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.

Voluntary Arts Week 2012: 12 – 20 May by Robin Simpson
May 11, 2012, 4:14 pm
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Tomorrow marks the beginning of Voluntary Arts Week, which provides a unique opportunity to highlight and celebrate the often-neglected riches of the UK’s voluntary arts sector.

Around the UK nearly ten million people belong to voluntary arts groups and regularly take part in the voluntary arts. This includes activities such as singing in a choral society, acting in an amateur theatre group, folk dancing, painting, lace-making, calligraphy, pottery and bell-ringing. Every week millions of people take part in voluntary arts rehearsals, classes and meetings. This activity becomes such a vital part of people’s lives that it can be the main focus of their week: the day-job sometimes seems like a mere distraction from the preparation for our next performance or exhibition.

Participation in voluntary arts groups is, for many people, their main opportunity for social interaction – the place to make friends. It is incredibly difficult to measure the importance of the voluntary arts to its participants but it is clear that it makes a massive contribution to the quality of life, wellbeing, happiness and learning of millions of people across the country.

From 12 to 20 May 2012 Voluntary Arts is promoting the first UK and Ireland Voluntary Arts Week. Voluntary arts groups across the country will be running special events during the week to raise their profile and celebrate their achievements. Groups can add their events to the Voluntary Arts Week website where the full list will be published. We are also encouraging everyone involved in the voluntary arts to promote their activities through the ‘What’s in your Window?’ campaign, showing their skills by creating a crafty window display at home, or in a local community centre, library or charity shop during Voluntary Arts Week.

Please take a look at the Voluntary Arts Week website, take the time to visit some Voluntary Arts Week events, look out for the What’s in your Window? displays, try taking part in a voluntary arts group for the first time or take the opportunity of Voluntary Arts Week to tell people about your own involvement in the voluntary arts.

You can support Voluntary Arts Week in the following ways:

  • encourage more voluntary arts groups to register their events at (it’s not too late!)
  • attend the Voluntary Arts Week 2012 launch event in Falkirk town centre tomorrow: Voluntary Arts Scotland has secured the use of an empty shop unit at 43 High Street, Falkirk. Between 12 pm and 4 pm on Saturday 12 May the doors will open and passers-by will be welcomed into the space where they can try their hand at some of the arts and crafts on offer, watch a performance or two and find out more about the groups running in their area. There is a fantastic range of groups involved, with activities ranging from Floral Art to Martial Arts, and everyone is invited!
  • visit some Voluntary Arts Week events – use the events listing at to find events near you
  • tweet about Voluntary Arts Week using the hashtag #voluntaryartsweek
  • take photos of Voluntary Arts Week events and other voluntary arts activities and use the instagram app (free for iphone and Android) to upload them with the hashtag #voluntaryartsweek
  • keep an eye on the Voluntary Arts Week blog – go to and click ‘News’
  • encourage people to display their art or craft skill in a window, take a photo and upload it to the ‘What’s in your Window?’ page at
  • read my guest blog on the Department for Culture, Media and Sport website at:
  • join us online at 2 pm on Wednesday 16 May for ‘Voluntary Arts Week LIVE’ – a live video webcast which will feature Voluntary Arts Week highlights and interviews from across the UK and Ireland – go to at 2 pm on Wednesday to watch and comment live

Robin Simpson.

Vote for me! by Robin Simpson
July 12, 2010, 11:16 am
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Voting has now opened for membership of the Arts & Business/National Campaign for the Arts Culture Forum. I am one of 75 candidates standing for the 20 places on the Forum. Any individual within an organisation which is a member of either A&B or NCA can vote. Download a ballot form from – Voting closes at 5pm on Monday 19 July.
Robin Simpson.

DCMS Opportunity and Excellence Programme Board meeting. by Robin Simpson
April 30, 2010, 3:43 pm
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I was in London on Thursday to take part in the Department for Culture Media and Sport Opportunity and Excellence Programme Board meeting. The Programme Board oversees initiatives to develop excellence and participation across all of the DCMS sectors, including sport, libraries, museums, galleries and the arts. We heard a presentation from the Evidence and Analysis Unit exploring the link between participation and community cohesion which suggested that, although there will always be exceptions, the two are strongly related. We also looked at key messages and future direction in relation to participation, focussing on where participation fits with the emerging social policy priority themes.

Robin Simpson.