Cultural Attractions: Contribution to Local Economy — [Sir Charles Walker in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:15 pm on 6th October 2020.

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Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney 3:15 pm, 6th October 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I congratulate my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken on securing this debate. She represents the west end—the national showcase for the world-leading UK theatre industry. However, it is an industry that extends throughout our four countries, and it is important that the roots are nurtured so as to ensure that the industry does not wither away.

In Waveney, there are five main theatres, which complement each other well and are deeply embedded in their communities—the Marina, in the centre of Lowestoft, with its 800-seat auditorium, the Players Theatre at the nearby former Bethel church run by the Lowestoft Players—one of East Anglia’s premier amateur theatre groups, for whom I am an ambassador—and the Seagull theatre in Pakefield, the Fisher theatre in Bungay and Beccles Public Hall, which are all run by volunteers. I shall briefly outline why those theatres are so vital in the area.

First, they are crucial to the future of our town centres, which are facing enormous pressures and undergoing dramatic change, not only as a result of covid but also due to the fast-changing face of retail. Secondly, the theatres are doing so much great work in the community. The Seagull runs dementia classes and engages with care homes and schools, as does the Marina, which, in 2019, in addition to performances, clocked up more than 5,000 engagements through its community outreach work. Thirdly, theatres nurture talent and enable people of all ages and all backgrounds to fulfil their dreams and realise their full potential. In 1953-54, Sir Michael Caine spent a year in Lowestoft in rep at the Arcadia, which is now the Hollywood cinema.

Finally, we must not forget what goes on back- stage. UK theatre has a well-established world-leading supply chain, which cannot function when there are no performances. In Lowestoft, Scenic Projects designs and builds sets and scenery, which it transports around the country.

The theatres in Waveney are getting out and helping themselves. The Marina has launched its survival fund and the Fisher theatre and Beccles Public Hall will be putting on special socially distant pantomimes, “Raiders of the Lost Panto” and “Inside the Snowglobe”. However, covid-19 has stopped them all in their tracks. The cultural recovery fund is welcome, but the money needs to get out quicker and get right across the country. Moreover, more support is required, as my hon. Friend Giles Watling has articulated in his role as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for theatre.