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Town of Culture - sign our open letter

Dear Jeremy Wright, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport,

We are writing to urge you to establish a new Town of Culture award to run alongside the UK City of Culture, and to celebrate and boost arts, culture, investment and jobs in towns across the country.

As you know, the City of Culture is not just a title but a huge opportunity. The UK City of Culture award has served as a catalyst for social and economic regeneration in the cities that have been awarded with the title, and shortlisted cities have similarly benefitted from the bidding process which publicises the best of local culture.

As the 2017 City of Culture, Hull attracted over £220 million in investment, created 800 new jobs, opened 131 new businesses and attracted millions of tourists. The City of Culture helped to boost the local economy and to foster an immense feeling of pride among residents.

While towns are not exempt from applying for the City of Culture title, only one town has made the shortlist previously, and small towns are simply not equipped to contend against major cities in a bidding process that is resource- intensive. That disqualifies huge parts of the country that are rich with cultural history and heritage.

Towns already lose out from national arts and culture investment. Arts Council funding is more than four times higher on average in city constituencies than it is in town constituencies. In addition towns are facing growing economic challenges compared to cities, so losing out on arts and culture investment and jobs is even more of a problem. The number of jobs in English town constituencies has grown by just 5% in 5 years compared to 11% in city constituencies.

Instead of having to compete with big cities once every four years, or lose out completely, we believe there should be a distinctive Town of Culture award convened by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport every year.

From the proms at Pontefract Castle, to the Batley and Spen Youth Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford upon Avon, to the iconic old Adelphi cinema in Slough, the Turner Gallery in Margate, the restoration of Auckland Castle and the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury festival – towns and smaller communities across the country can be great showcases for culture and creativity.

A Town of Culture award would generate new investment, footfall and national recognition for the towns involved, and it would provide the opportunity for communities to be creative, ambitious and to celebrate the best of their local area. A year long programme of cultural activities and events would help to regenerate local areas and high streets, create new jobs and bring communities together.

But perhaps most important of all, the award process would mean national funding organisations such as the Arts Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund, or private sector organisations would be required to focus particularly on towns.

We are therefore calling on the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to establish an annual Town of Culture prize and to promote increased arts and culture investment in our towns in order to offer our towns the same transformative opportunities as our cities.

We hope that you can not only agree but work with devolved administrations to make this a nationwide initiative.

Yours sincerely,

Yvette Cooper MP, Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford

David Hanson MP, Delyn

Tracy Brabin MP, Batley and Spen

Gloria De Piero MP, Ashfield

Tan Dhesi MP, Slough

Caroline Flint MP, Don Valley

Helen Goodman MP, Bishop Auckland

David Drew MP, Stroud

Ian Lucas MP, Wrexham

James Frith MP, Bury North

Vernon Coaker MP, Gedling

Liz McInnes MP, Heywood and Middleton

Melanie Onn MP, Great Grimsby

Sandy Martin MP, Ipswitch

Matt Western MP, Warwick and Leamington

Paula Sherriff MP, Dewsbury

Yasmin Qureshi MP, Bolton South East

Nic Dakin MP, Scunthorpe

Chris Matheson MP, Chester

Conor McGinn MP, St Helens North

Jo Platt MP, Leigh

Ged Killen MP, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

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