We are extremely lucky that East Sussex has such a rich history and boasts many great heritage sites. Wealden is home to many extraordinary medieval sights and has a unique history of hammer ponds, which were crucial to the Tudor and Stuart iron industry that was established within the High Weald. Our heritage sites are vital to the local economy and the cultural fabric of the area and I am working to support and protect our heritage sites and culture.
🏰 Saving Michelham Priory Moat
Michelham Priory boasts Britain’s longest continual medieval water-filled moat, which stretches a mile and encircles its site. The Environmental Agency is failing in its duty to operate and maintain two water control structures and has not been providing ongoing water and silt management of the River Cuckmere over the past few years. As a result, there is no water supply to the moat during dry weather periods. This has caused the moat to dry out and resulted in damaging a unique natural ecosystem and huge regrowth of invasive vegetation. In September 2020, I held an urgent Parliamentary debate on the matter and met with the EA to discuss the case. I welcome the progress made to date and I continue to follow the case closely to ensure that the project is progressing.
🎨 Supporting Wealden's Art & Entertainment Sector
- In light of the pandemic, I secured additional funding for various heritage sites and entertainment businesses in Wealden. As part of the second round of the Culture Recovery Fund, nearly £400 million worth of funding has been allocated to over 2,700 arts, culture and heritage organisations in England, including 6 awards in Wealden, totalling £521,901.
- Between January and July 2021, the Arts Council invested a further £52,622 to Wealden artists via Developing Your Creative Practice and National Lottery Project Grants. This funding was distributed amongst several Wealden musicians, performers, choreographers, singers and researchers to aid with projects such as studio equipment, theatre production development, choir training, book writing and script writing.
- I visited Farleys House and Gallery in Muddles Green Chiddingly to celebrate its reopening and discover its fascinating display of artwork and photography.
🎪 Advocating for Wealden Festivals
- I am proud that Wealden is home to many award-winning events and festivals, and to many of the country’s best technicians. I appreciate the hardships they have faced due to the pandemic and following conversations with many Wealden residents who work in the sector, I have previously written to the Secretary of State, urging him to consider further assistance to support the industry and secured funding to help Wealden’s event organisers back on their feet and protect our local jobs.
- I advocated for Wealden’s Black Deer Festival in Parliament following ongoing Covid restrictions on live outdoor events. Every year, Black Deer attracts over 30,000 visitors and fans from the South East, the rest of the UK and from all over the world, bringing a vital boost to Wealden’s economy with revenues from tourism, transport, and hospitality sectors. I have been working tirelessly to salvage the event, cooperating closely with Gill Tee, the co-founder and director of Black Deer and neighbouring MP Greg Clark, making countless representations to the Government and Arts Council England.
- I regularly attend Wealden Festivals such as the Uckfield Festval and Hailsham Live to support local businesses.
🎼 Securing resumption of Choir rehearsals
I recently convened a virtual meeting with representatives of various amateur choirs from across Wealden and East Sussex to listen to their concerns regarding the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on restarting their activities. According to Government guidelines, ‘amateur’ choirs were excluded from the easing of restrictions on the culture sector as part of Step 3 of the roadmap and only allowed to meet in groups of no more than six indoors. I am pleased that following my representations, the Government issued a clarification of the guidance, allowing ‘amateur’ choirs to resume activities for commercial purposes. My letter and further information about the virtual meeting can be found here.
- Kelly Richards, Chair of South Downs Singers, said: "I would just like to thank you on behalf of our choir for all you help, advice, and support in getting us back on the road to performing. It is so refreshing to see an MP complete in a strong fashion what they say they will do. Again so many thanks."
- Jane Bolger, Chair of Mayfield Festival Choir, said: “Thank you so much for listening to our explanations and for the way you responded when I and other local choral societies asked for your help seeking clarification from the DCMS. It was so encouraging to have your interest and support and to read the letter you sent to the secretaries of state as a result of our discussions. We were delighted when the DCMS responded saying that "we would remind you that limits do not apply to activity taking place for work or commercial activity". Because we sell tickets for our concerts, and employ professional musicians, choral societies come under the heading of work or commercial activity. We are resuming our in-person (distanced, masked, cleansed) rehearsals with joy this week."
⛪ Supporting local faith leaders
I supported our local faith leaders during the Covid-19 pandemic and called for full reopening of religious buildings. People of all faiths have not been able to mark religious festivals in the traditional way this year and they have shown incredible patience and resilience. Places of worship have demonstrated in recent months that they can be made safe for individuals to come together to reflect, pray and celebrate.