Cultural Playing Field


Meeting clubbz.com by Robin Simpson
May 27, 2011, 2:04 pm
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On Friday I was in Leeds for a meeting with Ian Prescott and Paul Sweeting at Clubbz.com – the sports and hobbies website. More than 20,000 local groups across the UK are now using Clubbz. Clubbz helps people to find clubs and societies in their area and acts as a social network for members of the registered groups, allowing societies to share information with their members about their meetings or rehearsals etc. Although Clubbz covers a wide range of sports and hobbies, the majority of groups that have registered to use its free services are voluntary arts organisations. We discussed a variety of ways that Voluntary Arts and Clubbz might be able to work together to disseminate Voluntary Arts Briefings and other information more widely and to improve online signposting to arts participation opportunities. It was a very exciting discussion and I think there is huge potential for the two organisations to support each other’s work.

Robin Simpson.



Meeting the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales by Robin Simpson
May 27, 2011, 1:52 pm
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On Tuesday Voluntary Arts Wales Chair, Aled Rhys-Jones, and I were in London to meet David Jones MP, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, at Gwydyr House in Whitehall. The Minister visited the Voluntary Arts Wales office in Welshpool at the end of February and was keen to talk to us about the role of the voluntary arts sector in Wales in relation to the Government’s Big Society agenda. We talked about the scale and diversity of voluntary arts activity in Wales, the opportunities presented by the Big Society Bank, a Big Society seminar being organised by the Welsh Office, the role that many voluntary arts groups play in raising money for charities, the difficulties voluntary arts groups are having with various compliance issues and how the Government’s deregulation agenda might be able to help, and much more. It was a really good meeting and we found the Minister very supportive and keen to help.

Robin Simpson.



NCVO Members Assembly meeting by Robin Simpson
May 20, 2011, 4:49 pm
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I was back in London Thursday for a meeting of the NCVO Members Assembly. This was the first Members Assembly meeting to be chaired by the new NCVO Chair, the former BBC newsreader Martyn Lewis. The first part of the meeting took the form of a version of ‘Question Time’, chaired by Martyn. Representatives of three local authorities and voluntary organisations operating in those local authority areas formed a panel to discuss ‘localism’. The format worked well with prepared questions from the floor provoking a thoughtful and interesting debate. I was particularly interested in a discussion about how national voluntary organisations are going to engage in localism which included the observation that specialist expertise from national organisations should be used in conjunction with practical delivery by local voluntary organisations.

Robin Simpson.



Culture, Community and Inspiration in Informal Adult Learning by Robin Simpson
May 20, 2011, 4:48 pm
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On Tuesday I was at the British Library in London to speak at the NIACE Adult Learner’s Week Policy Conference, ‘Culture, Community and Inspiration in Informal Adult Learning’. The conference saw the launch of ‘Tough times for adult learners’ – the NIACE Survey on Adult Participation in Learning 2011 – which concludes that there has been quite a dramatic drop in the last five year period in the numbers of over 19s taking part in LSC-funded learning. I spoke, as part of a panel session, about the vast numbers of people engaged in informal learning through voluntary arts groups. Mary Lowe and Helen Jones from Voluntary Arts England ran a ‘learning zone’ within the conference, focussing on VAE’s work on arts participation and health and wellbeing. It was an interesting and thought-provoking day.

Robin Simpson.



Voluntary Arts Week 2011 by Robin Simpson
May 20, 2011, 4:46 pm
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On Saturday 7 May I was in Edinburgh for the Voluntary Arts Week celebration event. Approaching Festival Square on Lothian Road, opposite the Usher Hall, I was excited but nervous as I waited to see whether we had managed to attract enough people. I needn’t have worried: as I entered the marquee I encountered almost a hundred people engaged in a wide variety of arts and crafts including quilting, screen-printing, animation, sewing, knitting, painting, drawing and hula-hooping. Over the course of the day there was a steady flow of people taking part in the event. I particularly enjoyed sessions on the performance stage by the Celtic Nyckelharpa Project and the Edinburgh University New Scotland Country Dance Society (a fast-paced demonstration of Scottish step dancing). We were also treated to the balcony scene from ‘Romeo and Juliet’ by Shakespeare at Traquair (an RSC Open Stages production). The celebration event was a great success and was the curtain-raiser for more than 50 events across Scotland as part of Voluntary Arts Week. Congratulations to Fiona and the Voluntary Arts Scotland team, particularly Cassandra without whose hard work Voluntary Arts Week would not have been possible.

Robin Simpson.



Community Media Association Arts Project by Robin Simpson
May 6, 2011, 3:44 pm
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I was in Sheffield on Wednesday for a meeting of the Community Media Association Arts Project steering group. We are now three quarters of the way through our two-year Arts Project, funded by Arts Council England, so this was a longer meeting to start to plan what we will do after the end of the project. We were joined by CMA Chair Phil Shepherd and freelance consultant Gill Thewlis to help us think through what we have achieved and where we should go next. The project has certainly raised the profile of community media organisations working with the arts and the exemplar projects that have been created are fantastic examples of what can be achieved by collaborations between community media and arts organisations. We had an interesting discussion about the way that community media, which is still a relatively young sector, is maturing rapidly, with ‘content’ including a wide range of innovative arts programming becoming ever more important. The Government proposals for local TV could present a huge opportunity for content production. We agreed to start develop an ambitious vision for community media and the arts.

Robin Simpson.



The Henley Review 2 by Robin Simpson
May 6, 2011, 3:41 pm
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On Tuesday I was at DCMS in London to meet Darren Henley who is conducting the Government’s Cultural Education Review. Following his recent review of music education, Darren (the Managing Director of Classic FM) has been asked by the Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey, to look at all aspects of cultural education. He said he was speaking to around 60 opinion-formers over the new few weeks and would also be inviting written submissions. The key areas he is keen to address include: the Big Society; wellbeing and happiness; ‘Great Britain plc’; in-school and out-of-school education; formal and informal education; and paid-for and voluntary education. Our discussion, which also involved Selina Mehra from the National Campaign for the Arts, ranged widely but included a specific focus on how amateur arts groups can act as catalysts to seed interest from young people.

Robin Simpson.