Cultural Playing Field

Arts Nation External Advisory Group meeting by Robin Simpson
November 26, 2010, 3:18 pm
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On Tuesday afternoon I was at Arts Council England in London for a meeting of the Arts Nation External Advisory Group. In our first meeting since the Comprehensive Spending Review we looked at the implications of funding cuts on ACE’s public engagement work, the progress of the Arts Nation pilot projects and the ambitions to increase and widen engagement in the arts within ACE’s new 10-year strategy ‘Achieving Great Art for Everyone’. The External Advisory Group has proved very valuable in bringing together a number of ACE’s regular funded organisations and encouraging us to look at how we might work more closely together to promote engagement in the arts.

Robin Simpson.


Citizen Power in Peterborough by Robin Simpson
November 26, 2010, 3:02 pm
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On Tuesday morning I was at the RSA in London to meet Jocelyn Cunningham to discuss the Citizen Power project in Peterborough. Citizen Power is an Arts Council England/RSA/Peterborough Council project focussing on civic engagement and the restoration of community which seeks to create an integrated and collaborative network of artists in Peterborough, embedding learning throughout the process in order to build capacity. We talked about how Voluntary Arts might be able to help to develop the involvement of local voluntary arts groups in the project. More details at:

Robin Simpson.


Questioning the Minister for Civil Society at EVDC by Robin Simpson
November 18, 2010, 8:26 pm
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I was back in England on Tuesday for a meeting of the England Volunteering Development Council. We looked at the impact of the comprehensive spending review on volunteering infrastructure and volunteer-involving organisations: most felt it was still too soon to say, with many organisations not expecting to know about their funding for 2011-12 until Spring 2011. We also discussed the Office for Civil Society consultation ‘Supporting a Stronger Civil Society’ which is seeking views on future Government support for voluntary sector and volunteering infrastructure organisations (see: – deadline 6 January 2011). Among other news, we heard that TimeBank has launched a new ‘Rate It!’ service to allow people to leave feedback about volunteering opportunities along the lines of TripAdvisor and similar sites – see: And the Institute for Volunteering Research is offering a 40% discount on its Impact Assessment Toolkit until the end of November – see:


But the main focus of the meeting was the chance to hear from, and question, the Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd. The Minister started by acknowledging that, for all those in the room, “this is a very difficult time: you’ve probably never been busier but you’re living with confusion”. He said there had also been a fair amount of confusion and cynicism about the Government’s Big Society agenda but “we’re very serious about it”. Nick Hurd said that Big Society, by its nature, cannot be a Government-led programme but that Government has an active role to play. He described the Big Society agenda as threefold:

  • devolving real power to communities,
  • public service reform, and
  • encouraging and supporting people who want to make a bigger contribution


The Minister referred to the Government’s green paper consultation on the giving of time and money which will be issued before Christmas. He also described the Big Society initiatives being co-ordinated by the Office for Civil Society:

  • Community First Fund – a small grants fund for neighbourhood groups, focused on areas with low social capital.
  • Community Organisers – training 5,000 new community organisers to build people’s confidence and capability at grassroots level, strengthening local networks.
  • National Citizen Service – connecting young people with their ability to make a contribution to the community. This will bring together 16-year olds from different backgrounds through residential, outward-bound events. The young people will then be encouraged to use the skills they have already got in their communities, structuring and delivering their own programmes of community action.
  • Cutting red tape – including Lord Hodgson’s Reducing Red Tape Task Force and the review of the Vetting and Barring Scheme. Nick Hurd confirmed that there was no threat of volunteers having to pay for CRB checks.
  • The Supporting a Stronger Civil Society consultation.
  • The £100M Transition Fund for voluntary and community sector organisations affected by spending cuts that was announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review.
  • A strand of money for volunteering infrastructure and a matched fund for volunteering.


On infrastructure organisation, the Minister said “I don’t consider infrastructure a dirty word but you’re far too defensive about it: you need to get on the front foot and make a case.”


I said to Nick Hurd that I have been attending a succession of meetings about the Big Society in which everyone says they are already delivering the Big Society. I suggested that, while voluntary arts groups are undoubtedly an excellent example of the Big Society in action, many are not as well connected within their local communities as they could be and I hoped the Big Society agenda might provide incentives to join-up voluntary arts groups and the vast numbers of people involved in them with other community groups and organisations. The Minister responded by stressing that anyone who thinks they are already delivering the Big Society has not understood the level of change that is coming at a local level. He referred to the Localism Bill being brought to Parliament by Greg Clark and explained that the measures being proposed would lead to a situation where will need to be many more debates at local level about what the priorities are. The sector can’t be complacent about this. Nick Hurd said “Voice is going to be very important – and particularly important on behalf of those who don’t have a voice.”

Robin Simpson.


