Column: We need to celebrate our thriving cultural sector in Doncaster

Cast theatre in Doncaster.
Cast theatre in Doncaster.

By Dan Fell, chief executive officer of Doncaster Chamber

Last week I had the pleasure of entertaining some of the chamber’s members and stakeholders at Cast.

We took our customers to see the ‘Mod Musical’ All Or Nothing which documents the story of Steve Marriott and legendary 60s band The Small Faces.

I’m a lifelong mod and take my music (too) seriously, so anything involving the Small Faces should have been manna from heaven. Conversely, I usually hate musicals and was worried that I’d be enduring somewhat schmaltzy versions of some of my favourite songs!

I wasn’t quite sure which instinct would win out on the day. I was pleasantly surprised; the show was great and the live band at the heart of the performance were absolutely terrific, as were the ensemble cast.

The brilliance of the show, however, was not actually the most pleasing thing about the evening. Instead, that was seeing hundreds of people, mid week, engaging with CAST and experiencing culture in our great town of Doncaster. Interestingly, of the dozen or so people that joined us at the show, many confessed that they were experiencing CAST for the first time that evening. Every single one of the first timers was blown away by the quality of the theatre and went away evangelising about the facility and determined to come back time and time again.

That really brings me to the point of this month’s column. I often hear from chamber members and business people about the challenges of attracting skilled workers into Doncaster. A significant part of that well rehearsed narrative focuses on issues linked to the quality of Doncaster’s culture, leisure and entertainment offer. Many businesses point out that it is hard to attract people away from the bright lights of Leeds or Manchester.

Of course, the views of these business leaders are valid and they have some truth in them. However, I think that Doncaster does have some fabulous culture assets, fantastically creative people and that there is a nascent ‘buzz’ developing around our cultural and creative industries. Consequently, I think – as business leaders and communities alike – there is a duty on all of us to harness and nurture that ‘buzz’. I also think there is a responsibility on the business community to be part of the solution and to engage with our local arts and cultural scene wherever possible. I would urge anyone in business – that has previously critiqued Doncaster’s cultural offer – to experience it first hand. We can hopefully build a virtuous circle whereby we have a flourishing cultural offer that forms part of the ‘Doncaster Story’ that helps our firms attract and retain skilled workers.