Speech by SDEV at presentation ceremony of UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation to YHA Mei Ho House Youth Hostel (English only)

Following is the speech by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, at the presentation ceremony of the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation to YHA Mei Ho House Youth Hostel today (January 29):

Himalchuli (Head of Culture Unit of the UNESCO Office for East Asia, Ms Himalchuli Gurung), Terry (Chairman of the Executive Committee of Hong Kong Youth Hostels Association (HKYHA), Mr Terry Liu), Michael (Member of the Executive Committee of HKYHA, Mr Michael Wong), Ambrose (Chairman of Sham Shui Po District Council, Mr Ambrose Cheung), distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

My warmest congratulations to the YHA Mei Ho House for receiving the Honourable Mention in the 2015 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation. The Chinese New Year is fast approaching, and it is indeed an auspicious time to conclude the Year of the Sheep with this joyous occasion.

This UNESCO Award is an international recognition of the outstanding efforts and achievement of the Hong Kong Youth Hostels Association in this distinguished revitalisation project. I understand that there was a total of 36 entries for last year's Awards and that the Mei Ho House project was selected after a stringent and rigorous process. So, well done, Terry!

It has always been the Government's goal to put our historic buildings, which have served their original purpose, into good adaptive re-use and give them a new lease of life. Mei Ho House Youth Hostel is the third Batch I project under the Revitalising Historic Buildings Through Partnership Scheme, a public-private partnership endeavour and the flagship programme in our heritage conservation initiatives, to have won a UNESCO award after the Savannah College of Art and Design Hong Kong Campus next door in 2011 and the Tai O Heritage Hotel in 2013. This hat-trick of accolades make it a grand total of 16 Hong Kong project recipients in the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation since its launch in 2000. This is undoubtedly a great encouragement to the Hong Kong community and our stakeholders in heritage conservation. I am delighted to note that, though starting late, our progress in built heritage is being well recognised in the international arena.

Mei Ho House is the only surviving Mark I H-shaped resettlement block of 1950s vintage in Hong Kong. As some of you may know, I spent my childhood in the nearby squatter area and public housing estate. While the hardships I endured have no doubt toughened my character, and to this, I am forever grateful, the Shek Kip Mei Estate - and hence Mei Ho House - will always occupy a soft spot in my heart.

The successful revitalisation of Mei Ho House therefore not just represents the thriving adaptive re-use of a government-owned historic building, but is also a personal triumph for me. Since its opening in December 2013, the hostel has already drawn over 450,000 visitors, which, of course, include myself, my family and friends. I am sure most if not all visitors are impressed by the "Heritage of Mei Ho House" Museum, which not only reflects the history of Sham Shui Po but also public housing development in Hong Kong. It also provides the relatively well-off younger generation with a glimpse of the really stringent living space of early public housing estates, and to learn about a time when a strong sense of neighbourliness characterised the community. This resettlement block has now been turned into a landmark of Sham Shui Po, with a strong link of collective memories to its former residents, as well as the local community, with its Alumni Network. It was highly regarded by the UNESCO jury for its excellent conservation work and preservation of an important chapter in the social history of Hong Kong, which demonstrates the enduring value of the modern typology of social housing. I am delighted to see that this valuable cultural asset and historical legacy of Hong Kong has earned the appreciation of the local public and overseas visitors. Indeed, in my earlier visit here, I bumped into quite a number of overseas visitors. Those young couples told me that they were from Japan. They came here, stayed here and did some hiking on the nearby trails.

With the recent opening of the revitalised Stone Houses in Kowloon City and the Old Tai Po Police Station under Batch II of the Revitalisation Scheme, and other projects in the pipeline, you are going to see a lot more cultural landmarks and innovative uses of our historic buildings. I sincerely hope that these joint heritage conservation efforts of the public and private sectors will not only be enjoyed by the community, but earn Hong Kong more recognition in the years to come.

Once again, my heartfelt congratulations to the Hong Kong Youth Hostels Association for its excellent work and the honour it has brought to Hong Kong's heritage sector.

In closing, may I wish you all a happy, healthy and blessed Year of the Monkey. Thank you.

Ends/Friday, January 29, 2016
Issued at HKT 19:00