European Year of Volunteering 2011 Working Group meeting by Robin Simpson
November 18, 2010, 7:42 pm
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On Monday afternoon I was at the Cabinet Office for my first meeting as a member of the European Year of Volunteering 2011 Working Group. The Office for Civil Society (OCS) is the national co-ordinating body for the European Year of Volunteering 2011 and the Working Group is overseeing the OCS work programme for the year in England. The four priorities for the year are:

  1. Encourage and enable individuals to make a contribution within their communities and help solve social issues by volunteering.
  2. Promote good practice within the private, public and voluntary and community sector in relation to the development of effective employer supported volunteering (ESV) programmes.
  3. Identify and share good practice and resources relating to effective volunteer management.
  4. Promote good practice in opening the doors to volunteering opportunities to those traditionally less likely to volunteer (e.g. disabled people, those from minority ethnic backgrounds, the unemployed etc.).


OCS plans to address the first of these priorities through five themes (alongside specific activities relating to the other three priorities). These themes are:

  • Young people and children
  • Environment
  • Sport
  • Culture and the arts
  • Health and social care


Each theme will be the subject of a two-month ‘spotlight’ period within the year: culture and the arts is currently scheduled to be the focus for September and October 2011. At Monday’s meeting we discussed the process by which volunteer-involving organisations in England (including voluntary arts groups) will be able to ‘badge’ their activities as part of the European Year of Volunteering 2011. We also looked in detail at the arrangements for the European Commission’s ‘tour’ event which will visit London at the beginning of June 2011. This will be an opportunity to raise public awareness about volunteering (and the year).

Robin Simpson.

Catching up with the National Campaign for the Arts by Robin Simpson
November 18, 2010, 7:39 pm
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On Monday I was in London for my regular meeting with Louise de Winter at the National Campaign for the Arts. We compared notes on the recent meetings we had both had with the Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey. We also discussed the work we are doing to explore the role of the arts within The Big Society, talked about volunteering in the arts, the development of a national ‘arts index’ and the ‘I Value the Arts’ campaign.

Robin Simpson.


Volunteering in the arts by Robin Simpson
November 12, 2010, 4:50 pm
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I was back in London on Friday to chair a meeting about volunteering in the arts. It was great, after many years of trying, to finally get Arts Council England officers round a table with representatives of volunteering infrastructure organisations. Arts organisations use huge numbers of volunteers but hardly ever seem to engage with local volunteer centres, the national volunteering database or the vast resources of advice and best practice on volunteering. Joining officers from the Participation & Engagement, Arts Nation and London 2012 teams at ACE were representatives from Volunteering England, YouthNet, the Office for Civil Society and Tom Andrews from People United – a fascinating participative arts organisation based in Canterbury which Tom describes as a creative laboratory investigating empathy and group behaviour through the arts. It was an incredibly interesting discussion which identified a significant number of opportunities for arts organisations in relation to volunteering and concluded that ACE could play a vital role in connecting arts organisations to the volunteering infrastructure.

Robin Simpson.


Meeting People’s Voice Media by Robin Simpson
November 12, 2010, 4:45 pm
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Later on Thursday morning Mary and I met Gary Copitch from People’s Voice Media – one of the partners in our Up for Arts project in Liverpool earlier this year. People’s Voice Media specialises in developing and training volunteer community reporters to gather and disseminate stories from their communities using social media. We discussed several possible joint projects and agreed the details of a pilot Big Society programme of activity which we hope to launch early in the New Year.

Robin Simpson.


Meeting the DCMS Arts Team by Robin Simpson
November 12, 2010, 4:02 pm
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On Thursday morning Mary and I were at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in London to meet Nick Pontefract and Steve Darke from the DCMS Arts Team. We followed up several points raised in our recent meeting with the Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey, and agreed a number of actions.

Robin Simpson.

Voluntary cultural sector alliance meeting by Robin Simpson
November 5, 2010, 11:57 am
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I was in London again on Friday for a voluntary cultural sector alliance meeting with the Heritage Alliance, Central Council for Physical Recreation and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. Among many other things we discussed the Big Society, the Cabinet Office consultation on voluntary and community sector infrastructure, the effects of the Comprehensive Spending Review, the Localism Bill, the Reducing Red Tape Taskforce and the review of the Charity Commission.

Robin Simpson.


Community Sector Coalition meeting by Robin Simpson
November 5, 2010, 11:46 am
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I was in London on Thursday for a meeting of the Community Sector Coalition. This was a major discussion about the future of the Coalition. We decided on priorities for the CSC’s work and took a radical look at the structure and funding of the Coalition. Ironically, at a time when the voice of the community sector and the role of small, grassroots, community groups seems more important than ever – particularly in relation to the Big Society agenda – the CSC, which brings together national organisations representing community groups, faces significant funding challenges. It was good to achieve some clarity about what the CSC should focus on, particularly if resources are limited. We also identified some alternative approaches that might give the Coalition a greater mandate and reach.

Robin Simpson.