On Tuesday, just as the Director of GCHQ was delivering a security update on the situation in Ukraine, Cheltenham Literature Festival was making its own cultural contribution with its ‘Ukraine Day’. It involved a programme of specially co-curated events celebrating Ukrainian writers, poets, musicians and filmmakers.
The Ukrainian group, who had travelled from that bombarded country to be with us, spoke with great dignity, defiance and fearlessness. Ukraine may be bloodied, but it is completely unbowed. Putin’s fundamental miscalculation was to underestimate the courage and fighting spirit of the Ukrainian people.
It is wonderful to see the Literature Festival once again in full swing and making Cheltenham buzz. Congratulations to the organisers for again assembling a range of speakers and events to suit every taste. I have been struck too by just how much effort has gone into ensuring that children from all backgrounds and parts of town are being included.
Instilling in our young people a joy of reading, but also a commitment to free speech, has never been more important. Oppressive totalitarian regimes are seeking to suppress dissenting voices in countries across the globe, from Iran to China. And here at home we need to be vigilant about those who would seek to ‘cancel’ others for voicing opinions they might not agree with.
There was a genuine risk that Cheltenham Festivals, including the Literature Festival, would fold as a result of the Covid pandemic. I will forever be grateful for the millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money secured from the Culture Recovery Fund to support them, as well as the Everyman theatre, Playhouse and sporting facilities like Leisure@.
This Saturday I will join the Run for Ukraine in Pittville Park, as part of the Pittville Parkrun to fundraise for two charities, British Ukrainian Aid and United Help Ukraine.
So if you fancy putting on your trainers or just popping along to cheer on the runners, please do come along to Pittville Park at 9 am. Both charities have also created separate pages in case you want to make a donation.
[Column first published in the Glos Echo]