We can’t let cities of culture collapse

Culture guru Phil Redmond reflects on the threat Covid-19 poses to the cultural sector we know and love and the importance of a recovery plan to ensure its future.

It has been estimated that a worst case scenario for the cultural industries would be a loss of 400,000 jobs and £74bn in annual revenue across the UK.

Those numbers and the stories of threats to some of our hallowed national
institutions made grim reading.

But I fear that even these monumental figures don’t capture the true threat we are facing. We have to recognise the role culture plays as something beyond a sectoral silo in towns and cities throughout the nation.

Indeed the real impact of losing these local culture sectors will be the collapse of social and economic structures which hold many of these places together.

In Liverpool, since its time as the UK host for the European Capital of Culture, the cultural sector has become what Mayor Joe Anderson calls ‘the rocket fuel for regeneration’, to the extent that 48% of the city’s business rates are paid by businesses in the culture, creativity or tourism sector. Already around £1.5 billion has been lost to the local economy and almost 50,000 jobs hang in the balance.

For Liverpool, culture is not just something nice to have, it is a necessity. It is the bedrock upon which the city’s renaissance has been built and it pervades almost all aspects of the social, economic, educational and investment strategy of the place.

And it’s not just my hometown. From Edinburgh to Hull, Derry/Londonderry to Margate, Cardiff to Hay, culture and the arts have re-energised communities, attracted new start-ups and led to investment. Not just in the bars, restaurants and hotels which spring up as a place begins to present reasons to visit, but in the production companies, digital agencies and supply chains which follow.

We need to recognise this, just as we need to recognise that it is not just the
national household names that will be affected, but where many learned their trade: the grassroots organisations and artists that are the nations cultural conscience.

We cannot simply press reset and get back to business as usual. We must resist the temptation to look over our shoulders and fret about what we might lose, but to look to a socially distanced future when change will be the only constant. At least until some future date when a vaccinated world feels safe enough to mingle, shake hands and, perhaps, hug as we once did.

We need to think about how we are going to use this economic and social tragedy to reimagine places and communities in ways that would have been unimaginable just a few months ago. The furlough critical care scheme alone represents an incredible intervention, along with it evolving to suit particular, unforeseen needs as they arose. While we may be out of intensive care, we are still in high dependency and in need of a recovery plan.

Culture is not what people do in between everything else, culture is the reason people do everything else. We need culture more than ever. To understand our shared pasts and explore our different journeys. Above all, for places like Liverpool, we need it as an economic driver and social integrator.

Life will go on, but in a different post-Covid world the only constant will be that one size is not going to fit all. Cities and towns are going to need to be trusted to shape their own route to recovery and renaissance not to try and make their needs fit into a pre-determined centralised template.

The recovery plans will have to be prescribed to individual need if we are going to have a new life plan.”

Born in Huyton, Phil Redmond set up Mersey Television in the early 1980s and created three of Britain’s longest running drama programmes — Grange Hill, Brookside and Hollyoaks.

He was Deputy Chair and Creative Director of the city’s Capital of Culture celebrations in 2008, and latterly served as Chair of National Museums Liverpool.

He devised, and is Chair of, the UK City of Culture programme which was set up to capitalise on Liverpool’s success as European Capital of Culture, and is also Chair of the Liverpool City Region Cultural Partnership, charged with developing a 30-year cultural strategy.

Alongside his personal career, he and his wife Alexis have supported many charitable and public sector causes becoming major benefactors across Merseyside, including Liverpool John Moores University, National Museums Liverpool and Alder Hey Hospital. Since selling Mersey Television in 2005, they have devoted almost all of their time to public service.

In 2018 he was given the Freedom of Liverpool.

He has recently turned to writing novels.

Liverpool Waterfront