Cultural Playing Field

Understanding Everyday Participation by Robin Simpson
March 20, 2014, 6:16 pm
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On Tuesday I was in London for a meeting of the partners in the AHRC Connected Communities Everyday Participation research project. It was very interesting to hear from the researchers who have been conducting the project’s first door-to-door interviews, in Cheetham Hill, Manchester and Broughton in Salford. They have been asking people what they do in their leisure time and the excerpts from the interview transcripts we saw were fascinating. It’s chastening to remind ourselves how far away most people are from ‘the arts’ but it was very encouraging to see how the Voluntary Arts definition of ‘creative cultural activity’ is proving extremely relevant in this study of ‘everyday participation’. The project team have also been re-analysing data from the Taking Part survey to start to create a new segmentation based on statistical methods (hierarchical cluster analysis). This revealed some interesting and surprising patterns of cultural participation.

Robin Simpson.

Participation in the Arts by Robin Simpson
February 1, 2013, 12:43 pm
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Monday saw the publication of the National Assembly for Wales Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee Task and Finish Group report on ‘Participation in the Arts’.

The report recommends that “the Welsh Government should put in place a participation action plan, to sit alongside its accessibility action plan, with the purpose of increasing participation levels across Wales” and that “the action plan should include measures to ensure co-ordination across government departments and joint working by partners, including local government and the voluntary sector”.

The report refers in detail to the evidence given by Voluntary Arts Wales to the Participation in the Arts enquiry and says “We welcome the way that ACW‟s strategy includes support for network organisations such as Disability Arts Cymru, the Black Voluntary Sector Network Wales and Voluntary Arts Wales. We feel that, in terms of increasing levels of participation, these networks can play a central role. Therefore, these networks should be consulted in the drawing up of the participation action plan and should play a role in ensuring that it is implemented.”

It was also great to see constructive comments about the voluntary arts in many of the responses to the enquiry. For example “Cwmni’r Frân Wen and Gwent Theatre indicated that more collaboration between the voluntary arts sector and the professional arts sector would be beneficial to the voluntary arts.”

Robin Simpson.

Epic Awards 2013: People’s Choice Award by Robin Simpson
January 11, 2013, 10:36 am
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On Tuesday we launched the Epic Awards 2013 People’s Choice voting. The response from the shortlisted groups has been amazing. Within 24 hours more than 1,500 votes had been registered on the Epic Awards website and we are now up to 4,611 votes. The scale of twitter conversations about the People’s Choice Award has been phenomenal – just try searching Twitter for ‘epicawards’. Voting is open until midday on Wednesday 30 January when we will reveal the People’s Choice UK and Republic of Ireland champion. See:

Robin Simpson.

Bacc for the Future by Robin Simpson
January 11, 2013, 10:28 am
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On Tuesday I met Deborah Annetts from the ISM who is co-ordinating the Bacc for the Future campaign. Deborah says:

“We had reached a critical point in the EBacc campaign. With government currently considering the responses it has received to the EBacc consultation it is vital that we keep up the momentum to keep creativity at the heart of education in our schools.

“So please, if you have not already done so, could I ask you to consider signing up to the Bacc for the Future campaign and add your organisation’s name to the 95 which already have signed up. We already have support from organisations as diverse as RIBA, the Design Council and the BPI so it would be great to have your support and your logo on the site. Please do also pass on the details of the petition so that we can continue to increase the number of signatories which is now over 40,000 strong.

“Ministers are very much aware of this campaign so we have a great opportunity right now to influence government’s policy on creative subjects in schools. So please do sign up without delay at: Many thanks.”

Robin Simpson.

Cutting red tape is good news for amateur arts by Robin Simpson
January 11, 2013, 10:23 am
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On Monday the Government announced plans to remove regulations relating to community entertainment. The change will mean that community venues in England and Wales – including community centres, schools, village halls and hospitals – will be exempt from licensing restrictions. The measures to deregulate plays, dance and indoor sport will be put to Parliament in the next few weeks, with the intention of bringing the measures into effect by April 2013, see: I wrote a piece for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport blog welcoming the changes, see: and Voluntary Arts got a mention in the Weekly e-mail from the Conservative Culture and Creative Industries Team.

Robin Simpson.

RSC Open Stages Showcase – Stratford-upon-Avon, 15/14/15 and 21/22 July 2012 by Robin Simpson
June 15, 2012, 11:03 am
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On two consecutive weekends in July (13/14/15 July and 21/22 July) twelve amateur theatre productions from all over the UK will be performing in Stratford-upon-Avon as part of the World Shakespeare Festival. These twelve productions have been selected from more than 270 amateur theatre groups taking part in our RSC Open Stages project and represent some of the best amateur theatre you will ever see.

