Melanie Onn MP: Grimsby deserves a spot in Hull's Year of Culture too

MP for Grimsby and Shadow Deputy Leader of the Commons, Melanie Onn.
MP for Grimsby and Shadow Deputy Leader of the Commons, Melanie Onn.
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The South Bank has hit the headlines with the release of new Sacha Baron Cohen film Grimsby, but the town deserves more than controversial PR from the box-office.

If it is really to prosper culturally, Grimsby needs to make sure it has its own part to play when neighbouring Hull is marked European City of Culture in 2017. Grimsby should be the satellite venue for a cultural fringe and for performers before they head north, Grimsby MP Melanie Onn has said. In a piece for the Yorkshire Post, the Labour politician throws out plenty of ideas of how to make that vision work, and challenges fellow politicians and community leaders to ensure the whole of the Humber region gains from Hull's moment in the spotlight.

The Humber Bridge

The Humber Bridge

"The year 2017 has the potential to be transformational for the Humber region. Hull will be the UK City of Culture- a title which should see huge investment into the city, increased tourism, and the chance for local people to enjoy events that wouldn't normally be held there.

Anyone who doubts whether this award will make much difference to the city should look at the example of Liverpool, and how it benefited hugely from its time as the European Capital of Culture in 2008. Two thirds of local people attended at least one event, including many who didn't previously visit museums, theatres or concerts. Tourism increased 20%, bringing an extra £750 million to the Merseyside economy. And media coverage of Liverpool in 2008 focussed on its cultural activities, which gave people from elsewhere in the country a more positive impression of the city. Liverpudlians will tell you that the city is a different place now, with far more cultural activities and events on offer today than in 2007.

The City of Culture award can also bring huge benefits to the wider Humber region, not just Hull, and I am determined to ensure that 2017 leaves a lasting legacy for the whole area.

The South Bank is full of artistic talent and creativity, but with very few outlets for it. Poor public transport links between the north and south of the river mean it can also be impossible for people without a car to visit a neighbouring town for the evening. This is particularly an issue for young people.

Culture shouldn’t just be the preserve of the rich, but increasingly working class children in Britain have less opportunities to access live music, theatre and art. Under the Conservatives small music venues are closing across the country, there are fewer training places for arts teachers, and a third less primary school children are taking part in arts and cultural activities.

This is a real problem, and not just because it could deprive us of the next John Hurt or Paul Heaton. Arts and culture can teach children to think creatively. Children from low income backgrounds who spend time on cultural activities do better at school and are far more likely to get a degree.

Young people in Grimsby deserve the chance to be exposed to new things and discover their talents, while the rest of us should also be able to pop to the theatre or the cinema for an evening every now and then. So I am calling for the Government, local authorities, businesses and schools to work together and make that possible.

I wrote to my fellow Humberside MPs, asking them to support my call to suspend tolls on the Humber Bridge for 2017. The lower toll since 2012 has led to a 26% increase in use of the bridge, and brought economic and social benefits to the area. At least while Hull is the City of Culture, free travel across the bridge could end it being seen as a barrier to work, leisure and trade.

Anyone who travels from the South Bank to Hull by bus will know that the last service back from the city leaves at 6.30pm, so they’re excluded from spending the evening there. With no direct rail link, and just one train after 8pm, our public transport network isn’t up to scratch. Putting on evening bus and rail services for 2017 would be a popular move, and could even become permanent if people continued to use them.

Children from all backgrounds should be able to cross the Humber to see the performances in Hull next year, whether or not their parents can afford the tickets and travel. Providing state schools in the Humber region with a fund for free school trips to visit arts and cultural activities next year would ensure 2017 leaves a lasting impression on this generation.

For Grimsby and the rest of the South Bank to get as much out of the 2017 as we can, we also need to bring the City of Culture to us. Grimsby can be a satellite town for Hull, where fringe acts and performances can come to test their shows before taking them north. The council should encourage acts to put on shows in our town, by offering tax breaks and hiring out public buildings for peppercorn rents.

It is particularly important that young people don’t think they have to leave our town to find art and culture. I am going to write to every theatre and dance company which books in Hull, inviting them to visit a school in Grimsby and spend a couple of hours with the children there.

Of course, all of these proposals come with costs attached, and the Government is unlikely to be forthcoming with funding. I will be asking Government Ministers to support these plans, but we will also need to convince businesses and entrepreneurs that the City of Culture is a great investment opportunity, and secure corporate sponsorship deals.

However, as the Government currently spends almost four times as much per person on arts in London as it does in Yorkshire and the Humber, more funding for the City of Culture scheme would help the arts become a less London-centric industry.

These are just my initial ideas, we have got a year to get them right. 2017 is a once in a generation opportunity for the Humber region, and we have to take full advantage of it.