Cultural Playing Field

England Volunteering Development Council meeting by Robin Simpson
June 30, 2011, 3:38 pm
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On Thursday I was in London to take part in a meeting of the England Volunteering Development Council. We heard from Nick Chambers, Director of the Education and Employers Taskforce about the new ‘Speakers for Schools’ scheme which is due to be launched in October. This will encourage inspirational speakers (including politicians, business and voluntary sector leaders, broadcasters, artists and sportspeople) to volunteer to talk to young people in schools across the country. More details at: Sally Knock from NSPCC updated us on the planned changes to safeguarding and disclosures enshrined in the Government’s Protection of Freedoms Bill. These include significant changes to the Criminal Records Bureau scheme, changes to vetting and barring and changes to ‘regulated activities’. The Bill is currently passing through Parliament and is scheduled to receive royal assent by the end of the year. In the afternoon we had the opportunity to hear from the Shadow Minister for Civil Society, Roberta Blackman-Woods MP. She emphasised that the Labour Party is still at an early stage in developing new policies. She said that “volunteering and the whole range of issues around it are really central to our agenda”. The Shadow Minister thought that Labour’s record on supporting volunteering was “pretty good: we recognised there needed to be an infrastructure of support for people who were volunteering”. But she felt the agenda has now shifted with the Government’s introduction of the Localism Bill, its Giving White Paper and the Big Society. On the Big Society she said “I’ve been a volunteer for most of my adult life: this Government didn’t invent the Big Society – it was already there. But we have to acknowledge that the Government has hit on something: people do want to have more say in services delivered in their area.” She concluded by saying “we haven’t got the answers and the policies yet: we are absolutely in listening mode”.

Robin Simpson.


International Congress on Active Cultural Participation in Europe by Robin Simpson
June 10, 2011, 4:30 pm
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From Wednesday to Friday I have been in Ghent in Belgium at the AGM and conference of Amateo: the European Network for Active Participation in Cultural Activities. This year the Amateo conference was combined with Compendium – the annual meeting of experts and editors of the Council of Europe ‘Compendium of Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe’ ( to create an ‘International Congress on Active Cultural Participation in Europe’.

On Wednesday the two groups met separately: the Amateo AGM included a presentation about how we might secure European Union advocacy network funding for Amateo and presentations about the three linked Weeks of Amateur/Voluntary Arts in Flanders, The Netherlands and Scotland. We agreed that Amateo’s main priority for the coming year will be to expand these Amateur Arts Weeks into more European countries and to develop exchange visits for amateur arts groups during the weeks. Voluntary Arts Wales Chair, Aled Rhys-Jones, was re-elected to the Amateo Board and Tom de Rooij, Director of Kunstfactor in The Netherlands, was elected President of Amateo, succeeding Villy Dall (from AKKS in Denmark) who stood down at the end of his three-year term. Villy was the main driving force behind the establishing of Amateo and we owe him a great deal: he will be much missed from the Board.

On Thursday and Friday we joined forces with the Compendium delegates for a series of sessions about active cultural participation and the amateur arts. We looked at research into active cultural participation throughout Europe and how we might establish some Europe-wide evidence about the scale, diversity and impact of the amateur arts. This was followed by a look at how active cultural participation is supported throughout Europe, drawing on the current entries for each country in the Compendium. We also took part in conference sessions about: volunteering in the arts and the European Year of Volunteering 2011; arts participation, minority communities and intercultural activity; and cultural participation amongst the 50+ generation (in preparation for the European Year of Active Ageing 2012). We visited Trafiek – a community arts organisation based in one of the more deprived neighbourhoods of Ghent – to see the Brugse Poorten project which worked with local people and community groups to create 101 flags to adorn 77 gates in the Pierkespark. And we enjoyed a guided tour of the amazing, recently-opened Ghent City Museum (STAM) which tells the story of Ghent by combining a 13th century abbey with the very latest digital technology.

It was an extremely enjoyable and interesting conference. It was good to get the Compendium authors thinking seriously about the amateur arts. Next year Voluntary Arts will be hosting the Amateo AGM and conference in London: Kaat Peeters and her team from Forum voor Amateurkunsten in Flanders have set a very high standard for us to follow.

Robin Simpson.

Understanding Everyday Participation by Robin Simpson
June 10, 2011, 4:27 pm
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On Monday I spoke to Catherine Bunting about the ‘Understanding Everyday Participation’ research project. Catherine is the Director, Research & Knowledge, at Arts Council England but is currently on secondment to this Connected Communities research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and involving a consortium of universities. The study is looking at why people participate in cultural activities and what they value about their participation. Following the discussion I took part in at ACE a few weeks ago Catherine has now formally invited Voluntary Arts to become partners in the project, which is seeking substantial further funding from AHRC to undertake a major 5-year study into cultural participation. We agreed the ways in which Voluntary Arts will be involved in the project if funding is secured. Voluntary Arts is already a partner (with the Third Sector Research Centre at the University of Birmingham, the University of Exeter and the University of Glamorgan) in another Connected Communities research project, ‘The Role of Grassroots Arts Activities in Communities’. Together, I think these two studies will provide a range of evidence that will be incredibly valuable in our lobbying and advocacy work on behalf of the voluntary arts sector.

Robin Simpson.

Voluntary cultural sector alliance meeting by Robin Simpson
June 3, 2011, 12:21 pm
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On Friday I was in London for my regular voluntary cultural sector alliance meeting with the Heritage Alliance and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. We discussed a range of current policy issues including localism, Big Society and philanthropy,  as well as the proposed changes to Gift Aid and the future of cheques. Kate Pugh told us that the Heritage Alliance is to take on responsibility, as part of a consortium of organisations, for running the annual Heritage Open Days from next year. James Allen from NCVO urged us to encourage voluntary arts and heritage organisations to use the Voluntary Sector Cuts website, see:

Robin Simpson.