A humble cottage in a rural market town has become the unlikely home to the Honorary Consulate of the Republic of Maldives.
The white-washed home in Salisbury, Wilts., is the residence of local businessman David Hardingham, 45, whose links with the island nation stretch back 25 years.
Mr Hardingham spent years campaigning for democracy in the Maldives, which only had its first free elections in 2008.
He is friends with the nation’s current president, Mohamed Nasheed, who fled to Britain and settled in Salisbury in 2003 after being jailed as a political prisoner in his own country.
Mr Hardingham’s cottage home was appointed as the Honorary Consulate of the Republic of Maldives in a ceremony on Saturday.
Speaking after the ceremony Dr Farah Faizal, the High Commissioner of Maldives in London, called Mr Hardingham ”legendary” and compared him to anti-apartheid campaigner Donald Woods.
She said: ”Salisbury was the logical choice to open a honorary consulate as it became a sanctuary for Maldivian dissidents in exile during the struggle for democracy.
”In 2008, Maldives witnessed its first multi-party elections and the contribution of David Hardingham to bring an end to the autocratic regime is now legendary. He is the Donald Woods of the Maldives.”
Mr Hardingham says the consulate ”will work to maintain and improve the strong links between the people of Maldives and Salisbury, and to promote good relations between the island nation and the UK”.
It will also work to support the Maldives’ High Commission in London.
The father-of-two, who runs a cookware and fireplace shop in Salisbury, met President Nasheed when the pair were schoolboys at Salisbury’s Dauncey’s independent school.
They became friends and over the years Mr Hardingham became a political campaigner for the Maldives, founding the Friends of Maldives group which sends volunteer teachers and health professionals to the the now republic.
He also founded the UK charity Maldives Aid and Minivan News, an independent news outlet based in the nation’s capital Male.
When Mr Nasheed sought asylum as a political refugee in Britain in 2003 he settled near his friend in Salisbury.
During the 18 months he spent in the town he founded his Maldivian Democratic Party, which went on to win the nation’s first free election in 2008.
During the ceremony on Saturday a message from Mr Nasheed was read crediting Salisbury as being ”the home of the Maldivian democracy struggle”.
A message from President Nasheed read said: ”When I left the Maldives and became a political refugee, it was Salisbury that provided me, and fellow Maldivians, refuge.
”For over a year, Salisbury was the home of the Maldivian democracy struggle. It is such a beautiful town and the people were so hospitable to us Maldivians.
”Salisbury will always have a special place in our hearts.”
The Maldives is formed by a double chain of 26 atolls in the Indian Ocean southwest of Sri Lanka.
It is on average only 1.5 metres above sea level, making it the lowest country on the planet.