Town of Culture Award

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:43 pm on 23rd January 2019.

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Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales) 5:43 pm, 23rd January 2019

And from Northern Ireland, with apologies to the persistent hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). I will come to him. We have heard so many pitches. In a 60-minute debate, we have heard from the right hon. Members for Delyn, and for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight), the hon. Members for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas), and for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), the right hon. Members for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), and for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), the hon. Members for Slough (Mr Dhesi), for Strangford, for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones), for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes), for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin), for High Peak (Ruth George), for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane), for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), for Hyndburn (Graham P. Jones), and for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn). The strength of feeling is pretty clear.

It is vital that we recognise the value of our towns, big or small. They often have bigger personalities than cities many times bigger. I am proud to be an MP for Paisley, the town I was born in. My friend George Adam, the MSP for Paisley, often refers to it as the centre of the universe. In an Adjournment debate in November 2016, I provided evidence to show that, for its size, Paisley is unrivalled in its contribution to the world. It can be said that Paisley is one of the reasons why we are having this debate: as some hon. Member’s will be aware, the Paisley 2020 campaign for UK city of culture helped raise awareness of Paisley’s spectacular, historical and ongoing cultural contribution to the world. Although we were robbed blind of what was rightfully ours, the bid alone was fantastic for the town and will leave a legacy of its own. The fact that Paisley was the first town to make the shortlist highlights the issue with the city of culture award, as it stands, without an accompanying town award.

A city or town of culture award will provide an excellent opportunity to boost the profile, economy and self-confidence of the winning town or city. The bidding process alone is a huge opportunity and can be cathartic. I can speak only for Paisley’s experience, but at the start of the process, the number of Paisley buddies and those from wider Renfrewshire who were highly cynical about the bid and viewed the town negatively far outweighed the number who supported the bid. However, as the months passed, buddies were reminded of what was and is great about the town, and learned about some of the planned investments and events, and that opinion rapidly shifted.

Despite losing out on the award, some of the investment plans have remained in place; there is a £110 million investment plan for the town centre and venues. To me, the real value and prize of the bid was getting buddies to believe in the town again. Unlike the majority of UK cities, the name Paisley is known worldwide, having given the world the famous pattern of the same name, though we may have borrowed it from somewhere else, as you may well know, Mr McCabe. Paisley’s textile mills—the first of which was built by the Coats company, which at one point was the biggest company in the British empire and the third-largest company in the world—started mass producing shawls with the pattern. The name Paisley is literally woven into history.

Paisley was home to the world’s first constituted Burns club and is also home to the UK’s largest youth theatre, PACE, which has helped produce fantastic performers—this is where Paisley outshines the towns mentioned in the rest of the contributions, I would say—such as James McAvoy, Paolo Nutini and Richard Madden, who recently won a Golden Globe for his role in the BBC drama “The Bodyguard”, which featured a fantastical plot about a UK Government Minister up to no good, which obviously would not happen in real life. Paisley can also boast of calling Gerry Rafferty, David Tennant and Gerard Butler our own.

Paisley is not the only town or village in my constituency with a proud cultural heritage. From Bishopton to Bridge of Weir, and from Elderslie to Erskine, everywhere has something to offer. The historical capital of Renfrewshire, my home town since I was four years old, has a proud history that few can match. Renfrew is known as the cradle of the royal Stuarts, as it was an early home to the final royal family of the Kingdom of Scotland. In 1164 at the battle of Renfrew, King Malcolm IV of Scotland repelled Somerled, the Lord of the Isles.

We all have many towns and cities rich in history and culture, many of which miss out on vital investment. This proposed town of culture award would potentially unlock that investment and bring a sense of pride back to these places. My message to hon. Members across this House is that Renfrewshire stands ready to win any such award. I urge the Minister to take this proposal forward.