Town of Culture Award

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:21 pm on 23rd January 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 5:21 pm, 23rd January 2019

I congratulate my right hon. Friend David Hanson on securing this debate. In thinking about the decline of towns, we have concentrated a lot on shopping and shops, and I think we have the balance wrong. The idea of a town of culture award is really important, because people want far more in the place they live in than to be able to go shopping.

My constituents have a fantastically rich heritage. Barnard castle, for example, was the home of Richard III and it is now the home to the greatest collection of European paintings between London and Edinburgh, at the Bowes Museum. Shildon is the birthplace of the railway and at the moment we are limbering up for the celebration of 200 years since 1825, with a heritage action zone. Bishop Auckland itself has been the home of the Bishops of Durham for 900 years.

Perhaps this is the most interesting example of how culture can be used to regenerate: the Church Commissioners had the idea of selling Zurbarán paintings that hung in the palace, and local people completely opposed that. We ran a very successful campaign to keep those works of art in Bishop Auckland and not to let them be taken to a gallery in London or even the west coast of America. Consequently, a philanthropist, Jonathan Ruffer, came and has invested in the castle. We are now seeing an absolute flowering, including a new Spanish art gallery, in partnership with the Museo del Prado in Madrid, a mining art gallery, a summer night show, Kynren, and a museum of the history of religion supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

That is all absolutely flourishing and it is giving people a new focus and a new sense of pride. It is great for people who live there, but it is also a reason for tourists to come to the town, and that has economic spin-offs. We have created lots of apprenticeships and are hoping to create 1,000 jobs. If anybody wants to get off the train between York and Edinburgh, I suggest that a long weekend in my constituency would be fantastic.