Waving the flag for the Cheese and Grain

Somerton & Frome MP David Warburton has raised the plight of Frome’s Cheese and Grain in parliament this week. not once but twice. In the Westminster Hall debate on Tuesday he pleaded for support for the arts across the country. This was part of a debate called by Nickie Aitken. The motion “That this House has considered the contribution of theatres, live music venues and other cultural attractions to the local economy.” Whilst no doubt that is the party line, MP after MP lined up to suggest they could try considering it a little harder.

Mr Warbuton noted specifically: “This is not just about the big festivals, however; smaller venues are also affected. The Cheese & Grain in Frome is a member-owned social enterprise and registered charity that provides a huge boost to the cultural, economic and social life of Frome. It is now looking at making 40 of its 53 staff redundant and, having been closed for eight months, it may become insolvent. I know that the Chancellor is being held upside down so that people can steal money out of his pockets all the time, but if we do not help those businesses, they will go under and be devastated. I wrote to him and suggested a tourism and cultural resilience fund, with targeted support and grants to carry those businesses through the winter, and I urge the Minister and the Government to consider that carefully.”

Later on Thursday he returned to the theme during a debate on spending to support culture. He was responding to the motion “That this House has considered the spending of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on support measures for DCMS sectors during and after the covid-19 pandemic.” The MP has found a Labour MP as an ally in championing the plight of venues, many of which have now been closed for over 6 months.

Again he raised the issue of funding for the Cheese & Grain. “The Government have provided the £1.5 billion cultural recovery fund, which was hugely welcomed on all sides. But I would like to raise some concerns about that with the Minister. In a Westminster Hall debate earlier this week I mentioned the Cheese and Grain, which is an arts and music venue in my constituency. It has thrived for many years, and although it applied to the fund back in July, it is yet to hear whether it has been successful. What is the procedure for accepting or declining applications, and how can we push things on a little?

Matt Warren, the Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Dept of Culture Media and Sport was on hand to hear all. He had to listen hard as a lot of MPs were singing from the same song sheet. Irrespective of political party. In response his recitative ran as follows: “Our heritage and our history shapes us, and our communities around our sports clubs at every level shape us. That is why this Government have put £1.57 billion into supporting our arts—an unprecedented package. It is why we have put £200 million into supporting our sports, and it is why we will continue to do so to the best of our abilities…… I want to be clear: we are working as hard as we can to get this money out of the door as quickly as possible. That will begin on Monday, and it will continue throughout October and November.

All dandy but he will have seen the strength of feeling. Meanwhile the Cheese & Grain must wait and see if he is actually as good as his word.

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