Helen attended a meeting with the UK Culture Minister to progress the idea of a Town of Culture award. The meeting was organised following David Hanson MP’s Westminster Hall debate in January.

This initiative started with a letter from 22 Labour MPs, led by Yvette Cooper. This letter urged the Government to start up a new Town of Culture award, which would run alongside the UK City of Culture – celebrating the arts and boosting jobs and investment in towns across the UK.

Small towns can punch well above their weight in terms of arts and culture – just look at Bishop Auckland’s collection of galleries, the railway heritage at Shildon, or the breathtaking art and design collections just a stone’s throw from Barnard Castle – but it’s not often realistic to expect a town to bid against major cities for the UK City of Culture Award. Only one town has ever made the shortlist previously (Paisley).

Instead of competing with big cities, there should be a yearly Town of Culture award that provides a much-needed catalyst to let our towns shine.

Helen with David Hanson, Tracey Brabin, and Culture Minister Michael Ellis
Helen with David Hanson, Tracey Brabin, and Culture Minister Michael Ellis

The discussion with the Minister went very well, and Helen is hopeful that we see a Town of Culture competition emerge for our towns in the future.

The City of Culture programme channels a lot of investment into a place, and generates huge benefits in return – both in terms of the economy and pride from residents. In Hull, 2017 City of Culture, nearly 800 new jobs were created in the visitor economy and cultural sector, while tourism contributed more than £300m to the city’s economy.

Even the shortlisting process can bring good things. Sunderland put in a bid for 2021, and although they missed out to Coventry, the organisation around the bid caused the city’s cultural scene to blossom – with investment following closely behind.

With the history, art, and culture scene in our constituency, we would have a great shot at the prize!

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