Winnifred’s Beach is not just any beach. At least, not to us. It is at the bottom of a wildly rocky road down a hillside, a turning off the main road in Fairy Hill, Portland. There used to be a “wicker man” on the corner. We have been going to Winnifred’s for many years and every inch of it is filled with warm memories. It is in a small, sheltered bay. We don’t visit so often now, but we used to have a favourite spot of smooth sand at the very end of the beach, a good place to catch the late afternoon sun. A mineral spring flows into the sea, cooling the water and turning it clear as glass. The spring itself is not as full as it once was, but it is fringed with reeds and a murky green colour, smelling slightly of sulphur. A dip in there makes your skin tingle.
Winnifred’s is a free public beach – thanks to the huge efforts of local people, after a five-year court battle to keep the beach open for all Jamaicans to use and enjoy. Why is this a big deal? Because, sadly, many of Jamaica’s finest beaches are private, inaccessible, protected by security guards; or one has to pay an entrance fee. The Urban Development Corporation, a government agency that owns the beach and surrounding land, had plans to “develop” the beach and build a hotel on lands adjoining it. But a court decision in 2014 ruled in favour of mediation, and now the community has the right to use the beach, whoever owns it, in perpetuity. There is still the possibility, though, that they may have to pay for the privilege, in the future.
Maria Carla Gullotta, who has lived in nearby Drapers since 1989, was at the forefront of the struggle to keep Winifred’s open, with the assistance of a Port Antonio attorney, Yvonne Ridguard and Kingston-based attorney Danielle Andrade, who then worked with the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET). You would have to go there to see for yourself. Recently, Carla told us about the beach’s new website (there is a great article from Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown TV program, and much more information). Do take a look here.
There are over 40 Jamaicans living and working on the beach. They struggle to keep it clean and peaceful. They protect the turtles that come to nest. They encourage both overseas and local patrons to respect the environment. The Free Winnifred Benevolent Society has spent the small funds that it has collected through voluntary donations to pay for the life guard, to pay the bathroom lady and to provide utensils and toiletries for the bathroom.
JET supported the training of one young man to get certified as a life guard and the Benevolent Society paid for a second one. They both did really well and are now both certified. JET also helped train local people to protect the turtles.
Then there is the road, which is really bad (it’s a series of deep ruts, canyons and rocky promontories). The FWBS has launched a fundraising campaign to get the road fixed. If you would like to contribute some funds (even the smallest donation will be warmly welcomed) visit the website or pay into the National Commercial Bank, Port Antonio Branch, Free Winnifred Beach Benevolent Society, Account 841005481. You can also contact Maria Carla at firstname.lastname@example.org or (876) 948-8973 (℅ the Italian Consulate).
“If Winnifred is patrimony for the community, we all need to recognize the importance of participating in community life,” says Maria Carla Gullotta.