This article was written by Damian and published in this week's editions of the Herald group and Petersfield Post:
"There was significant news this week for hundreds of historic sites and cultural organisations across the country, with the first tranche of funding from the Culture Recovery Fund announced. Helping them to recover from the impact of the pandemic, many of East Hampshire’s most popular and important tourist gems are among those to benefit.
The beautiful Chawton House Library is just one of the successful applicants to the Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage – a funding source delivered by Historic England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund – enabling it to continue preserving its literary collection and running its unique events programme for the public to enjoy.
Liphook’s Hollycombe Working Steam Museum also received a substantial award, ensuring they can re-open safely in 2021 for their 50th anniversary year, and the Mid Hants Railway ‘Watercress Line’ will use their funding to help preserve and operate one of our most popular family attractions.
Other sites close to us that were also part of this initial funding includes both Winchester and Chichester Cathedrals, Butser Ancient Farm, and the naval home of HMS Victory in Portsmouth.
And a separate funding stream administered by Arts Council England has also announced their first allocation of funds, with the Petersfield Museum, Gilbert White’s House Museum, and Bordon’s Phoenix Theatre and Arts Centre all receiving critical funding.
I spoke in the House last week about how accustomed we have all become in using the word “unprecedented” at an unprecedented rate. And there has indeed been an unprecedented Government response to an unprecedented economic, as well as health, shock.
But in these sectors, as well as the general case that needs to be made for our economy and society, there is a further case. Many of these organisations and activities have not just been impacted by coronavirus; they have been expressly forbidden from operating. For others, the fixed capacity nature of what they do means that they are neither able to continue, nor to remodel their business to operate with social distancing.
Yet they are so important for the social fabric of our lives – the unique shared experiences they offer for us all. For many, if they go, they are gone forever; these are not sectors where some organisations may go, only to be replaced by others.
They are also vital for attracting visitors to our country. It may surprise many people to know that travel and tourism last year contributed more to the UK’s GDP than it did to French GDP or Spanish GDP, and that the UK was the only European country in the top 10 for employment growth in travel and tourism in the five years coming up to this crisis.
The Government’s £1.57bn Culture Recovery Fund will be critically important in supporting the UK’s globally renowned arts, culture and heritage industries, and although we’re right to focus on the current crisis, we need to also look to the future.
We know how hard our hospitality sector has been hit, and as someone who worked in this area for many years before entering politics, I welcome the formation of UKHospitality as a strong voice for the businesses and millions of people reliant on it for their livelihoods.
We now need to get the destination management and marketing organisations right; they are going to need a sustainable method of operating and being financed, which should start with central Government funding, but will have to move to a self-sustaining mechanism thereafter.
We are going to need national level marketing for our inbound tourism to give investors confidence, and I welcome the drive for more hotel rooms. If it turns out that office accommodation is less in demand in the future, it would make sense to enable these to be converted more easily in the future.
Although we need to recognise that London remains key to UK tourism, there is also a need to focus outside the capital, and that is why I am so pleased to see the support announced this week for local Hampshire attractions.
There is more we need to do, and I will continue to press this case through my role as a member of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, which has looked in detail at how the pandemic has impacted those sectors and made recommendations for government."