London is officially alive again. Over the past couple of months it’s been such a joy to see the city reawaken after a long and extremely painful Covid hibernation — to see the lights come back on in venue after venue, and punters filling up restaurants, pubs and bars from Hammersmith to Hackney.
Walk past the Jazz Cafe and Brixton Academy and you’ll witness the welcome sight of a queue outside the doors for the first time in months. In fact, walk from one end of London to the other and you’re given reminders of why it’s one of the best cities in the world — full, as Samuel Johnson wrote, of “as much of life as the world can show”.
On a personal note, it’s been a particular joy to see all those cultural venues the Government supported through the pandemic coming back to life and beginning the process of standing on their own: the Royal Albert Hall, the Globe, the Old Vic and the Royal Opera House, countless West End theatres, including the Palace and Vaudeville, Garrick, Duchess and Apollo. They were all able to face down the existential crisis of Covid thanks to our record-breaking £2 billion Culture Recovery Fund — £430 million of which went to almost 1,200 organisations in London. Now, having weathered the worst of the Covid storm, these organisations grow stronger with every visitor that walks through their doors.
It’s been a very positive summer. But we owe it to London to make sure this autumn is just as strong. It’s on all of us to get out there and support this great city in the run-up to Christmas. I’m not just saying this for London’s sake. Our capital is vital to the entire country’s fortunes.
Before the pandemic, London was the third most visited city on the planet, welcoming 21.7 million visitors. Those visitors spent £15.7 billion while they were here — and they didn’t just spend it in the city. London is a gateway to the rest of the country. Countless tourists use the capital as a base to explore the very best of the UK’s culture, with centuries-old heritage and stunning scenery just a train journey away.
When London thrives, the UK thrives. And this autumn has so much on offer. There’s one last chance to take a turn on the Natural History Museum’s ice rink before it is turned into a beautiful urban garden. Or we’ve got our pick of the season’s must-see plays, from Oleanna to The Mirror and the Light. The Government has just completed an ambitious pilot programme to explore the return of these mass participation events, and that pilot has shown they can be done safely — particularly if people go out and get the jab.
So let’s get booking. London is vital to the nation’s soul. It is full of reasons to live, and this autumn, it’s up to all of us to get out there and enjoy them, for the entire UK’s benefit.
Oliver Dowden is Culture Secretary