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Eshalomi speaks up for South Bank culture venues and workers

London SE1 website team

Vauxhall MP Florence Eshalomi has used a Commons debate on theatres, live music venues and cultural attractions to highlight the impact of COVID-19 on the South Bank's arts organisations and the people who work for them.

Florence Eshalomi MP

Tuesday's Westminster Hall debate was called by Nickie Aiken, Conservative MP for the cities of London and Westminster.

Ms Eshalomi said: "My constituency in Vauxhall is close to Westminster and we have a fantastic cultural centre. It contains many of Britain's iconic cultural institutions -familiar landmarks to many people around the world-including the London Eye, the National Theatre, the BFI Southbank and the Southbank centre.

"The origins of the Soutbank Centre date back to the Festival of Britain, and it houses the Hayward Gallery and the Royal Festival Hall, which is home to the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

"The South Bank area of my constituency not only contributes to our culture's enormous identity, but generates so much income and employment.

"My constituents work in a number of these organisations, and in the many auxiliary bars, hotels, restaurants and shops that support millions of tourists and visitors every year. These people are skilled freelancers – the backstage workers – and they need our support. Without them, these organisations would not be able to function.

"Alongside those big, hard-hitting cultural heritage sites, we have smaller but no less important sites: live music venues and theatres, such as the Young Vic theatre and the historic Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Aside from their cultural importance, what makes them so special is that they are embedded in the communities where they are located. They bring a cultural, economic and social enrichment to the lives of our residents in the form of employment, and artistic and creative support programmes.

"Last month, I had the honour of attending a socially distanced 50th anniversary celebration for the Young Vic theatre. The Young Vic is an incredible, innovative theatre that is embedded in schools and the community. Under the leadership of the inspiring playwright and director Kwame Kwei-Armah, it runs a year-round programme for residents, championing diversity. For those people who are traditionally under-represented in arts and culture, that is so important.

"These organisations, from the smaller theatres to the big ones, will continue to suffer under the financial challenges of covid. We have seen a dramatic fall in audiences-and, in some cases, no audiences whatsoever. Many of my constituents who work in the sector will not return to business as usual, even as the lockdown eases. They will continue to be hit hard. In July, I welcomed the Government's financial support, but it is now October and we have not seen that money come through. Will the Minister confirm when theatres will finally see the money, and will she lobby the Chancellor to ensure that our amazing culture sector gets the targeted support that it needs?"

Replying to the debate, digital and culture minister Caroline Dinenage said: "I recognise the devastating impact that COVID-19 has had across the arts and culture sector, on businesses and their staff, on freelancers, on those who rely on the sector and on many other people who helped to make it such a success."

She added: "We are doing everything that we can to help, so that when we emerge from the pandemic, our cultural organisations will once again be ready to welcome international tourists, visitors from across the UK and those who live and work here."


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