Culture in Cheltenham is back! I was delighted on Sunday to join hundreds of local people, many dressed in vintage costumes, at the opening of the new heritage trail at Pittville Pump Room.
The free, immersive trail includes information displays, artefacts, and a self-guided audio tour. Visitors can try on replica Regency costumes, enjoy the Heritage café and leave their memories for a community legacy display.
The launch included the sounding of an air raid siren and the arrival of a cavalcade of military vehicles to re-enact the wartime requisition of the building and the arrival of the US forces in 1942.
It was wonderful to see the Pump Room buzzing again, and I’m so grateful to those at the Cheltenham Trust who have worked behind the scenes to bounce back from the pandemic.
It could all have been very different. When the virus first hit it was grimly clear to many of us that Cheltenham’s cultural icons faced ruin. Without audiences and visitors, the future was bleak.
So I was thrilled that the Government listened to our lobbying, and provided over £2.5m in grants for institutions including the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham Trust, Playhouse and the Cheltenham Festivals. It was all part of a wider package of business and financial lifeline support that we secured, totalling more than £350m for Cheltenham alone.
Now we are seeing the benefits. Recently I attended the opening night of Priscilla Queen of the Desert at the Everyman. And the Town Hall is back hosting everything from cello recitals to film festivals.
There are challenges ahead. This funding will have to be paid for – which is where our Plan for Jobs comes in. But the immediate spectre of a cultural wasteland has been averted. Future generations will have the opportunity to enjoy the music, theatre and the arts – the very things that make us human.
[Column published in the Gloucestershire Echo]