storms in Tristan, I have been struck again by the way people from all quarters have come together in this time of adversity and achieved remarkable outcomes. Be that, constructing the Bradleys facility in St Helena, or taking a pragmatic approach to protecting Ascension, or introducing early restrictions on landings on Tristan da Cunha. We must continue to protect ourselves in the coming months.

Covid-19 has without a doubt impacted on the economic trajectories for our Islands, as it has with other overseas territories and far larger countries across the world. Nevertheless, the measures currently imposed: quarantines, restriction on activities, closed borders, increased medical aid and ad-hoc UK financial support are – and will only ever be – a temporary fix. Soon each Island must act to protect their fragile economies, reduce public spending to what is affordable, find innovative opportunities amongst the current challenges and endeavour to secure a sustainable future.

I would like us to recognise that one day in the months ahead we will need to re-engage our travel connections with the outside world and reconnect with friends, families, travellers and investors visiting our Islands. Much of the past normality of the way we lead our lives and the necessity of hassle-free travel will have to restart as it will in the UK and across the rest of the world. Coming to an acceptance across our communities on how our Islands can reopen for business is something we will all have to confront during this year. Although it will be challenging, it is also an opportunity for each Island to find innovative solutions.

If there is anything I have learnt over the past year, it is that the community spirit and looking out for one another is a precious character of Island life. More than ever in the potentially difficult times ahead we need that sense of community. It is needed to help elected councillors and administrations decide on how to keep our Islands safe, not just from a virus but from its long term economic impacts too. Thank you for a rewarding first year and I look forward to working as your Governor in the coming year.

Dr Philip Rushbrook, Governor of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, 11th May 2020