Cultural Playing Field

NCVO Board meeting, AGM and Hinton Lecture by Robin Simpson
November 28, 2008, 10:58 am
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On Wednesday afternoon I was at The Law Society on Chancery Lane in London to take part in the National Council for Voluntary Organisations Board meeting and AGM. The Board meeting focused on the impact of the recession on the voluntary and community sector. The Voluntary Sector Recession Summit, which took place on Monday – jointly chaired by Stuart Etherington of NCVO and the Minister for the Third Sector, Kevin Brennan – resulted in the promise of a Government action plan for the sector by early 2009. The summit identified specific actions in the areas of research, capacity-building and public policy to help the sector cope with the economic downturn. In the Board meeting we looked at extensive research undertaken by the Charities Aid Foundation and others into the effect of earlier recessions on the sector, whilst recognising that this recession might be quite different and that the sector is now much stronger than it was. Nevertheless, it still seems likely that the major effects on the third sector will not be felt immediately: there is likely to be a 9-12 month lag effect in relation to charitable giving. Perhaps the most important message that came out of our discussion was that charities should not panic: most problems to date seemed to stem from perception rather than reality. NCVO and the other leading representative bodies have a key role to play in encouraging a calm, rational approach to emerging economic problems – while not underestimating their potential seriousness. This was the final meeting of the old Board: I was one of sixteen Trustees who stepped down at the AGM as the elected members of the new, smaller Board were confirmed. I’ve really enjoyed my two years as a NCVO Trustee and look forward to playing a role on the new Members’ Assembly which will meet twice a year to discuss major third sector policy issues. The AGM was followed by the annual NCVO Hinton Lecture – in memory of the former NCVO Director Nicholas Hinton. This year’s speaker was the journalist Simon Jenkins, a former editor of the Times and the London Evening Standard who now writes for the Guardian and has recently become Chair of the National Trust. His deliberately provocative lecture warned that the strength of the voluntary and community sector was eroding local democracy as successive governments had removed real power from local councils and started consulting ‘stakeholders’ such as professional groups, lobbyists and voluntary organisations. See:

Robin Simpson


Developing opportunity and excellence by Robin Simpson
November 28, 2008, 10:53 am
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On Wednesday I was at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in London for the second meeting of the Opportunity and Excellence Programme Board. This Board, chaired by DCMS Director General Andrew Ramsay, brings together the Chief Executives of Arts Council England, Sport England, English Heritage, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council and the National Museum Director’s Conference with the relevant DCMS Directors to oversee progress against the DCMS Departmental Strategic Objectives relating to cultural opportunities and excellence. This time we concentrated on developing adult participation, looking at current initiatives to increase the numbers of people taking part in cultural activities and discussing what more could be done. Paul Raynes from the Local Government Association has joined the Board to help us look at how best to involve local authorities in this work. We discussed the suggestion that while the recession might reduce cultural attendance, it might actually encourage more participation in local cultural activities. We also agreed the importance of co-ordinating the drive to increase cultural participation with similar initiatives from other Government departments – such the work on informal adult learning at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the focus on increasing volunteering by the Office of the Third Sector. As well as being a Departmental Strategic Objective for DCMS, the work to develop adult participation in cultural activities also contributes to the cross-departmental Public Service Agreement on Cohesive, Empowered and Active Communities (PSA 21) which DCMS shares with the Department for Communities and Local Government. I was encouraged to see that the official DCMS PSA 21 Delivery Plan now includes the following reference to the voluntary arts: 

“‘Our Creative Talent: the voluntary and amateur arts in England’ was launched at a conference on 2 July and represents the first step towards developing a comprehensive understanding of the size, make up and impact of the voluntary arts sector in England. It considers two key aspects – voluntary and amateur arts groups and the importance of the informal adult learning sector to arts participation. Headline statistics show there to be over 49,000 voluntary and amateur Arts groups in England and a total of 9.4 million people participate in voluntary arts. We are currently working alongside ACE, the Voluntary Arts Network and other stakeholders to draw up an Action Plan to follow up on the report and further work undertaken with the sector.” [Department for Culture, Media and Sport, PSA 21 – Active Communities, Delivery Plan]

Robin Simpson.

