Beginner’s luck refers to the supposed phenomenon of novices experiencing disproportionate success. You can therefore imagine my delight, Mr Deputy Speaker, when my first lobbying letter signed by Norfolk and Suffolk MPs asking for money for the arts and culture sector resulted in £1.57 billion coming forward. I have consoled myself that that was rather a good bit of timing, but there is a serious message here. In Norfolk, arts and culture are embedded in our communities, with a thriving network of venues, from small community art spaces to large world-renowned venues. The closures due to covid-19 have had a devastating impact on those cultural venues, and while social distancing remains in place, their inability to reopen properly will continue to stunt their recovery. We know this, and that is why the Government’s vaccination programme, recovery road map and sector support have been so welcome.
I only have to look at my constituency, North Norfolk, to see how the culture recovery fund has been a lifeline and supported many of my flagship attractions. Hundreds of thousands of people visit one of the finest heritage railways in the country and I am proud to have the much-loved North Norfolk railway running its steam trains between Sheringham and Holt. It benefited from £360,000, as did the equally culturally rich attractions of Wells Maltings, the Sheringham Little Theatre and our wonderful independent Regal Movieplex cinema in Cromer. I need do no more, Mr Deputy Speaker, than merely suggest that, when you come to North Norfolk for your summer hols—and you are most welcome—you take a trip on the North Norfolk steam railway, and as you return to Sheringham, do enjoy our Little Theatre. But don’t forget that you are spoilt for choice, with the productions in Wells and the movies in Cromer. I may even join you.
My picture postcard of North Norfolk has to end here, because where there are winners, there are always those who have painfully missed out. We read that the Chancellor has reserved another £400 million for the arts, and I urge him to earmark some of that to the undeniably important and culturally rich sector that provides so much invaluable learning for our children: the outdoor education sector, which is on its knees. There are many outdoor learning centres in my constituency, and no one can deny that they contribute to culturally enriching children in outdoor learning. Whether it be teaching about local geography or history, they should be eligible as mainstream attractions. For a year now, they have been unable to take bookings: not legally closed, but their customer base forced to not come. The simple inclusion of all outdoor learning centres in the culture recovery fund would start to give them what they desperately need.