Cultural Playing Field

Epic Awards 2013 by Robin Simpson
February 1, 2013, 3:43 pm
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I was in Derry on Thursday for the Epic Awards 2013 Winners’ Reception: it was a wonderful occasion.

Before the Epic Awards activities got started, Kevin, Stephen, Marilyn and I had lunch with politicians from the Northern Ireland Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee, which had been holding its meeting in Derry. The Chair and one other member of the Committee then came to the evening Epic Awards reception.

Flower arranging at Verbal Arts Centre
Flower arranging at Verbal Arts Centre

Throughout the afternoon the Verbal Arts Centre was full of local voluntary arts groups demonstrating their activities and allowing members of the public to try their hand at a variety of arts and crafts. The atmosphere was lovely and the building was packed – with a TV crew squeezing past participants to get the best shots. During the afternoon we learned that the Epic Awards Winners’ Reception had just been mentioned on BBC Radio 2.

The evening reception started with performances from the City of Derry Guitar Festival and the Taiko Drumming Circle. We then commenced the presentations, with the winning groups receiving their prizes from the Mayor of Derry, a Government Minister (Jonathan Bell from the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister) and Voluntary Arts Chair, Peter Stark. As in previous years, the acceptance speeches by the representatives of the four Epic Award winning groups were passionate and inspiring. A packed audience was charmed and astounded by the stories of what had been achieved by voluntary arts groups across the UK and Ireland.

Taiko Drumming Circle

Taiko Drumming Circle

At the end of the evening we announced that our new Peer Award for Excellence (for which all the shortlisted groups were asked to nominate each other) had been won by the Ireland Epic Award winners, the Fermanagh St Patrick’s Day Parade. This news brought the house down – with the Fermanagh group genuinely thrilled. Theirs is an amazing story – of reinventing the idea of a St Patrick’s Day parade as a cross-community, non-sectarian carnival which last year attracted 14,000 people.

Details of all the Epic Award winners (and photos of the award presentations) are at – many congratulations to them all. And many thanks to everyone across Voluntary Arts who helped to make the 2013 Epic Awards so successful.

Robin Simpson.

Running Your Group Weekly, 14 January 2013 by Robin Simpson
January 18, 2013, 9:40 am
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On Monday I hosted ‘Running Your Group Weekly’ live from Edinburgh where Cassandra joined me and Kevin to talk about Voluntary Arts Week 2013. You can watch the recording of Monday’s webcast at:

Next Monday at 5 pm Running Your Group Weekly will focus on the effect London 2012 has had on volunteering with the volunteering consultant Rob Jackson joining us to talk about the lessons learned from the Games Maker volunteer programme.

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.

Put Your Best Pencil Forward by Robin Simpson
December 7, 2012, 4:59 pm
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On Thursday afternoon we launched an exhibition of drawings from the Voluntary Arts Ireland ‘Put Your Best Pencil Forward’ project at the Lewis Glucksman Gallery in Cork. Put Your Best Pencil Forward was part of The Big Draw – a national campaign to encourage more people to get actively involved in drawing. We received over 230 entries from all over the UK and Ireland which are displayed on the VAI Facebook page. Curators from the Lewis Glucksman Gallery then chose their favourite 20 drawings to be exhibited in their prestigious gallery space. Some of the chosen amateur artists were present on Thursday to see their drawings displayed in the gallery. It was great to see the high quality of the drawings and to see amateur artists getting proper recognition from the professional arts world. You can watch the video compilation of the chosen drawings at

Robin Simpson.

Running Your Group Weekly, 19 November 2012 by Robin Simpson
November 22, 2012, 4:04 pm
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On Monday I hosted the Running Your Group Weekly webcast. Kevin gave us a tour of the Running your Group governance resources and some tips on running effective meetings and Anne talked about how amateur arts and crafts groups can get involved in the exciting Epic Awards 2013. The deadline for entries to Epic Awards is next Friday 30 November, see: You can watch the recording of Running Your Group Weekly at: and please join us there at 5 pm next Monday.

Robin Simpson.

Voluntary Arts wins the Winifred Tumim Prize for Best Practice in Charity Governance by Robin Simpson
November 16, 2012, 4:36 pm
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After the Volunteering Network meeting I headed to The Brewery to catch the end of the NCVO Trustee Conference where Voluntary Arts was announced as the winner of the 2012 Winifred Tumim Prize for Best Practice in Charity Governance. This £1000 prize is given annually in memory of former NCVO Chair Winifred Tumim, in recognition of an organisation’s application of ‘Good Governance: A Code for the Voluntary and Community Sector’. Voluntary Arts was recognised in particular for the launch of our Governance Handbook – a creative adaptation of the Good Governance Code. 47 organisations were nominated for this year’s prize and the presentation, which Peter and I attended on behalf of Voluntary Arts, was a prestigious occasion as part of the NCVO Trustee Conference which involved around 400 charity trustees from across England. To be able to say that Voluntary Arts has been recognised for Best Practice in Charity Governance is a wonderful reward for our deliberate efforts to ensure that our governance is a model of best practice for the voluntary arts sector and is a tribute to staff, Board members and Advisory Group members, past and present, across the organisation.

