Cultural Playing Field

Catching up with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport by Robin Simpson
January 25, 2013, 2:32 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , ,

On Wednesday afternoon I was at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, in London, to meet Dominic Lake, the new Head of Arts and Libraries at DCMS, and Nick Cady, Head of Arts Policy. We discussed the Government’s interest in deregulation, the search for the second UK City of Culture (which has just been launched) and the prospects for philanthropy in relation to the voluntary arts.

Robin Simpson.

Cutting red tape is good news for amateur arts by Robin Simpson
January 11, 2013, 10:23 am
Filed under: comment | Tags: , , , ,

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.

Voluntary Arts Week 2012: 12 – 20 May by Robin Simpson
May 11, 2012, 4:14 pm
Filed under: comment | Tags: , , , , , , ,

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.

The honours system in the arts and media sectors by Robin Simpson
April 20, 2012, 1:47 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , ,

On Tuesday afternoon I was at Tate Britain in London for a meeting organised by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to discuss the honours system and how to increase the number of nominations for women in the arts and media. Lord Stevenson, who is Chair of the Arts and Media Committee which considers nominations from these sectors, chaired a fascinating session of presentations and discussion. He was joined by two other members of the Arts and Media Committee, Dame Jenny Abramsky and Dame Liz Forgan (“a gaggle of Dames?”) to talk about the quite shocking disparity between the numbers of nominations for male and female candidates for honours. Jenny Abramsky said “the honours system should be diverse, should be fair and should recognise what is going on in this country”. Liz Forgan said “the honours list is a very cheap, simple way of saying thank you to people”. She felt there was no shortage of potential nominees in the arts and media. Alison Bennett from the Cabinet Office, which oversees the honours system, explained that nominations are considered by eight expert committees (including the Arts and Media Committee). The Community, Voluntary and Local Services Committee (CVLS) accounts for around 40% of the honours list. Nominations are received directly from members of the public as well as via Government departments. Alison told us that women have never made up more than 47% of the overall list and the disparity was particularly bad in the higher level awards. In the 2012 New Year honours there were 7 Dames compared to 27 Knights. Within the arts and media nominations only 37% were for women (and only 33% were awarded). Pat Le-Bruin from DCMS said that it seemed that “everyone assumes someone else is doing something”. She emphasised that DCMS is happy to work with organisations planning to nominate someone, to advise them on how to create effective citations etc. We also heard from the playwright and critic, Bonnie Greer OBE, who spoke about how she had felt on being awarded an honour. She talked passionately about why she had decided to accept and said “if I can be awarded an OBE then everybody can”. It was a fascinating and inspiring session and certainly succeeded in enthusing me to look at what more we could do to encourage nominations for honours from the voluntary arts sector.

Robin Simpson.

Points of Contact – phase two by Robin Simpson
January 20, 2012, 9:51 am
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I was back in London for a meeting at Queen Mary, University of London about the Points of Contact programme, organised by People’s Palace Projects. It feels a long time since we visited Brazil in March 2010 and a great deal has happened in the interim. There is a new Government in Brazil and a new Culture Minister – and there have been big changes to arts funding in England. So it was good to hear that People’s Palace Projects has now secured funding (from Arts Council England and the British Council) and agreement from the Brazilian Government to continue the Points of Contact exchange programme. The programme will now reflect five themes: youth arts, disability, digital, sustainability and the Cultural Olympiad (providing a link between the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games). In the first year of this second phase, Points of Contact will focus on youth arts, starting with the visit of a Brazilian delegation to the UK in March 2012. We talked about how those UK arts organisations involved in the first phase of Points of Contact have been influenced and changed by the programme and how we might be able to work with People’s Palace Projects in the next phase.

Robin Simpson.

