Cultural Playing Field

Informal Adult and Community Learning stakeholder reference group meeting by Robin Simpson
December 15, 2011, 5:18 pm
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On Thursday I was at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) in London to take part in a meeting of the Informal Adult and Community Learning Stakeholder Reference Group. On 1 December the Government published ‘New Challenges, New Chances’ – a Further Education and Skills System Reform Plan. This plan includes a brief reference to community learning, promising that “BIS funding will continue to support a universal community learning offer, with a wide range of learning opportunities available to all adults in England”. Specifically it says “in the 2012/13 academic year we will pilot different locally-based ‘community learning trust’ models to channel Adult Safeguarded Learning funding and lead the planning of local provision in cities, towns and rural settings”. A prospectus for these ‘community learning trusts’ is due to be launched in Spring 2012 and our meeting was the first opportunity for the Department to hear the views of a variety of stakeholders about how this new system might best work. I suggested that the ‘community learning trusts’ will need to involve self-organised learning groups such as voluntary arts organisations to help to link together the various aspects of informal adult and community learning, rather than just concentrating on learning providers that receive direct Government funding.

Robin Simpson.


Meeting Peter Owen and Allyn Davies at the Welsh Government by Robin Simpson
December 14, 2011, 5:23 pm
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On Monday I was in Cardiff where Aled and I met Peter Owen and Allyn Davies from the Culture, Sport & Media Division at the Housing, Regeneration & Heritage Department of the Welsh Government. We talked about the future of the Arts Strategy Board, our Grassroots Arts research project, changes to the Communities First programme and the need to measure levels of cultural engagement in Wales. Peter and Allyn assured us that the Minister, Huw Lewis, is very much an advocate of community participation in the arts, particularly in relation to addressing disadvantage. It was a very positive and encouraging meeting and it was good to reconnect with senior civil servants in the Welsh Government.

Robin Simpson.

Discussing our Volunteering in the Arts project by Robin Simpson
December 9, 2011, 11:33 am
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On Wednesday afternoon Laraine and I were at Arts Council England in London to meet Meli Hatzihrysidis and Kate Parkin (by video link from Newcastle) to discuss our ACE-funded Volunteering in the Arts project. Laraine updated us on the three elements of the project – volunteering audits of five arts organisations in the North East of England, the development of a Volunteering in the Arts toolkit with Volunteering England and Monday’s Volunteering in the Arts Forum meeting in Newcastle. It was reassuring to hear that the main conclusions we can now draw from the project reinforce the assumptions made at the original Volunteering and the Arts discussion which I chaired at ACE in November 2010 – that arts organisations make extensive use of volunteers but generally have little or no connection to mainstream volunteering best practice, advice and support, such as that provided by Volunteering England, the Office for Civil Society at the Cabinet Office and the network of local volunteer centres. Laraine confirmed that the audit visits we undertook suggested that arts organisations don’t seem to have problems recruiting volunteers but that those managing volunteers need more support and advice to ensure that volunteers are managed effectively. On Wednesday we discussed possible next steps, beyond the end of this pilot project, to develop better connections between arts organisations and volunteering agencies and best practice.

Robin Simpson.

Meeting Tom de Rooij and Kaat Peeters by Robin Simpson
December 9, 2011, 11:29 am
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On Tuesday and Wednesday I was in London for a series of discussions with Tom de Rooij from Kunstfactor (the Netherlands organisation for the amateur arts) and Kaat Peeters from Forum voor Amateurkunsten (the equivalent organisation in Flanders, Belgium). Tom is the new President of Amateo – the European network for active participation in cultural activities and Kaat is the Amateo Vice President. On Tuesday afternoon we were joined by Aled Rhys-Jones, the Voluntary Arts representative on the Amateo Board, to talk about the 2012 Amateo Conference which Voluntary Arts is going to host in London next June. We visited Cecil Sharp House, the home of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS), which is going to be the venue for the Amateo Conference. Katy Spicer, the Chief Executive of EFDSS, gave us a tour of the building and told us about the remarkable history of EFDSS which was formed in 1932 by the merger of the Folk-Song Society and the English Folk Dance Society, itself formed by Cecil Sharp in 1911 (see:

Robin Simpson.

Volunteering in the Arts Forum by Robin Simpson
December 9, 2011, 11:28 am
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On Monday I was in Newcastle to chair our Volunteering in the Arts Forum meeting at Arts Council England. This was the culmination of our pilot Volunteering in the Arts project, funded by ACE. The intention of the project was to explore the needs of arts organisations who use volunteers and to encourage them to make better use of the mainstream volunteering agencies. We have been looking both at voluntary arts groups and at professional arts organisations who use volunteers. On Monday representatives of around 30 arts organisations joined us to hear a summary of our findings to date from Laraine Winning. Dan Sumners from Volunteering England gave us an overview of the national picture of volunteering and Victoria Potts from Volunteer Centre, Newcastle, gave us the local view and explained what support is available from volunteer centres. There were then group discussions on general volunteering issues and a workshop on the draft Volunteering in the Arts toolkit we have been developing with Volunteering England. It was an interesting and enthusiastic meeting which reinforced the need for greater support for volunteering within arts organisations. Congratulations to Laraine and Sarah for all their work on the Volunteering in the Arts project.

Robin Simpson.

Creative Scotland Networks, Partners and Agencies Conference by Robin Simpson
December 1, 2011, 5:39 pm
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On Monday I was at Creative Scotland in Edinburgh to attend the Networks, Partners and Agencies Conference. Creative Scotland Chief Executive, Andrew Dixon, talked about the financial outlook for Creative Scotland:

  • a cut in Government funding (though nowhere near so much as the cut to Arts Council England)
  • a rise in Lottery funding (additional £10M over 3 years: post-Olympics and with the change in Lottery shares)
  • significant new money from other sources (Paul Hamlyn, Cultural Olympiad, joint Lottery work for 2014, NESTA, EU funding etc)


Overall Creative Scotland’s budget is looking comparatively healthy but the drop in Government funding means that they will have to reduce the amount they give in traditional core funding and move some organisations to a ‘portfolio project’ approach to take advantage of the increase in Lottery funding. Beyond March 2013 Creative Scotland will provide four types of funding:

  • Foundation organisations
  • Annual investments (guaranteed 12 months ahead)
  • Portfolio project companies (who will bid for specific project funding from Lottery funds)
  • Strategic commissions (pieces of work any organisation in the above three categories can bid to deliver)


In the next couple of weeks Creative Scotland will start a process of reviewing all the organisations it currently funds to decide where they will best fit in the funding types after March 2013. Sectoral reviews are also now underway and will inform funding decisions post March 2013.


In the first plenary session I asked Andrew Dixon how Creative Scotland would ensure it involves those bits of the cultural sector that it doesn’t directly fund. Andrew replied:

“We think network agencies are pretty important in knitting things together in Scotland (though I’m not sure we need all of them). Some represent broader constituencies that we can’t possibly talk to ourselves. Voluntary Arts represents thousands of groups across Scotland. I spoke at the Voluntary Arts Scotland conference last week and had one of the most creative brainstorms I’ve had since I came to Scotland: I’ve shared a note on it with my senior management team.”


We also heard about the plans for The Year of Creative Scotland 2012 and what arts organisations can do to help:

  • Promote the Year of Creative Scotland branding  (use it on your website and everything you produce)
  • Feed events into the Visit Scotland events engine
  • Apply for investment through the Year of Creative Scotland programmes
  • Support Creative Scotland’s major new participation campaign, “Connecting people with creativity”


It was an interesting day and it was encouraging to hear Creative Scotland’s clear vision for the next few years.

Robin Simpson.