Cultural Playing Field

NCVO Annual Conference 2011 by Robin Simpson
March 4, 2011, 5:37 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , , , ,

On Tuesday I was in London to speak at the NCVO Annual Conference in a session on ‘Participation, the arts and social change’. The session was chaired by Tim Joss from the Rayne Foundation. I spoke about the massive scale of the voluntary arts sector but the need to appreciate that most participants are primarily motivated by the relevant artform rather than by the desire to effect social change. Tom Andrews from People United spoke about the ‘We All Do Good Things’ project in Herne Bay which involved 5,000 local people in a range of arts activities to celebrate and share positive stories about their community. Jocelyn Cunningham from the RSA talked about the Citizen Power project in Peterborough which is encouraging positive social change by enhancing the ability of people to solve problems in their own lives, saying “the arts is the necessary glue for keeping it all together”. The audience for our session included quite a few arts organisations as well as other voluntary organisations and funders. We had a lively discussion about the tensions within the arts between the intrinsic and instrumental approaches and between excellence and participation. It was wonderful to have a session within the NCVO Annual Conference focussing on the arts for the first time I can remember, Many thanks to everyone who took part.

Sir Stuart Etherington

Sir Stuart Etherington

The NCVO Annual Conference was an impressive and enjoyable day. Around 600 delegates from all sorts of voluntary sector organisation were present to hear NCVO Chief Executive, Sir Stuart Etherington, warn, in his ‘state of the sector’ speech, that “at a time when communities need us more than ever … there is a very real danger that some of our organisations won’t be there”. I was struck by the number of people I spoke to during the day who don’t yet know what public funding their organisation is to receive (if any) for the financial year starting on 1 April 2011.  Stuart pointed out that one third of charities have no financial reserves and asked “how can you manage effectively an organisation if you don’t know your funding in 30 days’ time?” He called for the Government’s Transition Fund for voluntary sector organisations to be doubled and asked for clear guidelines for local government on working with the voluntary sector. In the afternoon we heard from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles. The Minister recognised the “immensely important role of voluntary and community groups” and he used the NCVO Conference to announce that “if councils are being high-handed I will consider giving our reasonable expectations a statutory force”. At the time I’m not sure many of us in the hall noticed the significance of this statement, which the NCVO website later clarified by saying: “The Secretary of State defined disproportionate cuts [to voluntary sector organisations] in his speech as bigger reductions to budgets than they [local authorities] take on themselves.  He also gave a commitment to consider giving statutory force to these expectations should local authorities fail to meet them.”

Eric Pickles

Eric Pickles


It was interesting to see the former BBC newsreader (and founder of YouthNet) Martyn Lewis in his new role as Chair of NCVO, very smoothly chairing the plenary sessions. And it was great to end the conference with a presentation by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson who was an amusing, self-deprecating and extremely inspiring speaker. She talked (as a Trustee of V – the youth volunteering agency) about the importance of volunteering and praised the work of all the volunteer coaches and helpers without whom she would not have been able to achieve her phenomenal haul of Paralympic medals (11 gold, 4 silver and 1 bronze).

Robin Simpson.


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