One of the questions I often discuss when visiting our local schools and meeting our young people is what it means to be British and how we can learn about what it is that binds us all together as a nation.
Our cultural heritage immediately springs to mind and the importance of appreciating the vast creative contribution our nation makes to the wider world.
Our schools already encourage our young people to enter the working world as well-rounded citizens, with an appreciation and love for the arts, and we are certainly very lucky to have a great new generation ready to make their own unique contributions to our cultural heritage.
The creative sector accounts for more than 1.8 million jobs in the UK, and employment in this area is increasing at twice the rate of the wider economy. From the Rolling Stones to Banksy, from Sherlock to Shakespeare, from Grand Theft Auto to Harry Potter, our country has always punched above its weight to establish itself as a vibrant and pre-eminent global cultural hub. We have more world-class museums and galleries than anywhere else in the world and, with the excitement surrounding the Oscars Awards Ceremony next month, let us not forget that we win more Oscars than any other country except America. Moreover, last year was a great year for British creative talent, from the release of the latest Bond film, Spectre, the release of the record breaking instalment of the Star Wars series and yet another excellent TV series of Game of Thrones.
Hastings and Rye also punches above its weight when it comes to the creative arts industry. We are lucky to have such a broad range of artistic talent locally; from Jack in the Green to the spectacular carnival and free beach concert during Hastings Old Town Week, to the recently re-launched Hastings Arts Forum. Also, we have had some notable celebrities and productions filmed in our constituency, including Foyle’s War – this, the biggest production ever to come to Hastings, first visited us in 2001 - and Harry Potter producers brought Sir Michael Caine and Anne-Marie Duff to Hastings for a 80s set comedy drama, Is There Anybody There?
Additionally, the Jerwood Gallery is the Museum Partner for this week’s London Art Fair 2016 and next month sees the launch of Hastings Fat Tuesday on 5 February. The programme looks exciting, with hundreds of hours of live music across many genres, from rock to folk to traditional jazz. Local and international talent will take to stages all over town, providing an elaborate spectacle for both local residents and visitors. On Fat Tuesday itself, 9 February, with 21 Hastings venues hosting 67 gigs, we will certainly all be spoilt for choice! With the committed work of local volunteers and huge generosity from residents, these local events help to carry the torch of creative success for Hastings and Rye and I do hope readers will take advantage of the wide range of events coming up.
Finally, we must not forget the pivotal role that our cultural heritage has played in shaping the Britain and Hastings and Rye we live in today, and I strongly believe that we must continue to inspire a love of art, design, music, drama and culture from the very first day of a child’s education. For me culture is not just about its economic value - it is what defines us as a society. Culture can help us to explain the world we live in, and sometimes escape from it - as Picasso once said “washing the dust of daily life off our souls”.