Growing the Grassroots by Robin Simpson
October 21, 2011, 8:01 am
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , , , ,

On Tuesday I was at Cecil Sharp House in London for our ‘Growing the Grassroots’ event. This was a seminar to launch the initial findings of our Connected Communities research project, funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, which has been looking at ‘The Role of Grassroots Arts Activities in Communities’. This project is a collaboration between Voluntary Arts, the Third Sector Research Centre at the University of Birmingham, the University of Exeter and the University of Glamorgan. On Tuesday our initial findings were announced by Ed Vaizey MP, the Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries. The Minister started by saying:

“In 2008 my Department, along with the Arts Council, decided to commission research to gain a clearer understand of just what the scale of national voluntary and amateur arts activity truly was. The publication of that research – Our Creative Talent – gave an excellent insight into what was happening and where. In fact, it provided some pretty impressive stats in terms of just how many individuals were getting involved in voluntary arts. It revealed that there were more than 49,000 amateur arts groups in England with an estimated 5.9 million members.  Then, add to that the further 3.5 million people volunteering as extras or helpers. Which isn’t bad going for a sector that had sometimes struggled to be noticed in terms of its influence. So we know this is not about a few people dabbling here and there, but about a serious commitment by a considerable number of individuals. People who are involved in the voluntary arts come to it with a great deal of passion, with no financial reward … The result of all the enthusiasm and commitment people put into these groups is often really terrific work. So given that their efforts and achievements are not surrounded by the award brouhaha often associated with the professional arts, I was delighted to attend the first Voluntary Arts Epic Awards earlier in the year. Those Awards I felt, really provided an opportunity for hard working and dedicated people in the voluntary arts world to receive some well-deserved plaudits, and also to raise the profile of what they are doing.”

Ed Vaizey then read a summary of the initial findings of our research:

“1.    The voluntary arts impact on the individual, through such benefits as improved health and well-being, increased self-esteem and friendships.

2.    They impact on the wider community – helping to provide a collective identity, improving areas in which people live and aiding social cohesion.

3.    They impact on educational attainment, with some participants experiencing an increase in literacy, verbal, technical and communication skills.  Participation can also broaden people’s cultural horizons and encourage experimentation and innovation.

4.    They impact on the local and wider economy, for example through people coming to local areas to attend voluntary arts events and the purchase from local businesses of materials and equipment.

5.    Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the amateur arts are about having fun. The study so far shows that many participants viewed their arts activity as much more than a hobby. Engagement gave them – or gives them – personal fulfilment. Amateur arts enables people to discover new sides to their personality, to be creative, take risks and try new mediums.”

The Minister’s speech was followed by a presentation about the resarch by Jenny Phillimore from the Third Sector Research Centre and Jane Milling from the University of Exeter. This set the scene for a series of detailed discussions as we used the day to explore the validity of our initial conclusions and to develop our thinking about how to collect evidence of the impact of grassroots arts activity. The event was attended by representatives of voluntary arts groups and umbrella bodies as well as the Arts Council of Wales, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Carnegie UK Trust, Department for Communities and Local Government, Royal Shakespeare Company and a range of other policymakers, academics and funders.

We also enjoyed wonderful performances by the Cecil Sharp House Community Choir and Dance Around the World and heard about the amazing Quilts 4 London project. It was a great day and the research team went away with masses of notes to assimilate before we write our final report. Congratulations and many thanks to Lindsey and Daniel for a very well organised event. You can see photos from Growing the Grassroots at:

Robin Simpson.





England Volunteering Development Council meeting by Robin Simpson
June 30, 2011, 3:38 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , , ,

