Tracy Brabin delivers impassioned speech at Creative Cities Convention

Batley and Spen MP Tracy Brabin highlighted the impact culture can have on economic growth, employment opportunities and regeneration in an impassioned speech at the Creative Cities Convention in Leeds.

The event, which took place in April, was a celebration of the richness and diversity of talent and the growth of global production across the UK.

Ms Brabin, who was invited to speak at the event owing to her extensive work in the industry, used the opportunity to set out her vision for a creative sector that works for everyone in every community.

Her speech in full:

It was when I was on the set of Yorkshire TV’s A Bit Of A Do that it struck me. I was playing the clumsy waitress Sandra opposite David Jason.

The scene was at a party. I had a plate of snacks in my hand. My line was, anyone like a canap?  

When I said it, the whole cast giggled. One actor said ‘darling, that’s such a great detail, excellent’.

I had no idea what they were talking about but I knew in that moment there was one bunch actors who said canape and one bunch who said canap!

And hailing from a council estate in Batley, I said canap.

The first in my family to go to Uni, I dreamt of being an actor from a very young age. Don’t know where it came from.

We didn’t know any actors. We never went to the theatre. We were the last in our neighbourhood to get a telly.

But it was a dream and I fulfilled it, working on some of the best shows on TV including every Northern Actors ‘must do’ job – Coronation Street.

But it was always interesting to me that over three decades in the job, I never ever got a casting call for any character that wore a suit.

No lawyers, cops, office managers, HR directors and never, ever for an MP.

Yet here I am.

And it’s the privilege of my life to represent the community where I grew up and the people I love.

 

And I’ve taken my 30 years of creative industries experience into Parliament with me.

And it’s worth remembering what this small island nation manages to produce.

Shows and musicals that sell out for weeks on end in cities all over the world.

We’ve made music and continue to make music that is so good, it’s passed from generation to generation like a gift.

‘Made in Britain’ is a seal of quality.

By any measure we consistently punch above our weight – all across the world – whether it’s actor’s producer’s musicians or directors.

If you look at your conference programmes, you’ll see a number of logos belonging to organisations known around the world for quality. And consider the impact our creative industries has closer to home. Unbelievable regeneration in Salford and Cardiff with the arrival of the BBC.

The small Northern City of Hull with its chest out and putting on a display last year as city of culture. Let’s not forget destination Halifax, the setting to Last Tango in Halifax and Happy Valley

And when I see these creative hubs springing up, it’s hard not to be envious.

My constituency sits just on the outskirts of Leeds, about 20 minutes from here, we’re reachable, have plenty of space and crying out for some investment. So, I want to bang the drum for towns like the ones I represent.

When Channel 4 are looking for their new homes, does it have to be big cities or could they look to towns which have so much to offer and would benefit so much.

Creativity is a beating heart of employment and opportunity and should reach everyone and as many communities as possible.

Because nobody should feel disconnected, or not really understand what we contribute. They should be as proud of our creative industries as I am and as everyone in this room is.

 

However, none of the above means we shouldn’t face up to challenges. It’s only by being honest with one another that we’ll be able to bring about lasting change.

And we have experienced some hard times recently.

As a former actress the accusations made of Harvey Weinstein and others were shameful but far too recognisable.

I think we all knew there was a gender pay gap, but just how big it was was staggering. It started with the BBC however no company has been exempt. But out of these two challenges comes opportunities.

If companies are open with themselves about the size of their pay gap, and if all their clients and advertisers know about it too, then they can take the steps to reduce and eventually close it. Which is what we all want.

And from Weinstein came #MeToo, when women, from the most famous to the most ordinary banded together to say enough is enough.

What happens next and where this road goes – a road that has already seen revelations and changes in politics, businesses and charities – is yet to be seen.

However, I believe one thing is clear and that’s – more women than ever before know it’s not their fault. They never asked for it and they won’t suffer in silence any longer.

There’s a long way to go on both of these issues, but I highlight them because although something might be a problem at the moment, we need to keep our outlook positive and focus on making the positive change where we can and when we should.

That’s why I want the focus of my speech today to be on making changes. How we can be a strong industry – one that does what is right – and doesn’t wait for scandal in order to change.

I hope you know I’m a great friend of the creative industries. I have been ever since I saw Sir Derek Jacobi play Hamlet at Leeds Playhouse on a school trip.  

But strangely, it has been during my time as an MP that I’ve been able to reflect on the sector and even been able to find the time to do my part to try and make changes.

First of all, not long after entering Parliament, Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson asked me and Gloria Del Piero – both of us working class with on screen experience – to investigate diversity in the performing arts.

Look, I’ve been around the block, I and all of you in this room know our sector is too middle class and too white. Too many Canapes and not enough Canaps, if you will.

