Cultural Playing Field

Meeting the new Arts Council England Director of Diversity by Robin Simpson
November 28, 2013, 6:25 pm
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On Thursday afternoon I was at Arts Council England in Birmingham, with colleagues from our partner organisations Voice 4 Change and Black and Ethnic Minority Arts, to meet the new ACE Director of Diversity, Amanda Roberts. Amanda joined ACE three months ago and has a dual role as Director of ACE’s Birmingham office and national lead on diversity. Amanda updated us on her work to ensure diversity remains a priority within all of ACE’s funding streams. We talked about the Creative People and Places programme and the opportunities for black and minority ethnic groups to get involved. We discussed how to encourage more diverse work in ACE’s strategic touring programme. Amanda described the recent changes to the Grants for the Arts Lottery funding and how ACE is looking at better ways to track diversity within its funding. We also discussed the Cultural Commissioning Programme and the Creative Employment Programme. It was a very positive and wide-ranging meeting and we agreed to meet Amanda and members of her team again in a few months’ time.

Robin Simpson.

Arts Development UK annual conference by Robin Simpson
November 28, 2013, 6:24 pm
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On Thursday and Friday I was in Birmingham to attend the Arts Development UK annual conference in the splendid new Library of Birmingham. Opening the conference, ADUK Chair, Jane Wilson, referred to the publication of the ‘Rebalancing Our Creative Capital’ report, the Arts Council England/RSA publication ‘Towards a Plan A’ and the ACE strategy ‘Great Art and Culture for Everyone’. She said we are experiencing a radically changing environment, with major public disinvestment in the arts and the loss of many specialist local authority arts officer posts. The level of optimism and enthusiasm around arts in communities is phenomenal but we can’t always work miracles and the role of the arts in place-making is at risk. Jane said it was pleasing to see the start of a proper debate about arts policy and suggested we need more mutually reflective conversations. We then heard from Stephen Hughes, the Chief Executive of Birmingham City Council who said the new Library of Birmingham is set to be the hub of the region’s cultural economy. He said culture needs to be the heart of the city’s major development opportunities. The cultural scene is essential to Birmingham being seen as a thriving economic hub. Without arts and culture it would be hard to compete for new business but culture also plays a key role across other agendas including wellbeing, neighbourhood identity and skills.

On Thursday morning I led two seminars within the ADUK Conference to explore how the amateur arts might change over the next 20 years? I spoke about the new Voluntary Arts Strategic Plan with its twin concepts of ‘creative cultural activity’ and ‘creative citizens’. We looked at the potential effects of technological change, austerity, an ageing population and other societal trends on the traditional model of an amateur arts group. Both sessions provoked really interesting discussions about the strengths of the amateur arts, the risks to amateur activity and the likely changes in patterns of engagement.

Robin Simpson.

Volunteering Network meeting by Robin Simpson
November 28, 2013, 6:22 pm
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I was in London again on Wednesday to take part in a meeting of the Volunteering Network – the forum which brings together the England Volunteering Development Council and the National Network of Volunteer-Involving Agencies. At Wednesday’s meeting we heard from John Mohan of the Third Sector Research Centre about the The Economic and Social Research Council’s plans to explore ‘Big Data’. This will bring substantial national resources to facilitate access to large scale datasets held by organisations, local and national government. It will enable extensive cross-referencing of community level data (whilst putting in place safeguards to avoid any disclosure of individual data). ESRC will create centres of expertise to facilitate access and generate high quality research. John said this could prove to be an incredibly valuable tool for the voluntary and community sector. It will improve our ability to describe the characteristics of communities and will tell us more about who our supporters and volunteers are.

We then had a presentation from Dame Julia Cleverdon (the former Chief Executive of Business In The Community) about the recently launched campaign for youth social action. Step Up To Serve is a national campaign to inspire a generation of young people through increasing the quality, quantity and frequency of social action for all young people aged between 10 and 20. In this context social action means practical action in the service of others – of double benefit to young people themselves and the community. The goal is to double the number of young people participating in social action to over 50% by 2020. That is an additional 1.7 million young people engaging in social action for the first time. The campaign brings together leaders from across UK civic society, led by HRH The Prince of Wales and with support from all of the main political parties. Dame Julia explained that Step Up To Serve was an attempt to get away from a short-term approach to youth volunteering that has seen successive governments launch new initiatives rather than building on schemes developed by their predecessors. She was adamant that we need a long-term, cross party, approach, stressing “this is not merely a lunch, a launch and a logo”. See:

