Cultural Playing Field


Luminate Reception 2017 by Robin Simpson
October 27, 2017, 1:28 pm
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On Wednesday evening I was at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh for the Luminate Reception. A range of artists and organisers involved in Luminate Festival events had been invited to celebrate Luminate’s 5th birthday and to launch a new publication about creative ageing in Scotland. ‘Late Opening: Arts and Older People in Scotland’ was commissioned jointly by The Baring Foundation and Luminate, and written by Andrew Eaton-Lewis. Through 16 case studies the report explores what ‘creative ageing’ means in Scotland and makes recommendations for long term strategic thinking and investment, stronger partnerships between the arts and healthcare sectors and more support for older emerging professional artists. Speaking at the Luminate Reception, Jeane Freeman MSP, Minister for Social Security in the Scottish Government said “there isn’t an age limit on creativity” and praised Luminate for its work in encouraging older people to be creative. Graham Reid from Creative Scotland emphasised the importance of Luminate’s focus on “arts for, by, with and about older people”. Keith Robson from Age Scotland welcomed the ‘Late Opening’ report’s focus on “frequently challenged stereotypes about what kind of art older people should be into”. David Cutler, Director of the Baring Foundation, said that since Baring started to focus on arts and older people in 2010, Luminate was “one of the best ideas we had”. David hoped the ‘Late Opening’ report would be an inspiration to arts organisations across Scotland. The Luminate Reception finished with performances by The Flames – a theatre group for participants aged fifty and over established by Tricky Hat Productions, whose debut performance I saw in the 2016 Luminate Festival – and the Vintage Chorus choir which is based at the Festival Theatre.

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Luminate Festival Parliamentary Reception by Robin Simpson
September 7, 2016, 1:11 pm
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On Tuesday evening I was at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh for a formal reception to celebrate the launch of the 2016 Luminate Festival programme. In October Luminate – Scotland’s creative ageing festival, of which I am a founding Trustee – will present its fifth annual national festival with events taking place from Shetland to Gretna Green. On Tuesday the Luminate Board and staff were joined by Festival participants, partners, supporters and MSPs. Festival Director Anne Gallacher introduced speeches by Sandra White MSP, Leonie Bell from Creative Scotland and Brian Sloan from Age Scotland which all emphasised the positive role arts and culture can  play in addressing the challenges of loneliness and isolation in an ageing population.

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Beautiful People from Dundee Rep performing at the Luminate Parliamentary Reception

We were then treated to two excellent performances. Emma Versteeg and Maryam Sherhan from Live Music Now Scotland performed an extract from The Luminate Suite – a commission from the composer Bill Sweeney which was inspired by songs, poems and stories shared with him by older people in the Hebrides. Four performers from Dundee Rep’s Beautiful People – a new company launched during the 2015 Luminate Festival, featuring performers over the age of 55 – gave us an example of their compelling dramatic storytelling. It was a lovely event and I am really looking forward to this year’s Luminate Festival which starts on 1 October, see: http://www.luminatescotland.org/



‘A Choir in Every Care Home’ steering group meeting by Robin Simpson
December 4, 2015, 3:05 pm
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On Monday I was at Kings Place in London for a meeting of the steering group for the ‘A Choir in Every Care Home’ project. We are now in month five of this twelve month project, funded by the Baring Foundation and being led by Live Music Now and Sound Sense. Since our last steering group meeting Care England has joined the extensive list of project partners.

At Monday’s meeting we heard from Stephen Clift of the Sydney de Haan Research Centre about recent research which has been looking at the emotional, psychological and physical benefits of singing. Studies have shown that singing can be of benefit to people with lung problems and there is some interesting evidence about the impact of singing on people with Parkinsons. Oxford University research, led by Robin Dunbar, has been looking at the evolutionary purpose of singing and a study with the Workers Educational Association in Oxford has compared singing with other forms of creative activity, showing that social bonding happened much more quickly in groups doing singing than other forms of creative activity. The Sidney de Haan Research Centre has been creating a comprehensive listing for the ‘A Choir in Every Care Home’ project of all the research that has been done on singing and wellbeing.

Since our last meeting ‘A Choir in Every Care Home’ has conducted four surveys, instigated a systematic review of the evidence base and undertaken lots of field visits. Kathryn Deane from Sound Sense presented the results of the surveys which have looked at the purposes of singing in care homes, what care homes need singing to achieve and what types of singing already exist in care homes. She outlined the benefits of singing in care homes – to the residents and to the care home staff. She also discussed the barriers to introducing or increasing singing in care homes.

Evan Dawson from Live Music Now explained that the project had been keen to look at whether it could emulate in the 20,000 care homes what the Sing Up project had achieved in 20,000 primary schools. Michelle James from Sing Up described the experience of developing singing in primary schools. She emphasised the need to view the project as a campaign – and the value that had been gained by bringing in professional campaigning expertise. She also outlined some of the solutions that Sing Up had developed to overcome key barriers to singing in primary schools.