And what we heard was serious but not surprising –

Cush Jumbo told us how she nearly quit drama school because she was so awkward being there and being working class. That’s Cush Jumbo star of the Good Wife and the Good Fight being told her South London accent was lazy.

And James Graham, the award winning playwright, hit home with how important it is to have diversity right along the chain.

He said that if you don’t have working class writers writing the parts you don’t have working class actors playing them.

Which is why it’s so important that kids living on the estate I grew up, are able to achieve their dreams in the creative industries. Sadly though, we discovered, it could be harder than ever.

In schools, drama is seen as an easy choice and the number of students taking it at exam level has dropped dramatically year on year.

Drama schools – unlike any university in the country or job interview – charge potential students to audition.

And even if you make it through, you’re entering a job market where the first, second and third jobs in the industry are usually done for free.

We’re not exactly making ourselves welcoming.

Of course there are pressing changes that need to made, enforcement of the living wage, culture changes and a respect for creativity in our education system too.

And we’ve all got our own part to play. With that in mind I want to share with you a story from last summer.

Where Nick Evans, an award winning musical director from the Gower in Wales and I hatched the idea of putting on Jo Cox’s favourite musical Les Misérables in Oxfam’s recycling warehouse in Batley with over 100 youngsters from across my community.

Somehow, we brought the best, Donna Munday producer of Harry Potter in the West End, professional sound technicians, choreographers, lighting experts, all descended on Batley to be part of this project.

 The finances were always tight, more reasonable people may have thrown in the towel – but we got there. We got the logistics in place.

And do you know what worried me the most?

That we wouldn’t have the talent or the interest locally.

That my belief in ‘if you build it, they will come’ would lie in tatters. And can I tell you – those 5 sold out shows in Batley were incredible.

Hardly a dry eye in the house and kids walked off stage every night with the applause of standing ovations ringing in their ears. And all of that work, the sweat and tears – did it achieve anything?

Well, nearly ten of that cohort have now gone on to Uni, half a dozen to drama schools, one young man onto an amazing course at the BFI and others into local youth groups back stage.

Parents wrote extensive letters letting us know how their families have changed for ever: Their autistic son who had struggled to socialise, has now made a group of friends. The depressed girl now gets out of bed every day. The young man with a stammer who dreamt of being a playwright is now writing his second short film. And The National Youth Theatre came to Batley and Spen to audition our kids for free, offering bursaries to anyone who got through to the summer school.

Creativity has changed the lives of these youngsters. It’s raised their gaze.

They now believe in themselves. Now I understand – grudgingly – that not every community will get its own Les Mis like we did.

But it’s why we should endeavour to touch every community and leave a door ajar for everyone who wants to work in this sector.

And for many women who do get in and get on, another issue will often arise – pregnancy.

This is in no way a concern unique to the creative industries, but I gave up an incredible role while pregnant with my second child.

Not because I was made to, but because it was in the best interests of my family

How many women find themselves in that situation every year?

And that’s not to mention the pregnancy discrimination women still face. Where they come back to work to find office restructuring or their colleagues have been promoted ahead of them. To be fair to the government, advances have been made.

The introduction of shared Parental Leave and Pay was a big step forward, it allows both parents to split leave in blocks allowing mum to phase her return or return when is best for her.

As I say, a big step forward… if you are in conventional employment.

It’s not available for freelancers or the self-employed. So not available to most people in the creative industries or the growing gig economy.

Fed up with employment rights leaving freelancers out – and with the women I’ve worked with over the years in mind – I’ve introduced a bill that would allow mums to share their Maternity Allowance with their partners.

Something that would cost the treasury very little – if anything – but would allow freelance women to take control of their careers without the fear of not staying in work and losing out.

We have a Prime Minister who says she wants a country that works for everyone, let’s see if she take up this opportunity.

 

So they’re the steps I’ve been taking. A couple of the things I’ve been doing to try and build a better creative industries and fairer workplaces.

And we’ve all got our part to play. Each one of you have come to a conference about inclusivity today – and I thank you for that.

Because it’s so essential that we get this right. Our creative industries are the envy of the world – and quite rightly.

We’re so lucky that rich or poor, old or young, if we switch on our TV, radios or iPads, there will always be something informative or entertaining to watch, listen or read.

And it’s right that people will be attracted to being part of that creativity which brings joy.

But by some of the examples that I’ve used today, Cush Jumbo, Nick Evans, James Graham.

With all of those great people and especially women who encouraged me and countless others over the years in mind. I hope to demonstrate that our industry cannot afford to continue down this road of more privilege.

And if we all keep working together – we’ll build a sector that works for everyone in every community.

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