Observer column: 29 July 2016
Hastings, Famously Eventful
Once again, Hastings Council has won green flag awards for three of its parks: Alexandra Park, St Leonards Gardens, and Hastings Country Park. These well-established awards are given to the best green spaces in the country, so I’m pleased that Hastings has been recognised for another year.
But it’s not just about providing good quality spaces, it’s about how they’re used too. So there’s a programme of play and sports activities for young people in Alexandra Park, as well as at lots of other locations throughout the borough, during the summer holidays.
And it’s not just children’s activities. Last Saturday, there was a big crowd on the Stade Open Space to enjoy the dancers from Mayotte, and the council’s Stade Saturdays programme continues throughout the summer, linking to the ROOT 1066 Arts Festival – programmes are available for that now from the Tourist Information Centre, or online. Hastings Council also made funding available for community groups in the more deprived areas of town, so they can organise their own events as part of the ROOT1066 festival. And then there’s the council’s Seafood and Wine Festival too, a well-established and popular part of the summer calendar. Of course, it’s not just the council that does this. There are many other groups where volunteers work hard to put on world-class festivals and events, from Jack-in-the-Green through to Bonfire, and now Hastings Pier as a new attraction with its own packed programme of events.
Spending money on events and festivals, either putting them on directly or giving grants to other organisations, is important for several reasons. It’s important for the local economy, as it attracts visitors to the town not just to specific events, but also because we get a reputation as a town where there’s always something happening, so it’s worth visiting because there will always be something going on to enjoy. It’s important for local people too, for entertainment and enjoyment, especially in the more deprived parts of town where people often feel excluded from the bigger festivals and events. It’s important too for community cohesion, bringing people together so they more involved, promoting the increasing cultural diversity of Hastings and all the benefits that brings.
So it’s not just about having fun: it’s about boosting the local economy, providing jobs, promoting Hastings as a must-visit creative and cultural centre, and building an inclusive local community where everyone feels they have a part to play, and can find something to enjoy.
However, while we’re having a good year for festivals, the future is far from certain. We don’t know what effect Brexit will have on our ability to promote Hastings to the rest of Europe as a tourist destination. Funding from the EU will end, and the future of local government funding is uncertain, with big cuts to government grants resulting in a £3.5m gap in the council’s annual finances (that’s about 20% of the net budget) emerging by the end of the decade.
Of course, we’ll do all we can to mitigate that – income generation through housing and property investments, as well as energy generation, look promising. We can save more money by putting more information and service applications online. But it’s not going to be easy. I hope that in all this uncertainty, our programme of festivals and entertainment can continue.
Council Leader's column