Portal potential by Robin Simpson
November 21, 2008, 2:59 pm
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I’ve been in London today for a meeting at the Cabinet Office to discuss the idea of a universal online participation portal. At my suggestion, officials from the Office of the Third Sector, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills joined me to look at whether it might be possible to combine several proposed online directories, portals and signposting systems. We agreed that the idea of a single universal portal might be too ambitious but that it was essential for the planned initiatives to be linked to each other. We plan to meet again in the New Year to progress this idea.

Robin Simpson.

Meeting the National Federation of Women’s Institutes by Robin Simpson
November 19, 2008, 5:28 pm
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One of the most interesting findings (and one that I had not anticipated) of the DCMS/ACE research, ‘Our Creative Talent: the voluntary and amateur arts in England’, was the significant proportion of the total number of ‘voluntary arts groups’ represented by groups whose prime purpose is not necessarily arts activity but who nevertheless undertake considerable arts participation across a number of disciplines. While the Voluntary Arts Network has been very good at providing advice and information to choirs, amateur dramatic groups, craft guilds etc, the research suggests we could do more to support arts activity by more general community organisations. With this in mind, on Monday I went to see Fay Mansell and Jana Osborne, the Chair and General Secretary of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes. NFWI represents more than 6500 Women’s Institutes, many of whom engage regularly in a variety of crafts or organise concerts. We talked about the dissemination of VAN Briefings to WIs and how NFWI might draw on the expertise of the national voluntary arts umbrella bodies. I was particularly interested in how we might encourage occasional arts participants inspired by their WI experiences to consider joining or setting up local voluntary arts groups. We agreed that NFWI would help to promote the new ‘Directory of amateur arts and crafts’ being created by the Voluntary Arts Link team. I also agreed that VAN would be happy to advise NFWI on the major celebratory event planned to mark the movement’s centenary in 2015.

Robin Simpson.

Catching up with the Office of the Third Sector by Robin Simpson
November 17, 2008, 1:20 pm
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I arrived at the Cabinet Office on Monday morning, for my regular meeting with John Knights and Sophie Chapman of the Office of the Third Sector, in the middle of the fallout from Liam Byrne’s leaked email so I was very disappointed not to be presented with a cappuccino! John, Sophie and I discussed the progress of the Arts Council England/DCMS action plan for the voluntary arts sector and the Office of the Third Sector Olympic volunteering legacy plans. I also told them about the Voluntary Arts Ireland cross-border volunteering in the arts project, ‘Another Way In’, which is being jointly funded by the Department for Social Development of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs in the Republic of Ireland. Finally I asked for John and Sophie’s input for the presentation on volunteering and festivals that I am giving next Saturday at the Folk Arts England Conference.

Robin Simpson. 

The final NCVO Executive Committee meeting by Robin Simpson
November 6, 2008, 10:25 pm
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On Wednesday afternoon I was at NCVO for the final meeting of the NCVO Executive Committee. Following a major governance review, the existing Board and Executive Committee will be replaced, at the forthcoming AGM, by a smaller, new Board. I was very disappointed to learn, this week, that I had been unsuccessful in my attempt to be elected to the new NCVO Board. Trying to be as magnanimous in defeat as John McCain, I offer the new Board my goodwill (“I don’t know what more we could have done to try to win this election”) and I now have some welcome gaps in my 2009 diary but I will miss being involved in the governance of NCVO. My time on the Board and Executive Committee has been incredibly interesting, challenging and rewarding and has taught me a lot about the role of the Trustee. At Wednesday’s meeting we heard about the Government’s decision to establish a third sector workforce development council. In the midst of the current financial crisis, we reviewed the management of NCVO’s own investments. Finally, we discussed the plans for the forthcoming ‘Recession Summit’ which will be jointly chaired by the new Minister for the Third Sector, Kevin Brennan, and NCVO Chief Executive, Stuart Etherington. The summit will look at what is happening to the third sector as a result of the financial downturn, what the sector should be doing about it and what the government needs to do. The recommendations of the summit will be fed back directly to the Office of the Third Sector and the Treasury.

Robin Simpson.

Catching up with DCMS by Robin Simpson
November 6, 2008, 10:17 pm
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I was in London on Wednesday where I had a catch-up meeting Mandy Barrie and Kirsty Leith at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Among many other topics, we discussed the development by Arts Council England of an action plan for the voluntary arts sector to respond to the recommendations of the ‘Our Creative Talent’ research. Mandy also updated me on the discussions DCMS is having with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills in preparation for a white paper on informal adult learning which is due to be published in the new year.

Robin Simpson.