Finally we heard from Clare Delap of the Care Quality Commission about CQC’s new project with Community Service Volunteers and from Tracy Whittle of NCVO about a project to develop volunteering in care homes. NCVO has secured funding from the Department of Health until end of March 2016 to pilot volunteering in care homes with the aims of improving residents’ quality of life outcomes and strengthening local communities. Through the project’s learning, a national standard of good practice in volunteering for this sector will be developed. Working in five pilot sites and with volunteer centres and care homes, the project will aim to engage 350 residents in activities/ relationships with volunteers over 3 years. See:

Robin Simpson.

Arts participation for older people in residential and day-care settings by Robin Simpson
November 28, 2013, 5:36 pm
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I was back in London on Tuesday to chair the second of our roundtable discussions on arts participation for older people in residential and day-care settings, supported by The Baring Foundation. This was another fascinating discussion about the potential for voluntary arts groups to support arts activities in care homes, the development of opportunities for care home residents to act as creative citizens and the role of care home staff who might themselves be members of voluntary arts groups. Those taking part in the discussion on Tuesday included people who had organised arts activities in care homes, representatives of amateur arts umbrella bodies, community arts organisations, experts in adult learning and people working in different aspects of social care. We looked at the potential benefits and opportunities from involving voluntary arts groups in this activity but also at the challenges in doing so. Our consultant, Helen Fraser, is now going to pull together the conclusions of our roundtable meetings and her interviews with a wide range of experts to inform the paper she is writing for us.

Robin Simpson.

Arts Council England Rural Stakeholders meeting by Robin Simpson
November 28, 2013, 5:32 pm
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I was in London on Monday to take part in the Arts Council England Rural Stakeholders meeting. This was the first of what will be a regular series of gatherings of cultural organisations with a particular interest in rural matters. Those around the table on Monday included representatives of the National Rural Touring Forum, the Rural Cultural Forum, Action with Communities in Rural England and the Rural Services Network, as well as civil servants from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The general feeling was that, while arts activity in rural areas is strong, rural local authorities are particularly challenged at the moment and support from local authorities is incredibly variable. Public transport is a key issue in rural communities and hidden deprivation is a massive problem. We talked about the opportunities provided by local action groups (LAGs) and local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) and the growing importance of European funding. We discussed the rollout of rural broadband and the importance of volunteers in the rural cultural sector. We also talked about how Arts Council England should be working with the wider sector, not just its National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs).

Robin Simpson.

Voice 4 Change AGM by Robin Simpson
November 22, 2013, 4:35 pm
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On Thursday evening I attended the Voice 4 Change AGM. Voice 4 Change is the national umbrella organisation for black and minority ethnic voluntary sector organisations in England. Voluntary Arts and Voice 4 Change are working in partnership to support BME voluntary arts groups. The keynote speaker at the Voice 4 Change AGM was the Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Hilary Benn. He spoke about a range of current issues affecting the voluntary and community sector. He said the Lobbying Bill threatens a fundamental right to express a view to those we elect. He described the ‘graph of doom’ for local authority spending and pointed out that the largest funding cuts have been felt in the poorest communities. Hilary Benn noted that the pace and scale of changes in immigration, most recently from Eastern Europe, have created tensions – particularly with previous immigrants – but he was encouraged by the way communities still come together and work together. The voluntary and community sector is a lifeline, bringing people together. He spoke about the need to rediscover a contributory society, the campaign for a living wage and said the greatest challenge of all is our ageing population.

Robin Simpson.

Keeping the Spirit of 2012 alive by Robin Simpson
November 22, 2013, 4:34 pm
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On Wednesday afternoon I took part in a meeting of the seven projects funded by the Big Lottery Fund/Spirit of 2012 Trust ‘Keeping the Spirit Alive’ programme. The Big Lottery Fund has established the £40m Spirit of 2012 Trust to take an ongoing role in supporting the legacy of London 2012. The Trust will focus on volunteerism, attitudes to disabilities, and the potential of young people to be more involved their communities, using sport, culture and the arts, with other major events (such as the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games) providing a spur. It was incredibly interesting and inspiring to meet representatives of the other six funded projects and to learn more about their plans. We found a lot of commonality between our projects and huge potential for collaboration. You can read about all seven projects at:

Robin Simpson.