Readers may recall some criticism that came my way at the end of last year following an article in The House magazine that implied I was missing the glamour of my former role working on the Culture, Media and Sport portfolio. Though I tried to dispel this with exciting tales of building regulations and brownfield development, Lib Dem Voice ran with a heading of, “Does Don Foster like his new Government job?” So let me be clear. I do, I really do.
Of course, there are some really difficult matters to deal with such as council funding, homelessness and the impact of welfare changes. Along with helping to develop a “Liberal” agenda for housing and planning, these are obviously key priorities for me.
But there are also some real opportunities to deliver a Liberal Democrat agenda on issues as wide ranging as developing the localism agenda, improving the energy efficiency of our homes and strengthening communities through integration projects.
And I can develop some great new initiatives. Passersby at St Pancras station last week may have been surprised to see me introducing performances by the Pandemonium Drummers (who previously performed at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games), the Uke Choir (with whom I inexpertly played my own ukulele) and a choir comprising former Olympic volunteers. We were there to launch what is to be Britain’s biggest music festival, ‘Our Big Gig’. Over 250 concerts will feature the best of local musical talent and will be free for musicians to enter as well as for the public to attend between the 11th and 14th July. Concerts will be held across every part of England – from Cornwall to Cumbria and London to Lancashire – with further concerts anticipated in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The initiative is inspired by the community-led performances that took place on the closing day of the Paralympics last year under the name of ‘Bandstand Marathon’. ‘Our Big Gig’ builds on this scheme and is a part of the Government’s commitment to strengthen communities by bringing people from different backgrounds together – in this case to make, perform and watch music. And it’s also part of the Olympic and Paralympic Games legacy; something which is very important to me with shades of my former role clearly in evidence! (I’m currently developing another integration project centred on sport.)
The ‘Our Big Gig’ series of concerts is being organised by not for profit arts organisation Superact, with funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government, Arts Council England and the National Lottery.
We are looking for volunteers (who will be supported by Superact and even have some very modest funding) to take on the role of community event organisers to set up concerts in their areas, including choosing the date, time and venue. This will give communities a say in the running of their local event and provide an opportunity to celebrate and strengthen community integration and cohesion, about which I’m passionate.
Anyone wishing to get involved, and I encourage you to do so, can find out more on the ‘Our Big Gig’ website.
* Don Foster is MP for Bath, Liberal Democrat Chief Whip and Coalition Deputy Chief Whip.