On Thursday I was in London to take part in a meeting of the England Volunteering Development Council. We heard from Nick Chambers, Director of the Education and Employers Taskforce about the new ‘Speakers for Schools’ scheme which is due to be launched in October. This will encourage inspirational speakers (including politicians, business and voluntary sector leaders, broadcasters, artists and sportspeople) to volunteer to talk to young people in schools across the country. More details at: Sally Knock from NSPCC updated us on the planned changes to safeguarding and disclosures enshrined in the Government’s Protection of Freedoms Bill. These include significant changes to the Criminal Records Bureau scheme, changes to vetting and barring and changes to ‘regulated activities’. The Bill is currently passing through Parliament and is scheduled to receive royal assent by the end of the year. In the afternoon we had the opportunity to hear from the Shadow Minister for Civil Society, Roberta Blackman-Woods MP. She emphasised that the Labour Party is still at an early stage in developing new policies. She said that “volunteering and the whole range of issues around it are really central to our agenda”. The Shadow Minister thought that Labour’s record on supporting volunteering was “pretty good: we recognised there needed to be an infrastructure of support for people who were volunteering”. But she felt the agenda has now shifted with the Government’s introduction of the Localism Bill, its Giving White Paper and the Big Society. On the Big Society she said “I’ve been a volunteer for most of my adult life: this Government didn’t invent the Big Society – it was already there. But we have to acknowledge that the Government has hit on something: people do want to have more say in services delivered in their area.” She concluded by saying “we haven’t got the answers and the policies yet: we are absolutely in listening mode”.

Robin Simpson.

Voluntary cultural sector alliance meeting by Robin Simpson
June 3, 2011, 12:21 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , , , ,

On Friday I was in London for my regular voluntary cultural sector alliance meeting with the Heritage Alliance and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. We discussed a range of current policy issues including localism, Big Society and philanthropy,  as well as the proposed changes to Gift Aid and the future of cheques. Kate Pugh told us that the Heritage Alliance is to take on responsibility, as part of a consortium of organisations, for running the annual Heritage Open Days from next year. James Allen from NCVO urged us to encourage voluntary arts and heritage organisations to use the Voluntary Sector Cuts website, see:

Robin Simpson.

The Henley Review 2 by Robin Simpson
May 6, 2011, 3:41 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , , ,

On Tuesday I was at DCMS in London to meet Darren Henley who is conducting the Government’s Cultural Education Review. Following his recent review of music education, Darren (the Managing Director of Classic FM) has been asked by the Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey, to look at all aspects of cultural education. He said he was speaking to around 60 opinion-formers over the new few weeks and would also be inviting written submissions. The key areas he is keen to address include: the Big Society; wellbeing and happiness; ‘Great Britain plc’; in-school and out-of-school education; formal and informal education; and paid-for and voluntary education. Our discussion, which also involved Selina Mehra from the National Campaign for the Arts, ranged widely but included a specific focus on how amateur arts groups can act as catalysts to seed interest from young people.

Robin Simpson.

Reflecting on ‘Our Creative Talent’ by Robin Simpson
April 15, 2011, 10:33 am
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , , ,

On Tuesday afternoon I met Fiona Dodd, the author of the 2008 DCMS/Arts Council England research report ‘Our Creative Talent: the voluntary and amateur arts in England’. Fiona, a consultant with the firm TBR, based in Newcastle, was keen to hear what effect ‘Our Creative Talent’ had had with DCMS and ACE since its launch at our conference at The Barbican in July 2008. I updated her on the progress of the Amateur Arts Partnership Development Programme – a steering group involving Voluntary Arts, DCMS and ACE which met regularly from 2008-10 to follow-up the recommendations and conclusions of ‘Our Creative Talent’. I talked about the tangible achievements of this programme such as the regular Amateur Arts Forum meetings at which senior ACE staff now meet representatives of voluntary arts umbrella bodies several times a year. I also explained how the Amateur Arts Partnership Development Programme had led to the references to the amateur arts sector in ACE’s 10-year strategy ‘Achieving Great Art for Everyone’, published in 2010, which included the commitment : “we will champion the value of the commercial, amateur and voluntary arts sectors in encouraging people to take part in the arts”. This commitment, in turn, has now led to ACE deciding that the funding agreements for its new National Portfolio Organisations will include a requirement relating to each organisation’s relationship with the amateur arts sector. Looking back to 2008, it is clear that ‘Our Creative Talent’ marked a turning point in Arts Council England’s commitment to working with the amateur arts sector. It was good to be reminded of what we have achieved on the back of ‘Our Creative Talent’.

Robin Simpson.