Last Saturday I was invited to speak about heritage and the arts at the Big Tent Ideas Festival in Cambridge, and was asked in particular about their role in the regeneration of Folkestone. The Festival, which was organised by my parliamentary colleague George Freeman, was a cross party event to bring people together to discuss ideas that can help achieve positive change in society. This has been an excellent initiative, and with the many challenges we face today, we need to create more spaces where people can think and share ideas.
It’s always a pleasure to be asked by people from outside of the area about the progress that is being made in Folkestone. It shows that awareness of the changes that have been made in the last few years is growing. Creating an environment where culture and creativity can thrive has always been central to Sir Roger De Haan’s masterplan for the regeneration of the harbour area. What has been important to its success is the recognition that culture is a shared experience; it is something we do together. An artist with great technical skill would have no cultural impact if they never showed their work. Therefore, it is not enough simply to build spaces where creative people can produce their masterpieces. Successful cultural regeneration requires places were others can experience their work. In Folkestone, thanks to the outdoor artworks commissioned by the Triennial arts festival, and the investment in fantastic public spaces like the Harbour Arm, the cultural impact of creativity can be found across a wide area of the town, and not just in theatres and galleries.
The communal power of culture makes it one of the key measures we use to determine the health and vibrancy of a town or city. When you visit somewhere new, one of the strongest indicators of whether or not it’s doing well, is the level of cultural activity. This shows you if it is a place where people have the confidence to do new things, and whether the community comes together to share in cultural experiences. Despite the claim made by Nathan Coley’s neon sign in Tontine Street, which forms part of the Folkestone Artworks collection, I don’t believe that ‘Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.’
Last Friday I was delighted to be able to join the teaching staff, students and their families and friends, at the Brockhill Park school annual prize giving evening. The school has recorded another excellent year of A level, B-Tec and GCSE exam results, and in addition to this the students have achieved considerable success in sport, music and dance. On the night we also enjoyed a number of performance pieces from the students, including from their recent sell out production of the musical, Les Misérables. I would like to send my best wishes to everyone at Brockhill for the new school year, and to wish well all of the students who left the school this summer.