Leading lady calls for the arts to be spared from spending cuts

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ACTRESS Sheila Hancock has made an impassioned plea for the arts to be spared swingeing spending cuts.

The chancellor of the University of Portsmouth said they were more important than ever during a recession.

They helped lift people’s spirits when there was little else to give them optimism, she said.

And she added that it was even more important to protect the performing arts in schools.

The 77-year-old was speaking last night at an evening of poetry and music nearly 500ft above Portsmouth – a city with which, she said, she had fallen in love.

The Poetry over Portsmouth event featured readings of verse written by people from the city. They were included in the first anthology of work purely devoted to Portsmouth – This Island City, co-sponsored by The News.

Miss Hancock said: ‘These uplifting poems and the book they come from are an absolute example of why the arts are so important, especially in times like these.

‘We know we are in for a really tough time with the cuts and I believe with all my heart and soul that the arts are vital – more so now than ever.’

She admitted she had a ‘great struggle’ with poetry, particularly when she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company.

‘But, you know,’ she told a sell-out audience of 100 on the glass-encased viewing platform of the Spinnaker Tower, ‘the beautiful words, the English language, are such a huge part of our heritage that it’s really worth persevering with.

‘When things are as gloomy as they are now you need the arts even more than ever. And it’s not just about watching, but doing it too, as these people have done.’

She said if she could wave a magic wand she would restore some of the touring arts projects to schools.

‘I would bring back the finance which enabled companies to go into schools, like I did with the RSC, and enthuse young people. The arts are our entitlement.’

Miss Hancock, who was born at Blackgang in the Isle of Wight, said the Spinnaker was an example of how the arts could breathe new life into a city.

‘I remember Portsmouth just after the war when it had been bombed. It was a ghastly place. Now look at it.’

And she joked: ‘Back then it was full of drunken sailors. Now it’s full of drunken students.’