There was an air of expectation as I and my wife and an audience of thousands stood expectantly in a warm summer afternoon in Hyde Park waiting for Elvis Costello and the Attractions to perform. We had the addition of being able to watch England play Germany in the World Cup. Elvis Costello was brilliant in sharp contrast to the woeful performance of England. This was the second time we had been to Hyde Park to watch the Hard Rock Calling music festival, a slightly more sedate affair than Glastonbury which was taking place on the same weekend. I can now claim to have seen some real legends like Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder and some emerging talent like Corinne Bailey Rae and Joshua Radin. I am not a regular festival goer like my two boys, but all of our family share a passion for music, sport and all the ‘arts’.
Like many proud parents I spent many of the boys’ early years standing on the touch-line, watching them both play football, and in my opinion they were brilliant defenders. I was also fortunate to have a daughter who enjoyed drama and one of the highlights of the year was watching her perform, sometimes with great distinction. They all learnt a great deal from their interests, which gave them confidence and friendships which remain to this day.
Although the boys have stopped playing football, the three of us have become runners and in a few days’ time we are due to run our second half marathon, the Great Eastern Run. This is luckily on the flat, crucial for a man in his fifties who hasn’t really done much exercise in thirty years. I am not particularly fast, far from it; it took me 2 hours 30 minutes to run the half marathon last year, but I felt a real sense of achievement when I crossed the finishing line, and felt mentally, physically and emotionally better for taking up running.
Despite the media’s obsession with celebrity and the antics of overpaid superstars, sport and culture are not just about elite performance; it is about team work, wider benefits to health and wellbeing and can also provide economic benefits to a community. The Supporters Direct organisation has recently published a report entitled The Social and Community Value of Football, which – as the name suggests – does not look at the success or otherwise of a wealthy elite group of premiership clubs but looks at the wider value football provides for communities. From their surveys, supporters stated that the value they got most from football was almost entirely social in nature.
- Feeling part of a locality and the generation of local pride
- Deriving friendships
- Having a sense of community and communality with other people
- Being part of an informal ‘family’
- Sharing experiences with other supporters. (Supporters Direct. 2010: 9)[i]
In a month when we will hear how much of the public sector is to be cut, by how much and over what timescale, it may seem odd to be making a plea for sport and culture. Yet it is important to remember that, despite the English men’s poor performance on the pitch, these are two industries that UK PLC excels at.
To see sport and culture as a mere add-on that is not central to life misses the point . Culture can feed into economy through tourism and directly into the creative industries which include incredibly successful areas like fashion, design and even technology, as well as improving public health and it can also help communities develop a sense of identity.
Sport and culture combine imagination with creativity that can unify the community and, in my view, reduce demands on public expenditure by increasing the wellbeing of people. They add value by building on the strength of individuals rather than focusing on pathology and deficit.
All the evidence seems to suggest that the young have been disproportionately affected by the economic downturn and those in poorer communities will be harder hit. In the current climate we need to look at different ways of delivering services and different ways of engaging people. Gone are the days of large firms providing the bulk of jobs for towns and regions – witness the closure of the Redcar steel plant and the devastating effect it has already had on Teesside. What that region also shows is the importance the public sector plays not just in the provision of jobs but also in providing a vision.
The coalition is right that the economy needs repositioning and moving away from a dependence on the financial sector. However, if this repositioning is to take place they need in someway to unleash the ‘creative juices’ of the population. The most important section of our population that could be the most creative is young people; they are often unconstrained by structures, obsessions and past agendas. We need to create an environment in which people’s imagination and creativity can be allowed to blossom. Now that would be a political and economic legacy for any government.
[i]Supporters Direct (2010) ‘The Social and Community Value of Football’, http://supporters-direct.org/downloads/socialvalue/svoff%20summary%20report.pdf (accessed 19/9/2010)