by Teresa McCaffery
I’m coming to meet the architects at the next Friends weekend. With development ideas on my mind I watched a recorded TV programme from a series about seriously expensive hotels. This hotel was on an island, and its story felt like a parable.
The island is off the coast of Newfoundland. Close to the arctic it suffers extreme weather conditions. It’s low lying with no trees or hills but was home to a good number of people until huge trawling vessels threatened to wipe out the cod on which they depended. Quotas were imposed and the fish stocks recovered, but the island economy did not. One of the people forced to leave the island as a child felt particularly strongly about the benefits of living on her island. She wanted to go home, and she wanted others to be able to live on the island too. She had some money she did not need and spent a few million dollars building a very special hotel. This hotel would celebrate everything that was good about the island, its awesome situation in the sea, its abundant and nutritious vegetation, its wholesome community life and the beautiful craftwork it generates. The hotel is kept in trust and all income from guests (the cost of a night is not for the fainthearted) is ploughed back into the island. All the islanders have contact with guests through the work they do in the hotel or as guides. The population is still declining but it is easy to imagine further initiatives that would encourage more people to stay, or come to live there.
Roger Dawson has taught me to look for the cause when something good happens, and I certainly wanted to know how a child forced to leave her home for economic reasons could wind up not so much later with millions of dollars that she did not need. Surely most rich people feel that they need every penny, and preferably a bit more?
She had grown up in a community in tune with its environment. Maybe her attitude to life was uncomplicated and generous, totally honest. With a mind uncluttered by the media (the island did not have electricity in the 1960s) she would have a quick grasp of what would work in her new community, especially regarding money (we were told she had a senior role in the finance department of a successful company). That would account for the high income, but why was it not all spent? It seems likely that she would have had a strong sense of what she really needed and wanted, and a healthy dislike of spending money on what had no real worth. Surely there is a lesson there for us?