How an Englishman headed a drive to give the pretty village of San Shek Wan a major makeover When Andrew Brown was elected resident representative of the small Lantau village of San Shek Wan in 2003, he vowed to make the attractive hillside settlement an even more pleasant place to live. Today, song birds flit between pruned fruit trees in revitalised orchards, children play in a glade hacked with much sweat and effort from abandoned farmland and shrubs flower in a lawn off the village square, land that was once an overgrown eyesore. Walk through San Shek Wan (the name means, roughly, Medicine Rock Bay) between Mui Wo and Cheung Sha and the visitor sees bonsais, bougainvilleas and neat paths. Rocks excavated from abandoned land now form attractive stone walls. There is no rubbish. All this has not been achieved without effort. Every three months, Mr Brown puts out a bilingual newsletter that goes to all 45 residents. A majority are expatriates and of the 40 per cent Chinese residents, only eight are indigenous clansmen. 'It's important to be village representative for everyone,' says Mr Brown. He won the election because Chinese, including some indigenous residents, voted for him; most expatriates are not eligible to vote. The quarterly newsletter is followed by a village meeting open to all where people can raise issues. Then comes action ... 'Our first clear-up day was busy,' Mr Brown recalls. 'We collected a wall of rubbish two metres high and six metres long. We dug out and cut up an abandoned car. We got rid of unsightly rubbish which had lain around for years.' Since then the impetus has grown. The example set by the vigorous engineer-turned-local leader has seeped through the settlement, set on rolling slopes above the main South Lantau Road. Other villagers have trimmed back runaway growth on abandoned land. One has rejuvenated an abandoned orchard. Incredibly, the transformation has created some problems with clan elder Mo Ngan-fuk, who represents the mostly absentee indigenous villagers. Mr Mo has complained about some of the improvements, forcing Islands District Office staff to visit San Shek Wan. Mr Brown points to a user-friendly, safe playground in the glade behind the last row of village houses. It is on government land once used for agriculture but abandoned decades ago. Lands officials have been to visit the site following a complaint. Mr Brown laughs. 'Rats bred here, snakes lurked here, dogs crapped here,' he says. 'We cleaned it up and made it a delight for all kids. So we get investigated.' An absentee villager who has not lived in San Shek Wan for years applied for permission to build a house on a neatly trimmed lawn that is now the centrepiece of the village square. There were protests from 95 per cent of the adult population, including indigenous villagers. The housing plan was eventually rejected. 'It's sometimes not easy to try to create a friendly environment,' Mr Brown says. He may not have been born in the village - he comes from Wirral, Cheshire - but he has a deep technical understanding of what makes a rural community tick along trouble free. One of the first assignments he had as a young engineer when he arrived in Hong Kong in 1995 was to examine the sewerage requirements in 73 villages. One of them was San Shek Wan. This knowledge of how government departments view management of rural communities has helped as he tries to guide improvements for all residents. Changes in population make-up over the past seven years have been significant. Many of the houses were vacant in 1997. Since then, an influx of expatriates and outside Chinese buying houses and renting flats has seen the number of people grow. 'The aim not only of myself but of almost everyone is to nurture a village where it is safe for children to play and grow up and build an harmonious community where everyone can live happily,' he says. Work gangs of residents have cleared out undergrowth and rubbish around the houses so native trees, clumps of thick bamboo and old village orchards flourish. Tasteful paths with non-slip surfaces lead to the playground. In a large private garden in front of a refurbished bungalow, an old man bends over fruit trees he is pruning. 'I think the idea that a community is for everyone has gained ground,' Mr Brown says. 'We can see people taking pride in where they live, trying to make it a better and more pleasurable place.'