It’s Cheltenham Literature Festival time – and the country is gearing up!
I say ‘the country’ because here at the Conference in Manchester, delegates from across the UK have come up to me to let me know how much they’re looking forward to it. Michael Gove told me how pleased he is to be coming to Cheltenham to speak, and so many others plan to attend. Labour’s Jess Phillips MP confirmed to me that she’ll be back. She’s a great speaker, even if we don’t always agree, and I am proud of the part Cheltenham plays in promoting free speech from across the political spectrum. We need tolerance and free flow of ideas now more than ever. If Twitter is the poison, Cheltenham Literature Festival is the antidote.
As with so many of Cheltenham’s iconic cultural events, there was a genuine risk that the Festivals would fold as a result of the Covid pandemic. So I’m delighted that, after lobbying behind the scenes, the Government stepped in with well over a million pounds from the Culture Recovery Fund to support them. That backing came on top of grants for the Everyman theatre, the Playhouse and sporting facilities like Leisure@ in Tommy Taylors Lane. Funding too went to those that supply essential lighting and sound equipment whose business fell off a cliff.
As the Cheltenham Festivals Leadership Team said: “Without this crucial support, Cheltenham Festivals would have struggled to survive the impact of the pandemic due to the loss of live events and box office receipts.”
It’s all part of a total package of Government COVID support for Cheltenham that now totals over £370m – a colossal sum for a town of just 115,000 people, which has helped us weather the storm.
Now the Festivals are able once again to provide the boost for our town’s hospitality and leisure businesses. Crucially too, they can continue their amazing outreach work which does so much to broaden the horizons of those from more deprived backgrounds.
Culture is not just a ‘nice to have’ - it’s part of what it means to be human. And Cheltenham, once again, is in the lead.
[Column printed in the Gloucestershire Echo]