Town of Culture Award

Gavin Newlands Excerpts
Wednesday 23rd January 2019

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Caroline Flint Portrait Caroline Flint (Don Valley) (Lab)
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23 Jan 2019, 5:42 p.m.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) on securing the debate. Sir Walter Scott sat in the Boat Inn pub in the village where I live and drafted his novel “Ivanhoe”, inspired by Conisbrough castle. Ted Hughes lived in Mexborough, did his newspaper round through Old Denaby, and went on to write his famous poems. Of course there are others, such as Diana Rigg and Lesley Garrett, and let us not forget Brian Blessed—all home-grown in Doncaster.

Today’s debate is about having a showcase to celebrate our heritage and what we have achieved over the centuries in our towns and villages, but I would not like the Minister to think that this is all about the past. It is about the future as well; it is about creating new art, new music, new plays, new novels and new poems, as well as enriching a sense of aspiration within our communities. A person does not have to go to London or our cities to get a job as an actor, musician or artist, or to work in the creative sector. We can grow those sectors in the towns and villages of the UK. I hope the Minister will act quickly to establish the town of culture award.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP)
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23 Jan 2019, 5:44 p.m.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr McCabe, and I congratulate my colleague on the Select Committee on Justice, the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson), on securing this debate. I am pleased that this ever-so-slightly oversubscribed debate is taking place, and I fully support the initiative that he set out so eloquently. I am not sure what the record is for the number of contributions in a 60-minute debate, but so far we have heard 19 passionate sales pitches on behalf of constituencies across England and Wales, and we are about to hear one from Scotland.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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Northern Ireland as well.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands
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23 Jan 2019, 5:44 p.m.

And from Northern Ireland, with apologies to the persistent hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). I will come to him. We have heard so many pitches. In a 60-minute debate, we have heard from the right hon. Members for Delyn, and for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight), the hon. Members for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas), and for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), the right hon. Members for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), and for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), the hon. Members for Slough (Mr Dhesi), for Strangford, for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones), for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes), for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin), for High Peak (Ruth George), for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane), for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), for Hyndburn (Graham P. Jones), and for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn). The strength of feeling is pretty clear.

It is vital that we recognise the value of our towns, big or small. They often have bigger personalities than cities many times bigger. I am proud to be an MP for Paisley, the town I was born in. My friend George Adam, the MSP for Paisley, often refers to it as the centre of the universe. In an Adjournment debate in November 2016, I provided evidence to show that, for its size, Paisley is unrivalled in its contribution to the world. It can be said that Paisley is one of the reasons why we are having this debate: as some hon. Member’s will be aware, the Paisley 2020 campaign for UK city of culture helped raise awareness of Paisley’s spectacular, historical and ongoing cultural contribution to the world. Although we were robbed blind of what was rightfully ours, the bid alone was fantastic for the town and will leave a legacy of its own. The fact that Paisley was the first town to make the shortlist highlights the issue with the city of culture award, as it stands, without an accompanying town award.

A city or town of culture award will provide an excellent opportunity to boost the profile, economy and self-confidence of the winning town or city. The bidding process alone is a huge opportunity and can be cathartic. I can speak only for Paisley’s experience, but at the start of the process, the number of Paisley buddies and those from wider Renfrewshire who were highly cynical about the bid and viewed the town negatively far outweighed the number who supported the bid. However, as the months passed, buddies were reminded of what was and is great about the town, and learned about some of the planned investments and events, and that opinion rapidly shifted.

Despite losing out on the award, some of the investment plans have remained in place; there is a £110 million investment plan for the town centre and venues. To me, the real value and prize of the bid was getting buddies to believe in the town again. Unlike the majority of UK cities, the name Paisley is known worldwide, having given the world the famous pattern of the same name, though we may have borrowed it from somewhere else, as you may well know, Mr McCabe. Paisley’s textile mills—the first of which was built by the Coats company, which at one point was the biggest company in the British empire and the third-largest company in the world—started mass producing shawls with the pattern. The name Paisley is literally woven into history.

Paisley was home to the world’s first constituted Burns club and is also home to the UK’s largest youth theatre, PACE, which has helped produce fantastic performers—this is where Paisley outshines the towns mentioned in the rest of the contributions, I would say—such as James McAvoy, Paolo Nutini and Richard Madden, who recently won a Golden Globe for his role in the BBC drama “The Bodyguard”, which featured a fantastical plot about a UK Government Minister up to no good, which obviously would not happen in real life. Paisley can also boast of calling Gerry Rafferty, David Tennant and Gerard Butler our own.