Des Kelly from the National Care Forum gave us a fascinating presentation about the context in which care homes are operating. In 1989 most care homes were in the public sector. Now, in England, around 70% of all care homes are private for-profit organisations, approximately 20% are voluntary not-for-profit organisations and only a very small proportion remain in the public sector. There are 18,000 care homes in England, three quarters of which are residential care homes: the rest are nursing homes. The Care Quality Commission has rated a third of all care homes, of which 60% were ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’. The average age of admission into care has gone up by ten years in the last ten years: the average age of admission is now 85. 80% of care home residents have dementia. The duration of stay in care is decreasing: the average stay in a nursing home is now one year. Staff turnover on average in the care sector is running at 20% and only 12% of workforce is under the age of 25. The top 6 corporate care providers account for 60% of the market.

This is clearly a challenging environment in which to try to achieve ‘A Choir in Every Care Home’ but the project is progressing carefully and sensibly and there is a growing alliance of organisations working together on the project.

Robin Simpson.



A Choir in Every Care Home steering group meeting by Robin Simpson
June 2, 2015, 4:01 pm
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On Tuesday I was in London for the first meeting of the steering group for the new project ‘A Choir in Every Care Home’. A Choir in Every Care Home is an ambitious new initiative to explore how singing can feature regularly in care homes across the country. Funded and initiated by the Baring Foundation, it is a unique collaboration between 28 leading national organisations from the worlds of adult social care, music and healthcare research. It is being led by three major organisations in the field: Live Music Now, which provides national leadership for musicians working in the care sector; Sound Sense, the UK professional association for community music; and the Sidney De Haan Research Centre, providing cutting edge research on the medical and social impacts of singing. Most of the 28 partners were represented at Tuesday’s meeting and it was fascinating to hear the range of experience and expertise in relation to singing in care homes that the project has gathered together. David Cutler from the Baring Foundation spoke about his hopes for the project and Professor Stephen Clift from the Sidney de Haan Research Centre outlined the results of his recent Randomised Control Trial which showed that regular group singing (weekly over three months) had measurable positive health and wellbeing outcomes compared to the control group. Evan Dawson from Live Music Now and Kathryn Deane from Sound Sense facilitated a series of creative discussions which began to scope and plan the project. See: https://achoirineverycarehome.wordpress.com/



Luminate Festival Trustees meeting by Robin Simpson
November 21, 2014, 4:07 pm
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On Thursday afternoon I was at Age Scotland in Edinburgh for a meeting of the Trustees of the Luminate Festival – Scotland’s creative ageing festival. We reflected on the 2014 festival which took place during October. Festival Director Anne Gallacher felt that we had seen an increase in the quality and ambition of events this year, as well as a better geographical spread across Scotland. Our Arts in Care Seminar, held at Perth Concert Hall on 14 October in partnership with Scottish Care, was particularly successful, attracting almost equal numbers from the arts and the care sector. You can watch the three keynote speakers from this event at: www.luminatescotland.org/events/arts-care-seminar We congratulated Anne on securing core funding for Luminate from Creative Scotland for the next three years, and started to discuss plans for the 2015 festival.

Robin Simpson.



Developing community choirs in care homes by Robin Simpson
October 9, 2014, 3:05 pm
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At the end of last year, Voluntary Arts undertook an initial research project, supported by The Baring Foundation, on arts participation for older people in residential and day-care settings. We looked at the potential for voluntary arts groups to support arts activities in care homes, identified a number of ways in which this is already happening and suggested a range of ideas for developing further activity. In my subsequent discussions with David Cutler, Director of The Baring Foundation, we agreed to focus initially on choirs and singing, in order to try to achieve a step change in the level of arts activity in care homes across the UK. David and I planned a roundtable discussion about the potential for developing community choirs in care homes, which took place at The Baring Foundation in London on Wednesday. This meeting brought together representatives of choirs and choral conductors with experts from the care sector, including the Chief Executive of Care England and the Executive Director of the National Care Forum. We were joined by Janet Morrison, the Chair of Trustees of The Baring Foundation, who is also the Chief Executive of Independent Age – a charity for older people. David Cutler chaired a fascinating discussion which looked at the evidence for the benefits of choirs and singing in care homes, the scale and pattern of current activity, different models of provision and the barriers to increasing this activity. We talked about the need for some mapping of current levels of activity, developing case studies to illustrate the ways in which choirs are effectively engaging with care homes and the importance of suggesting a range of possible models of engagement. We reached a surprising degree of consensus about a possible national approach to increasing the number of choirs working with, or based in, care homes. The Baring Foundation will now consider how to take this forward.

Robin Simpson.



Luminate Festival Trustees meeting by Robin Simpson
August 8, 2014, 12:44 pm
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I was at the Saltire Society in Edinburgh on Thursday for a meeting of the Trustees of the Luminate Festival. Now that Luminate (Scotland’s creative ageing festival) has been established as a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation, we have the usual range of governance, HR and financial issues to address as a Board. At this week’s meetings we approved several new policies and considered our latest management accounts. We also looked in detail at the programme for the 2014 Luminate Festival which will take place across Scotland from 1st – 31st October. It’s going to be the best festival yet with a fantastic range of events and activities. Full details will be available shortly at: http://www.luminatescotland.org/

Robin Simpson.