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Chilling out at Life Yard
Murals at the front of Life Yard, located on 44 Fleet Street, Kingston

Life Yard luring visitors to 'yard' life

Paul H. Williams, Hospitality Jamaica Writer

To say Life Yard, located in Kingston, is an oasis in the concrete-and-brick jungle of the Corporate Area, is to use a cliché. But, that is what it really is, a fertile spot, oozing life.

Surrounded by the din, the hustle and bustle of city life, it is nestled among the madding crowd, but as you enter through its gate, a palate-teasing aroma of 'ital' food might just pull you through faster, and a cool breeze gives you a welcoming embrace.

When you pass the cookshop, an ageing gingerbread house, and a juice bar made of board, you walk into a farm, and you get the feeling that you are in a rural setting in an urban space, a little piece of country in the heart of Kingston. There are fruit trees, food trees, ground provisions and vegetable patches, part of the residents' philosophy of sustaining themselves. The crops are nourished by organic matters.

Around the property are several pieces of outdoor furniture, made of pallets, on which to relax. It is a sanctuary operated by inner-city youth, many of them Rastafarians who were born and bred right in the community where Life Yard is. The essence of the place is about life on The Rock - real life, nothing pretentious, nothing overstated, nothing sugar coated.

When Hospitality Jamaica visited recently, we spoke with Shane Morgan, the 'president' of the yard, and some of the other youth about what they are doing with the space, including the community tourism part of it.

By its very nature, Life Yard is a social enterprise, an entity that embarks up on entrepreneurial endeavours for the benefit of the community in which it is located. There is jewellery making, leather craft, and furniture making, among other income-earning ventures and social projects. Yet, it has also been luring people from abroad to experience what it is like to live a 'yard life' in Jamaica.

"Through community tourism, we have attracted over 2,000 people from 45 countries across the world since 2014," Morgan said.

The yard started to get attention internationally because of its Paint Jamaica project, to change communities through art. Social media buzzed with the artwork that the youth were turning out in the inner cities and people went to see exactly what they were doing. The murals on the front of the property are as thought-provoking as they are inviting.

And when they realised people were really interested in the yard, they formally registered and regularised the concept. They have had visitors who stayed in the community for weeks, and so the residential element is also up and running.

They believe that it is the energy of Rastafari 'livity that is pulling people towards Life Yard, as well as the entrepreneurial spirit of the youth, who took it upon themselves to conceptualise and manifest the enterprise.

"Nobody came here and empowered us," Morgan said, "We did this out of our own initiatives, our own pockets ... from nothing to something, this is the true definition of it. We rose from the concrete." And the rise is set to continue.

When asked about the safety concerns that people have because of the location of Life Yard, Morgan said, "Think of Life Yard, and Google it, then they will see how much of the world this has already impacted ... then one will say this is more than a safe haven."

But, to what extent are members of the community sensitised to the importance of what Life Yard is doing for the community. "They are fully sensitised, as I am no longer called by my name. I am called Life Yard by the community, and so are other members, they see us now as the movement," Morgan revealed, "The community is pretty much involved in anything we are doing." 

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