We’d only been open a week. Then, on Monday 15th February, 2010, Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport paid us a visit.
Despite my best efforts to cajole others to join us. there were about eight in the audience. The production was The Distance, one of my favourite plays but one that, even the writer would agree, wasn’t exactly a crowd-pleaser. In the interval, I quizzed the reluctant Minister about his relations with Gordon Brown. As he tried to leave, I insisted he meet the cast in their dressing room, which had been converted from a kitchen.
This was Ben Bradshaw’s first visit. He’d be forgiven if it was also his last. That it wasn’t is a testament to the man’s patience.
Ben has been a great supporter of the Bike Shed since its infancy. Over the years, he has spoken on a panel on democracy in the twenty-first century, hosted a fundraiser and seen countless productions. He’s given money to support refurbishment work, spoken about us in the House of Commons and shouted about us in the press. Perhaps some could claim this of their MPs too. But have yours also done the limbo in your bar at two in the morning?
Obviously, the timing of my writing this isn’t coincidental. Tomorrow there’s an election. Now, I’m not quite arrogant enough to think that I’ll persuade any to vote differently. But I wanted to put on paper the reasons why I’m voting for a Labour candidate for the first time in my life.
As anyone who saw Thursday’s debate on creativity and culture will testify, Ben knows this city inside out. He advocates for Exeter nationally. On the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, he holds funders to account, specifically on the fairness of support for the arts outside London.
Ben’s quiet support for the Bike Shed has meant a huge amount. It’s been wonderful to have him in our corner for the last five years. I hope we have him for another five.