Labour leader Keir Starmer responds to a question from our Artistic Director about urgently needed support for the arts

Labour Leader Keir Starmer has praised the outreach work done by the Belgrade Theatre and the way communities of Coventry have pulled together through lockdown, speaking at the party’s Summer Reception for the creative industries.

As venues and theatre companies in the West Midlands and beyond continue to face financial oblivion, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has warned that the UK could become a “cultural wasteland”. It has emerged that despite the Government belatedly announcing an arts rescue package to great fanfare several weeks ago, no application criteria has yet been published nor is a penny of funding likely to be paid out before autumn, piling further pressure on the arts sector as furlough support is cut.

The online event hosted by Tileyard London included a Q&A, where our Belgrade Theatre Artistic Director Hamish Glen quizzed assembled guests including Kwame Kwei-Armah OBE; Artistic Director of Young Vic, Caroline Norbury MBE; Chief Executive of Creative Industries Federation.

Hamish Glen said:

“Since lockdown began, the Belgrade Theatre has continued to support Coventry communities by:

  • Supporting teenagers’ mental health and wellbeing through two separate online programmes
  • Providing a creative platform for migrant women in collaboration with Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre
  • Developing a digital version of our Theatre in Education programme, to help support parents and educators
  • Nurturing local talent through the writers’ room for our groundbreaking digital TV series, SeaView
  • Working with the local Roma community on events designed to challenge negative stereotypes
  • Working with local Black artists to spearhead a national movement to change the language around diversity (ditching BAME)

“These are just a few examples of our wide-ranging community, education and diversity work. How will this work be supported to continue as the theatre remains unable to host shows and generate the income we need?”

Keir Starmer said:

“Can I begin by thanking you for everything you are doing for the communities of Coventry. As it happens I was up in Coventry on Monday at Whitmore Park School and at Coventry College.

“I was really struck as people talked through the challenges posed by Covid-19 how the different communities of Coventry were pulling together. There was a real sense of a ‘family’ of communities: different communities, diverse communities pulling together to help each other out. And therefore all the work you’re doing is vitally important to get people through this period.

“We have to get through these weeks and months to ensure that we have a creative sector in the way that we want coming out of Covid-19. And one of the arguments we’ve been making to the government is that it’s all very well supporting our business sector and organisations and self-employed people – but winding down that support in one go in October of this year is not going to work.

“And for the creative sector it’s obvious that people will not be able to perform in September and October in the usual way – it’s going to take longer. And therefore what we’ve said is provide sector-specific packages for the creative sector.

“Now it’s true that the Government did put some money behind arts and culture a few weeks ago – and that’s a good thing. The problem, the limitation of it, is firstly that I think it came a bit too late.

“Unfortunately some businesses and organisations have gone under already. Some of it doesn’t come on-stream until October. And I’ve been really worried by this phrase the government have been using about using the money to protect the ‘crown jewels’. As if it’s only certain bits of the creative sector that need protection and need support when you will all know that actually it’s needed in-depth – and probably needed more in the areas that are younger, in organisations really pushing through the early stages.

“So our challenge to the government is to go further than they’ve gone and not cut this off in October, because I really worry that if individuals in the creative sector – if businesses go under now – it’s that much more difficult to get back up in the future.

“We cannot lose what we’ve got. We’ve got to preserve it and see that it’s central to everything we’re doing.”

You can watch a video clip from the event below.