Paisley is not the only town or village in my constituency with a proud cultural heritage. From Bishopton to Bridge of Weir, and from Elderslie to Erskine, everywhere has something to offer. The historical capital of Renfrewshire, my home town since I was four years old, has a proud history that few can match. Renfrew is known as the cradle of the royal Stuarts, as it was an early home to the final royal family of the Kingdom of Scotland. In 1164 at the battle of Renfrew, King Malcolm IV of Scotland repelled Somerled, the Lord of the Isles.

We all have many towns and cities rich in history and culture, many of which miss out on vital investment. This proposed town of culture award would potentially unlock that investment and bring a sense of pride back to these places. My message to hon. Members across this House is that Renfrewshire stands ready to win any such award. I urge the Minister to take this proposal forward.

Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab)
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23 Jan 2019, 5:49 p.m.

There is not a lot of time left, but I remind the Minister that he will not need long to say, “Yes,” in response to this debate. I endorse the proposal by my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) and other hon. Friends. I congratulate the Labour Towns group on turning up en masse and coming up with such compelling arguments, as well as the other hon. Members who spoke. My right hon. Friend rightly said that there was an opportunity to do something on a UK basis and involve the devolved Administrations; I thought his proposals were very good. He also took some very good interventions, including those of my hon. Friends the Members for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) and for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero), who are no longer in their places, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper). He mentioned Richard II and Flint castle; as he may know, my brother Patrick is an actor who once played a small part in promoting Flint indirectly—he starred in “Richard II” at the Globe theatre.

My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) spoke passionately about his constituency, putting to bed the reputation that it was perhaps unfairly given by John Betjeman. My hon. Friend quite rightly said that arts funding tends to be higher in cities than in towns—we really need to look at how to redistribute resources much more effectively through the arts budget.

It is always very comforting when the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) speaks in a debate—when he turns up, we know that things are normal in the world. He made his constituency sound like the garden of Eden, although I remind him that that is where original sin was invented. I look forward to playing crazy golf with him in Strangford some day.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) referred to Richard III—another king who met a dodgy end. I look forward to a long weekend in Bishop Auckland, which sounds like a wonderful place.

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones), may I take the opportunity to mention Rhosllanerchrugog? She took an intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), who is no longer in his place. My mother was born in his constituency—in Nantyglo, another town that would really benefit from the sort of initiative we are debating.

As ever, my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) spoke passionately about her community. So did my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin), who made the important remark: “If you don’t see it, you can’t be it.” I know that her constituency work is very much based on that idea. She took an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Ruth George), who mentioned Buxton and the importance of cultural and artistic activities to health and wellbeing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) spoke passionately about Rhyl. I remind him of Cerys Matthews’s song “International Velvet”, in which she sang, “Darganfyddais gwir baradwys Rhyl”—“I discovered true paradise in Rhyl.” My hon. Friend reminded us to “tap into the passion”, and his speech certainly did that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) spoke brilliantly, rightly pointing out that the judging panel will have a difficult job. He also pointed out Scunthorpe’s steel heritage, which he knows that I share in my background.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) mentioned clotted cream and the question whether the jam or the cream should come first. What I say to the Minister is that we do not mind which it is—as long as it is not “jam tomorrow.”

My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham P. Jones) spoke, and my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) spoke brilliantly about the welcome investment in the arts in her community. My right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) promoted her constituency, as ever, and gave us a remarkable list of people from it who have risen to prominence—they have a very prominent MP as well. The hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) spoke for the Scottish National party.

I represent a city seat, but I was born and brought up in Cwmbran, a new town. Every time I drive back to see my 89-year-old mother, a song comes into my head: Simon and Garfunkel’s “My Little Town”. One of the lyrics is:

“And after it rains there’s a rainbow, and all of the colors are black.

It’s not that the colors aren’t there—it’s just imagination they lack.”

If we have the imagination and the investment, we can do wonderful things. We all know what has happened to our towns through the evisceration of local government funding, the removal of services from our high streets and the loss of banks, libraries and museums. Those institutions are very important. Let us have a renaissance in our towns, let us have a town of culture, and let us hear the Minister say yes.