They include:

  • The Tower Theatre Company from London performing ‘Baba Shakespeare’ by Emmeline Winterbotham which follows a troupe of travelling British players in 1960s India as they journey from desert palace to hill station, performing Shakespeare amid declining audiences, changing circumstances and ever more slender means. (Courtyard Theatre, 7.30pm, Friday 13 July, Tickets cost £5)
  • ‘Julius Caesar’ performed by Rainbow Factory from Belfast, is a contemporary retelling set on the Shankill Road in the early 2000’s during a loyalist feud. The play uses Shakespeare’s tragedy to explore some of the themes of Belfast’s recent past including the relationships between those in power and the role of violence in society. This will be followed by ‘MacBeth in Scots’, performed by Edinburgh Theatre Arts. Translated from Shakespeare by Robin Lorimer, this is the first production of Macbeth to be staged in Scots. The powerful translation brings to vibrant life Shakespeare’s bloody tale of ambition, treachery and downfall. (Courtyard Theatre, 7.30pm, Saturday 14 July, Tickets cost £5)
  • ‘Pocket Dream’ by Elly Brewer and Sandi Toksvig, performed by Riverside Drama Company from Long Eaton, Derbyshire. With actors in dispute with the management and refusing to leave The Cricketers pub, a cast is cobbled together resulting in a hilarious bravado of comic costumes and romantic confusion and fun. (Swan Theatre, 4pm, Sunday 15 July, Tickets cost £5)
  • ‘Henry VIII The Musical’ performed by Walden Musical from Saffron Walden in Essex. ‘Henry VIII The Musical’ is a spell-binding new production about England’s most famous King. At turns powerfully emotive and hilariously funny, this fast paced theatre spectacle keeps audiences entertained for performance after performance. (Courtyard Theatre, 7pm, Sunday 15 July, Tickets cost £5)
  • ‘The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged’ written by Adam Long Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, performed by Tread The Boards, the resident Company at the Attic Theatre, Cox’s Yard, Stratford upon Avon. This whistle-stop tour of the Bard’s complete works promises to leave you laughing until you can laugh no more. Tread the Boards’ unrivalled energy will captivate Shakespeare lovers and haters alike in this energetic and rollercoaster of a performance. (Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 9.30pm, Sunday 15 July, Tickets cost £5)
  • and much more ….


It’s going to be very exciting but also a tough sell as the groups will be performing far from their regular audience base. We are determined to make sure they have as big an audience as possible. Tickets for each production cost only £5.

We are also offering a whole day (half day on Sundays) workshop experience with one of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s professional practitioners in voice, movement or stage combat to any amateurs coming to see the shows on that day – all for only £15!

Full details at:


Please do join us in Stratford-upon-Avon in July if you possibly can.

Please encourage as many people as possible to buy tickets for the shows.

And please watch this brilliant and inspiring video trailer and forward it to everyone you know!:

Robin Simpson.

Voluntary Arts Week 2012 by Robin Simpson
May 17, 2012, 3:49 pm
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Voluntary Arts Week 2012 has been taking place across the UK and the Republic of Ireland. More than 100 events have been registered on the Voluntary Arts Week website, at Voluntary Arts Scotland ran a launch event in an empty shop in Falkirk on Saturday. A host of local groups gave visitors the chance to try their hand at activities such as floral art and playing the guitar and drums, see: The Voluntary Arts Ireland team visited the Open Source event in Belfast at the weekend, see: The Voluntary Arts England/BBC Radio Merseyside Up for Arts project in Liverpool gave significant on-air coverage to Voluntary Arts Week: Helen Jones broadcast 5 slots on BBC Radio Merseyside to promote Voluntary Arts Week and her Voluntary Arts Week trail has been played 18 times. We also established an Up for Arts choir as part of Voluntary Arts Week. I wrote a guest blog about Voluntary Arts Week which was featured on the official Department for Culture Media and Sport website, see: Kelly wrote a great article about Voluntary Arts Week which was published on the Guardian website, see: There has been extensive discussion of Voluntary Arts Week on Twitter, using the hashtag #voluntaryartsweek. And on Wednesday afternoon I hosted the Voluntary Arts Week LIVE webcast: you can watch the video recording at Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to making Voluntary Arts Week 2012 such a success.

Robin Simpson.