Coalfields could become ‘deserts of culture’ says MP

Labour’s John Mann demands action from Arts Council England

Labour MP for Bassetlaw, John Mann, has demanded more arts investment in former coalfield areas in a report that condemns the "grotesque inequality" in arts funding for former mining communities.

He has called on the Arts Council to help community organisations, schools and others to get the access to funding they need and deserve.

“Where it is difficult to travel, these bodies should look at providing subsidies to facilities in nearby towns and cities, and waive entrance fees for those coming long distances.”

In his report, Culture in the Coalfields, Mann highlights the gap in funding experienced by coalfield communities. For every £8 spent by the Arts Council in London in the last decade, just £1 has been received by coalfield areas. In the 10 years from 2007-2017, London received £4.2bn in arts spending, compared to £0.5bn in ex-mining areas.

Despite the Arts Council rebalancing its portfolio away from London, funding is starting to cluster on large cities like Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield, rather than former mining regions, he said.

The percentage going to former coalfields has risen only slightly, from 4.1 per cent in 2015-18 to 4.8 per cent in 2018-22, he says.

For every £2 received by the London borough of Islington, an area with around 225,000 inhabitants, only £3 is received by the former English coalfields, which have a population in the millions.

Mann said, “While Islington residents are falling over dance studios, orchestras and operas, people in Yorkshire and in the North Nottinghamshire constituency I now represent in Parliament must travel miles to get anything like the same quality of provision.”

This lack of access to theatres, concerts and museums puts children in former mining communities at a severe disadvantage compared to their peers in London, says Mann leading to “a real divide in cultural awareness and confidence that carries into adulthood.”

Mann added that since 2006, he has organised a summer school for young people from Bassetlaw to visit London.

“I take them all over the city to raise their aspirations and show them what is out there, both for their careers and for their own enjoyment. For the last few years, we have visited the Globe to see Shakespeare. Leaving the performance of Twelfth Night last year I was struck by how for many this would be their first time seeing Shakespeare rather than just reading it in the classroom, something I have heard participants say often.”

He added, “We risk creating deserts of culture if we do not act now.”


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