Minister of Housing and Urban Development Camille Robinson-Regis cutting the ribbon to officially hand over Highlanders Steel Orchestra's new panyard in company of MP for Laventille East/Morvant and Minister in the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development Adrian Leonce, from left, Maxine Richards, vice president Pan Trinbago Keith Simpson, manager of Highlanders Robert Hernandez, managing director EPOS Dr Deborah Thomas-Austin.



On December 1, 2023, on a sunny afternoon, specially-invited guests were welcomed at 34 Eastern Main Road, Success Village, Laventille, at 3pm to witness the official handing-over of the Highlanders Steel Orchestra’s new multi-million-dollar pan yard – a multi-purpose, two-story facility described as a Pan Theatre and Education Centre.

The occasion opened with the national anthem performed by the captain of Highlanders, Shaquille Gaskin, invocation by Rev Patricia St. Bernard and the welcome address by the manager of Highlanders, Robert Hernandez.

Captain of Highlanders Shaquille Gaskin, right, performing with Highlanders at the ceremony. PHOTOS COURTESY: Bertrand DePeaza

Handing over:

The facility was handed over to Hernandez by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development’s EPOS Development Company Limited (EPOS) represented by the Minister of Housing, Camille Robinson-Regis and Minister in the Ministry and also Member of Parliament (MP) for Laventille East/Morvant Adrian Leonce.

Also present were: Managing Director EPOS, Dr Deborah Thomas-Austin and permanent secretary, Simone Thorne Mora-Quinones. Robinson-Regis cut the ribbon.

Among the many guests were MP Port of Spain South, Keith Scotland, Vice President of Pan Trinbago Keith Simpson, Chairman of Pan Trinbago northern region, Desiree Myers and members, Earl Morris and Gerard Mendes, Maxine Richards, (3daughter of former president of T&T, the late Maxwell Richards), Canadian-based Henry Carrington, US-based Franklyn Hernandez and foundation member Hollis Kam, Earl Morris, retired principals Hamida Baksh (Success Laventille Secondary) and Carel Lewis (Laventille Boys’ Government Primary), head of Police IATF Hearts and Mind programme and CoP (ag) Senior Supt Oswain Subero; Chairman, Laventille Steelband Festival Foundation, Michael Cooper; former manager Desperadoes Steel Orchestra, Sandra Awai; Earl Brooks; Manager Courts Sounds Specialist of Laventille, Richard Forteau and President of TTAHI Nicholas Cumberbatch.


Getting the ‘spot’:

In his address, Hernandez revealed that the former demolished gas station was abandoned for 20-25 years, and when he realised nothing productive seemed to be replacing it, he approached NP/the government with his interest of utilizing it for the Highlanders pan-yard.

“It took four years of intense negotiations to get the 99-year lease,” he stressed.

An overhead view of part of the gathering taking in the sweet music of Len "Boogsie" Sharpe playing on pan.

Bernadette Hernandez, right, wife of manager of Highlanders, Robert Hernandez, attentive in the audience at the official handing-over ceremony of Highlanders' new panyard.

The beauty of Laventille; power of Highlanders:

Hernandez also stated that Laventille is his native community, and he’s testament to what can happen or be produced from it. He drew reference to the challenges with the intercrossing of boundaries that exist in and around the panyard and said that he’s using pan to fill the gaps that have arisen out of those so challenged: Highlanders is a safe space to bring youth and also elders together; Highlanders can create a beautiful synergy; the facility is a template for productive harmony in honour of Bertie Marshall.

He said he feels particularly proud, not only that Highlanders reside within The City of Music as declared by the United Nations, but that the facility was handed over during the year in which the UN also declared World Steelpan Day (August 11).


Hernandez request:

Hernandez asked the government representatives to try and upgrade the dilapidated buildings within the community.


Psychological support:

Hernandez said he couldn’t have done this project as successfully without the love, patience, support and understanding of his wife of 43 years, Bernadette Hernandez, while having identified some key Highlanders members from foundation to current who have also helped keep his hopes and aspirations alive. Included in part are Kam, Hernandez brother Franklyn, and Henry Carrington who arrived in T&T only for the occasion, former principals of Laventille schools, captain of Highlanders Shaquille Gaskin who steered the band in 2020 to Panorama finals first time after 54 years, placing sixth, arranger and musical director Kareem Brown and wife Avis Browne, and Highlanders pannists.

Manager of Highlanders, Robert Hernandez, addresses the gathering.

Special take-aways for Robert Hernandez:

Everyone that delivered their minutes-long addresses left among others, a salient piece of information for Hernandez:

Robinson-Regis outlined the government’s cost to facilitate the project and others in total, Scotland referred to the panyard as a flagship location and urged Hernandez to document the band’s history, Leonce reminded of the power of music and referenced a line of Shadow’s tune Dingolay to bring people together:

‘Music has no friends or enemies. Everybody can Dingolay’;

Simpson touched on Highlanders-Bertie Marshall history, and Thomas-Austin disclosed the components of the facility and stated that she hopes it would be used for its intended purpose.


Additional assistance:

Hernandez wishes to acknowledge and thank Managing Director of Meticulous Integrated Service, Terry Young for his financial assistance to Highlanders.


Vice-captain of Highlanders Kaila Jones delivered the vote of thanks, and entertainment was delivered by Len “Boogsie” Sharpe (DLitt), North West Laventille Cultural Movement, and Highlanders Steel Orchestra.

For National Panorama 2024 Small Band preliminaries, Highlanders will be performing second-to-last on the last night of the competition, December 11, 2023 at their panyard.