“By common consent, it is very hard to explain the special character that makes this such a special and uplifting place. Distinctive qualities of landscape, light, history and heritage can be helpfully listed towards that end but a definition of their unifying magic remains elusive, although it might be fleetingly glimpsed in a Blampied etching, say, or a snatch of Jèrriais at a cattle show, or a drone image of Gorey.”
The question of identity is one of aspiration. How do we want to see ourselves as an Island? What is genuinely important to us? What sort of Jersey do we want our children to inherit? How do we want others to perceive us? Our answers to these questions act as a kind of North Star to guide all our other policymaking, from health to population to social care, from education to culture to taxation.
Examining issues of identity also helps us craft those other policies more wisely and effectively. To make good laws, we need to understand what we have in common, and how we engage with each other. We need to understand how our experiences and aspirations differ from one another depending on our background or our birthplace. And we need to understand how we are all an integral part of what makes Jersey special, and what makes its future bright.
Finally, the time is right to look at our identity because it is changing. There is a profound and commonly held feeling that Jersey’s identity is special and worth protecting. Yet, there is also a widespread sense that something is being lost. How can Jersey change with the times, embrace diversity, foster civic engagement and pride, play its part in an increasingly interconnected world, and yet nurture its unique spirit and sense of place?
The Policy Development Board and I greatly enjoyed putting together the Island Identity Project. However, once we began to attempt to unpick the many strands that make this island so special and unique, it became clear that we would barely scratch the surface.
We canvassed the opinions and raised awareness among islanders through consultation, conference, parish road-shows, youth engagement and the setting up of a dedicated website. I invite readers to visit the Island Identity website to watch the video that sets the scene, or to pick up a copy of the consultation booklet from Parish halls or the States Building information centre.
We have produced dozens of actionable, cost-effective recommendations and have offered guidance to help government bodies, private organisations and individuals to preserve and enhance what’s best about Jersey. I am delighted to see that these ideas are beginning to be taken on and furthered. We are all responsible for nurturing a cohesive and positive sense of identity.
Developing the knowledge, skills and understanding required to maintain and protect aspects of our identity – our history and culture, our environment, our innovative skills and industries – is critical.
It was felt that tools for both education and increasing the understanding of our island were limited. As a result, we have created a website which provides a resource for Jersey’s schools, civil servants, businesses and anyone who represents the island overseas.
To support the learning of young people, I have commissioned the first of a series of books for children about Jersey’s unique and formative history, written by local author Penny Byrne and published at the end of this month.
I continue to believe that a focus on Education is critical to build knowledge around key industry sectors. This will help develop our economy while simultaneously strengthening our identity.
It has been very encouraging that the work of Hautlieu photography students’ final year projects confront Island Identity, and that the Jersey Youth Service has run a programme for young people at Crabbe that explores a sense of belonging, inclusivity, civic pride and how identity plays a significant part.
It is hard to overstate the importance of the arts and culture in reinforcing Jersey’s sense of identity.
I’m delighted that, with the support of the Island Identity project, the Corn Riots Festival will be forwarded as an annual major cultural celebration of Jersey’s history, heritage, and creative talent. In addition, the recently published Arts Strategy recommends a full review of arts and cultural spaces in Jersey, including exhibition, gallery, and performance spaces. I was also grateful to see the Skipton International and ArtHouse Jersey ‘Big Ideas’ Exhibition chose the three themes of accessibility, sustainability, and identity, which are all important considerations for modern day Jersey and are inherently tied to discussions of Island Identity. The exhibition was an excellent example of how an organisation and individuals can challenge ideas around identity and advance them in a way that makes a genuine impact – a true credit to the artists involved. In many cases, art can offer an avenue for reflection and helps to communicate the essence of what makes this island unique.
Looking outward, our international personality is better understood by capitalising on our uniqueness. I am delighted that the Minister for External Relations took forward our recommendation to “re-establish External Relations as a separate department within the Government of Jersey”. This chimes with the fact that we are a small Island nation, with a distinct identity and international personality. The visibility of the department better reflects our autonomous constitutional status and allows the island to be accurately represented on the international stage.
The recent workshop, supported by Jersey Policy Forum, acted as an opportunity to further the dialogue. It also offered an opportunity to engage with various sectors and communities, catalysing action, and empowering attendees to consider how they, wearing their many hats, could create a more cohesive, positive and proud island.
As has been proven, a creative and collaborative discussion is critical. Articulating and debating questions of our identity is not one static process, rather a conversation that will continue and develop over time. Being aware of issues our identity and sparking the debate now allows time for considerations in the creation of decision making — whether in terms of public policy or through the choices we make in our everyday lives.
As we reach the end of this political term, I would like to see the next Government take these ideas to the next level. There has been a paradigm shift in our society over the pandemic, which has shown how we can unite as a community, demonstrated not least by the COVID Community Taskforce and the way that the island has banded together over the recent months in the Island’s response to the Ukraine crisis. It is important, going forward, that we as an island community establish and work towards a shared vision for the island. Our North Star.