St George World Heritage Centre to close for good
An attraction that taught visitors about the significance of the Unesco World Heritage Site of St George has shut its doors after 14 years, The Royal Gazette can reveal.
The World Heritage Centre, at Penno’s Wharf, was shuttered after years of financial difficulties.
Cheryl Hayward-Chew, the chairwoman of the St George’s Foundation, who managed the site, confirmed that the Centre would not reopen after they were forced to shut because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
She added: “For the St George’s Foundation, it was one of those decisions that is upsetting and hard, but a relief.
“Now we can step back and have our programmes focus on the entire World Heritage Site instead of just maintenance for the centre.”
The World Heritage Centre was set up in the Queen’s Warehouse in 2006 as a way to educate visitors on the history St George and other historical sites in the area.
Ms Hayward-Chew said that the foundation rented the building from the Corporation of St George and paid for rent through cash raised from visitors and sales from its Second-Hand Rose thrift store.
But she admitted the foundation struggled to raise money ever since the 2008 recession hit the island and slowed traffic to the area.
Ms Hayward-Chew added that the Covid-19 pandemic had dealt another blow to tourism and acted as a “catalyst” for closure.
She said: “It made it an easier decision – it was no debate.”
The World Heritage Centre included exhibits such as the Gateway to Bermuda whaling exhibit and a small-scale model of the Sea Venture, the shipwreck in 1609 that sparked the permanent settlement of the island.
It also had rooms for social events and for showing educational films.
Ms Hayward-Chew said that the St George’s Foundation rented the centre out to the public for additional revenue, but that bookings dropped after 2010.
She added that the foundation struggled to uphold their mission statement – to maintain and spread awareness of the World Heritage Site – because they were focused on keeping the building open.
Ms Hayward-Chew said: “The focus of the St George’s Foundation started shifting from the entire World Heritage Site to supporting the building and that’s really where, as an organisation, we have taken a step back.”
The Queen’s Warehouse will return to the Corporation of St George by the end of the year.
Peter Frith, the manager of the St George’s Foundation, said that he had “truly mixed feelings” about the closure.
He said: “We were a stalwart member of the St George’s community in terms of both retail and historical relevance – everybody really appreciated having the thrift shop there.
“But as business started to decline due to the lack of a steady flow of visitors we started to realise that the big building that we were in – magnificent and historical though it is – was a huge expense.”
Mr Frith said that exhibits at the World Heritage Site would be donated or sold to schools and museums.
He added that he was optimistic about the future of the building.
George Dowling, the Mayor of St George, said that the closure of the World Heritage Centre was “unfortunate” and meant a loss of educational services to the town.
He added: “Once the Corporation of St George receives back possession of its building … the Corporation of St George will entertain expressions of interest and explore other opportunities for the space that will bear fruitful outcomes for the Corporation of St George.”