Flagg's Flat: St Helena's First Self-Catering Accommodation

 

13 Sept 2018 by SAMS
In 1989, the first self-catering accommodation on St Helena Island opened its doors. Twenty-nine years later, Patsy Flagg is still running her self-catering flat in Harlyn, Half Tree Hollow.

Patsy – now the only person with the surname Flagg living on the island – opened the accommodation business after feeling she had extra space in her home that could go to better use. Flagg’s Self-Catering Flat is adjacent to Patsy’s own home – so assistance and company is always nearby for renters – but is separate enough from Patsy’s house to give renters privacy.

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Inside view of the flat.

Patsy hasn’t made many major changes to the flat over the years – while the accommodation is now listed on Property Finder and registered with the Tourist Office, word-of-mouth still drives Patsy’s business and return renters keep the flat occupied.

Recently, through funding from ESH, Patsy expanded the flat for the first time – getting new equipment and creating increased space for the kitchen and living area.

While not located in the prime area of Jamestown, Harlyn is close to Ladder Hill Road – and in recent years, is also close to various shops and restaurants.

The biggest changes have been the island surrounding the flat. Once the only business of its kind, the flat now faces competition on-island from similar businesses; and is having to adapt to a changing market where renters, for instance, often want to eat out each night rather than cater for themselves at their accommodation.

 

 

Below is a Q&A with Ms Patsy Flagg, who has kept her self-catering accommodation operating for the past 29 years.

 

What were the biggest challenges for your business when it was first set up, and are they different now?

“I suppose the challengers now is different, because in the old days we didn’t have that many people wanting to eat out, most people would cater for themselves in the accommodation, occasionally they might go to the Consulate Hotel or Ann’s Place, now more people are inclined to the want to go out to eat and not necessarily cook every meal here, so sometimes I having to guide them although some of the tourist information packs do tell us about where people can go to eat, so that is one of the things that is different, that people are wanting to eat out and go out in the evenings than they use to.”

 

Has your business been affected by the Airport or increasing utility costs, and if so, how?

“I have had a few people [who have] flown in after the RMS was no longer available: From a utilities point of view, I wouldn’t say [my business] has been greatly affected – those costs are enveloped in the rent I charge, and I have had to put that up. The only extra [charges are] the telephone calls they actually make.”

 

The information about your accommodation on Property Finder says ‘the proprietor will arrange for a designated drive to collect tenants, with their baggage from the St Helena Airport and transport them to Harlyn.’ How much more expensive is this pickup, since the pickup location has change from the Wharf to the Airport?

“Definitely it is more expensive, when we had the RMS coming in with tenants I was then driving or if not I would get somebody to go down and collect them which was on the house, because of the fact that it was practically about two miles down the road.

When they had to return (more often than not) they had a hired vehicle so they would probably take themselves back, if it wasn’t so I would arrange to get them back and financially it wasn’t that heavy. Now it is a longer distance, it is a longer drive and at this point in time I’m not driving, so I have an arrangement with one of the local people, not far away from here, who will go out and collect and bring people back, but that is paid by the tenant not by me.”

 

Does it seem that there are plenty of visitors seeking self-catering accommodation?

“At this point in time not a great number, I have got some already booked, hopefully that will be upheld and getting more. But at the moment I think all of us in the tourist accommodation are on the low, there is not that many coming in at this point in time. Since the RMS, there isn’t as much business – there aren’t as many tourists. All of us [in the accommodation industry] are feeling that.”

 

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Napoleon's delight cake.

What would you want renters to know about your business (what sets your business apart from similar businesses?

“Well, my self-catering flat is absolutely adjacent to my own home so I’m at their service if they need me almost 24 hours, but this is their home when they are here so this entirely their private accommodation, but I am available. The actual setting of the home is fairly near the town (nearly 2 miles away) there are shops about 20 minutes walk up the road, we have eating places fairly near at hand, as well as places of worships fairly nearby, all of which are a plus.”

 

Does your accommodation have any special stories or historical significance that might interest potential renters?

The house was built in 1826 and had been in the family since 1972. The former owner, a Hungarian woman, in her will had left the house to the church and asked the church to turn the house into a music school for children; or, if impossible, to turn it into a music museum [to this day, neither has existed on the island].

The woman’s baby grand piano and valuable silver flute (which was later used at Prince Andrew School as a gift for the student of the year) would have been the first instalments.

 

What do you enjoy most about running your business and are you also employed elsewhere or involved with any charities or have any hobbies etc..?

“One of the things I do thoroughly enjoy about running the business is that fact that it is next door to my own home, but once I have tenants in this is their home so I leave them to get on with it privately, but if they need me I am next door. It is nice to meet people from all walks of life and sometimes from different countries. Because if the enjoyment I have had people wanting to come back the second time, in fact I’ve got two people in December/January, who is doing just that, they were here nine years ago so they are wanting to come again, so that’s a plus sign. The enjoyment part of it all is having someone next door, its good company as well.

I am retired I’m not working anymore since retiring from the education department several years ago, I love tending my pot plants, I do a little bit of calligraphy here and there, I enjoy a little bit of cooking mainly for my family (not for sales or anything). I love entertaining family and friends from time to time, I am involved with charities, at present I am president of the Woman’s Corona Society, I’m a member of the Bee Keepers Association and I’m involved with some of the church work and raising money for them. I use to run coffee mornings but since having an accident about a year ago I’ve had to slow down on that one, but I still enjoy having people come in and have a cup of coffee and enjoy a little chat.”

 

What would you say to a potential renter?

“If people have heard about me (I am the only person with the surname Flagg on the island) they are always assured of a very warm welcome, I make my accommodation as homely as possible. The flat is adjacent to my home which have a long verandah and people are always invited to go and sit on the verandah and enjoy it. I also have a small patio outside where they can sit and have a cup of tea or coffee if they want.

I hope that each tenant who has been here thus far has enjoyed it, felt homely and comfortable. Some tenants have wanted to make a repeat visit so I hope that it will happen in the future.”

 

 

 

St Helena is a unique and wonderful place with lots of opportunity. But this is a challenging era for St Helena – for businesses, for individuals and for overall economic development. SAMS has partnered with ESH to check in with two businesses a month and maintain coverage on these important but underreported stories of challenges and success in the local economy.