This is an important and timely debate, particularly given the Chancellor’s announcement of an extra £400 million to support the arts, which will help the sector to prepare for reopening and to bounce back from the crisis. That welcome news builds on the £1.5 billion package of support that has already been delivered for arts and culture in High Peak and across the country. In places such as the Peak district, arts, culture and entertainment are at the very heart of our local economy. Their economic value is immense. They draw in visitors to our town centres, not just to see a show but to go out for a meal, spend money on the high street and have a drink in one of our brilliant local pubs—all things we have badly missed doing during the pandemic.
It is not just the economic value that is important. Arts and culture have social value that is impossible to measure properly. It is where we go for family outings, for date nights, for an excuse to catch up with friends we have not seen in a while. It is somewhere to go for a bit of escapism and inspiration after a long week. In short, arts and culture are good for business and good for the soul.
In the High Peak, we are very lucky to have some amazing, much-loved institutions. In Buxton, which we all know is Britain’s best spa town, we have the wonderful Buxton Opera House—one of the finest Matcham theatres anywhere in the country. It is architecturally gorgeous and creatively led by the talented Paul Kerryson. I strongly encourage hon. Members to come and visit as soon as it is safe to do so. There are lots of fantastic places for them to stay when they visit, such as Buxton Crescent, which reopened last year after a £17 million restoration. For those unfamiliar with it, it is similar to the Royal Crescent in Bath, only far more impressive.
Buxton also plays host to the renowned Buxton International Festival. Of course, the festival was forced to cancel the event last summer, and the opera house has been forced to close for 12 months now. Grants and the furlough scheme have certainly helped to soften the blow. I was delighted that the opera house and the international festival secured more than £600,000 from the Government’s culture recovery fund, which has helped them to keep going through the crisis. The first payment of that grant has helped the opera house introduce covid safety measures so that it can deliver a safe environment for audiences, staff and artists when it reopens with a co-production of “A Little Night Music”, in partnership with the festival of Stephen Sondheim. Just yesterday, it was announced that the Buxton International Festival will be going ahead this July. Both are sure to lift our spirits after these long and difficult months. I pay tribute to the opera house and the festival organisers for their dedication and hard work. Planning a major international festival during a pandemic is no easy task. Michael Williams, chief executive of the Buxton International Festival, says that it is “like writing on water”.
The culture recovery grants are producing positive results and making a big difference, but it is vital that they are given not just to big venues and events but to smaller local institutions, such as Partington Players Theatre in Glossop. Ultimately, the key to recovery is ensuring that we roll out the vaccine and get the virus under control so that people can safely enjoy our institutions. Government support, although great at the moment, needs to be sustained; otherwise, we risk undoing the work of the past year to protect our culture and entertainment sectors. We all look forward to reopening this summer and starting to live life to the full once again.