Sunday, 24 March 2013

Hastings not a dump - it's official

Introducing David Amess to the Hastings fishermen

So Southend MP David Amess thinks Hastings is an improving and “vibrant” town – a little different to his original suggestion that some of Southend’s cultural rivals like us were “absolute dumps.”

I invited him down so he could see first-hand what we have to offer. We showed him round the Jerwood Gallery, we showed him the fishing beach and he chatted to the fishermen. We told him about our history, architecture, natural environment, artistic traditions, music scene and our annual calendar of festivals and processions - in fact everything that adds up to the Hastings cultural offer.

If that hadn’t convinced him we weren’t an absolute dump then I don’t know what would.

But will it be convincing enough for the panel that advises on the UK city of culture? We are putting a bid in for Hastings and Bexhill to get that prize for 2017. Do we really have a chance?

Well you don’t have to be a city – Southend isn’t, nor is East Kent which is also bidding and the two cities of Southampton/Portsmouth are putting in one bid.

I believe we have a good enough cultural story to tell to put forward a meaningful bid. Perhaps we wouldn’t have had five years ago, but today our bid can include Jerwood just celebrating its first birthday in Hastings, the work to restore our Pier hopefully starting by mid-year, the public consultation on a major art feature on Pelham roundabout. So actually the bid is coming just at the right time for us.

Will we win – who knows? It depends what the judges are looking for. If they want an area with geographical integrity that has placed culture, in all its many facets, at the heart of its regeneration programme then our bid could be a strong one.

Whatever happens we are making a statement about where Hastings and Bexhill believes it is going; about the cultural company we are now in. And the greater that is recognised, the better our external image is, the more people will be interested in visiting here, moving here and investing here and bringing jobs here. This is about the general prosperity of our area.

And what encouraged me was how local people rallied round the town and its bid when the MP for Southend appeared to criticise us.