We desperately need to bring back culture to our cities

By Cllr Judith Blake | 15 December 2020

As I write, the first COVID vaccinations are taking place – great news for our country after a terrible year. But it will take a while for life to return to anything like normal and Christmas will be like no other. For example, in ‘normal times’, many people would be planning festive trips to our cities’ theatres, concert halls and cinemas.

But this year things are very different. Cultural venues across the Core Cities network have spent much of 2020 either shuttered or offering reduced, socially distanced, programmes.

Culture brings life and vitality to our cities, bringing people together to experience everything from modern dance to pantomime. We desperately need that back and our new Cultural Recovery Report outlined some practical steps to Government. It is a follow-up to our well-received Cultural Cities Enquiry and looks at how our arts industry – so vital to our nation’s economic and mental health – can resume its role as the best of Britain.

The report, which you can find at corecities.com, is full of practical recommendations. For example, we need to think differently about venues in a post-COVID world. It may be months before theatres and cinemas can once again operate at full capacity. We need to change complex planning rules to allow cinema screenings or theatre to take part in other urban spaces, even car parks, where there is enough room to socially distance. Alongside this, Government should subsidise ticket prices and get people back in the habit of going into our city centres to see live performances. Have a Night Out to Help Out.

At the heart of the package of measures is support for talent. We need to nurture a post-COVID generation of performers, technicians and administrators, who can ensure the UK’s international reputation for cultural excellence is upheld. Culture is a key ingredient in the overall mix that attracts people to our city centres.

Retail is also vital, which is why the recent news from Arcadia and Debenhams is so devastating, costing 25,000 jobs.

COVID is accelerating existing trends in retail and more store closures are likely to follow. As city leaders, we will press Government for a conversation about the role our city centres play and how we can help them recover.

Cllr Judith Blake CBE is chair of Core Cities and leader of Leeds City Council


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