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Against the odds, our city continues to shine

This piece by Cllr Phélim Mac Cafferty originally appeared in Brighton Argus

With Covid-19 continuing to affect every part of our lives, it can be hard to take stock of how much has changed. But I am reminded every day in Brighton and Hove of the strength of our communities and the efforts so many are making to pull our city through. Against the odds, our communities are always worth celebrating.

This week I know many have shared relief that some of our city’s fantastic arts, culture, theatre and events venues and organisations have finally received some desperately needed financial support from Government. 55 arts and culture organisations around Sussex, including live music venues like Concorde 2 and the Green Door Store, as well as organisations like The Old Market, South East Dance, Fabrica, Brighton Pride, Brighton Dome and the iconic Pavilion, have been successful in receiving a share of£10m support from the Culture Recovery Fund – vital given the impact that Covid-19 has had on our cultural events.

On top of this comes the news that all seven of Brighton and Hove’s award-winning parks have been re-awarded prestigious ‘Green Flag’ status by the Keep Britain Tidy campaign. At a time when we value our parks and green spaces more than ever, it’s a successthat many of our city’s parks continue to be rated as some of the best green spaces in the country. This month we have also made progress in pushing for Stanmer Park- our city’s largest park – to become a designated country park, allowing us to apply for funding to protect its special status and wildlife.

With Covid-19 forcing so many of us to stay closer to home, it’s vital our city remains an accessible, welcoming space for all. Enhancing our city is a long-term project that I will not allow to fall by the wayside – and so many of us can already share in improvements. The new revamped Valley Gardens has heralded new green space, wildflower meadow, trees, cycle lane and expanded walking paths in our city centre. As we continue to face down the threat of the climate crisis, approval has also been granted for an ambitious project to ‘rewild’ Waterhall golf course – this means working with environmental groups to return it to a vibrant green space where wildlife and plant life can again flourish.

This month, we have also been able to share the news that work is underway to restore the first 30 arches of Madeira Terrace. An exceptional design team is now on board, looking at how the terraces can be restored in their entirety – and exploring how we can create a better public space for people at the neglected eastern seafront. Heritage England has also recognised the critical state of the terraces, which have fallen into disrepair and decline over many years, so it’s essential that restoration works continue at pace.

We want our city not only to be able to face down Covid-19, but to continue to thrive. This week we have helped secure existing jobs at pharmaceutical manufacturer CustomPharma- important and welcome news- and will work with the company to secure more. I have been meeting many employers who want to invest in the city too.

We know that it is many efforts of partner organisations, workers, volunteers and community groups that are so often at the heart of what makes our city so special. Yet despite our rich history of arts and culture, parks, open spaces and heritage their value is still underestimated. Arts and culture contribute £10.6bn to the UK economy, help to tackle social injustice and showcase our communities around the world.

Over the past three months the city council has ensured three large scale, socially distanced events can take place. The council has also provided funding to support a recovery plan, drawn up with Arts Council England, covering the next three years. Our vision is to pave the way for new jobs and enable our vital cultural sector to adapt to the new context. We have also funded a series of advice sessions for people working in the creative and culture sector. However, many of those employed in the creative industries are self-employed, falling through the gaps in the income support scheme, that still excludes many freelancers, for example. Our city is still at risk of losing parts of the creative and cultural sector we hold dear. Government funding can be a lifeline – but is still not reaching some of the organisations and people that need it.

The pandemic has caused disruption to our daily lives. As a city we are staying focused on driving down Covid-19, and on our economic and mental health recovery, the Government’s approach must also demonstrate support for music, art and our green spaces – the very things that will get us through.

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