Robin Simpson.

Heritage Minister visits Epic Award Winners, Third Floor Gallery by Robin Simpson
June 22, 2012, 1:45 pm
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Huw Lewis presenting the Wales Epic Award to Third Floor Gallery

Huw Lewis presenting the Wales Epic Award to Third Floor Gallery

I was in Cardiff on Thursday where the Housing, Regeneration and Heritage Minister, Huw Lewis, visited the Wales Epic Award Winners, Third Floor Gallery, in Cardiff Bay. It was great to see the gallery and to hear about the innovative work of around 40 volunteers that has enabled this small voluntary initiative to compete, in terms both of the quality of its exhibitions and the footfall of visitors, with the most prestigious photography galleries in the UK. The Minister was genuinely interested and impressed by the achievements of Third Floor Gallery and delighted to be able to recognise this outstanding example of voluntary arts activity by formally presenting the Epic Award certificate.

Robin Simpson.

Interviewing Nick Capaldi for Running Your Group by Robin Simpson
March 9, 2012, 3:48 pm
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On Thursday I was at the Arts Council of Wales in Cardiff to interview ACW Chief Executive Nick Capaldi in our first Running Your Group LIVE online event. The Arts Council of Wales is supporting the development of our Running Your Group online services in Wales and part of our agreement with ACW is a commitment to a number of online events with a Wales focus. This first interview also gave us an opportunity to test the technology and practice how these online events will work. Daniel and I arrived an hour before we were due to go live – but only managed to get a working internet connection with about five minutes to spare! Nonetheless we started webcasting on schedule at 2 pm and a small number of people from all corners of the UK joined us to watch the live video stream and contribute to the text chat. We had some problems with the sound – most people could see the video quite clearly but had great difficulty hearing us: we may need to invest in a better microphone. But apart from that the system worked and we were able to receive questions and comments from subscribers while we were webcasting. Nick Capaldi was a very easy person to interview – extremely eloquent, thoughtful and interesting – and very kind with some of my less than perfectly framed questions. Our discussion covered the issue of quality in relation to the amateur arts, the role of umbrella bodies, the Arts Council of Wales Investment Review and the National Assembly for Wales Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee inquiry into Participation in the Arts. Nick said some very supportive things about the amateur arts and Voluntary Arts Wales but I think I managed to push him on a few key points rather than giving him too easy a ride. You will be able to judge for yourselves as the full, unedited interview will shortly be available to watch again on the Running Your Group online events page (with enhanced audio!). We also plan to make the interview available as an audio mp3 file so you can listen to it on your ipod or mp3 player and we will be issuing a short video with some highlights from the interview on YouTube. Watch out for more Running Your Group LIVE online events soon.

Robin Simpson.

Epic Awards 2011 Winners’ Reception by Robin Simpson
February 3, 2012, 11:14 am
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On Monday evening I was at the Royal Overseas League in London for the Epic Awards Winners’ Reception. Representatives of the four winners of the Epic Awards 2011 – Phizzfest from Dublin, Buddy Beat from Paisley, Third Floor Gallery from Cardiff and Peterborough Male Voice Choir plus the Ireland runners-up, Ballymena Arts Partnership – were presented with their awards by Voluntary Arts President, Lord Luce. We were joined by an audience including representatives of Arts Council England, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, Audiences UK, the Theatrical Management Association, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and People’s Voice Media as well as Voluntary Arts staff and Board members. It was a lovely evening: all the winning groups had compelling stories to tell and gave passionate and inspirational speeches. The aim of the Epic Awards is to showcase excellence and innovation in the amateur arts and the 2011 winners are a credit to our sector and proved to be wonderful advocates for Voluntary Arts.


Accepting the England award, Peterborough Male Voice Choir Musical Director Will Prideaux said:

“Voluntary arts organisations transform lives and build stronger communities. I love the stories of friendships created and enthusiasm rediscovered or of depression beaten, horizons broadened or prejudices cast aside; of hope, of trust, of a sense of belonging or simply giving people something to look forward to – the list is endless and endlessly amazing.”


Tina Robinson accepted the Ireland award on behalf of Phizzfest, the Phibsborough Community Arts Festival, and said:

“Our experience to date has shown us the importance of the arts as a community development tool forging links and creating channels of communication within the many diverse groups in our area. Phizzfest is run entirely by volunteers and this award is a huge validation of our efforts and has given us great encouragement to continue with this project.”


Tom Chalmers from Scottish drumming group The Buddy Beat said:

“With the film we want to inspire people to get out there and get involved and if anybody’s got a mental health condition they should never let that hold them back because there’s so much out there that they can participate in – it helps you improve your mental health and your self-worth.”


Wales winners Third Floor Gallery gave a very entertaining speech about their humble beginnings and thanked all the photographers who entrusted their images to the gallery and endorsed their unique way of presenting exhibitions.


Watch Epic Winners 2011: The Movie at


The Government Culture Ministers in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland all sent messages of congratulation to the Epic Award winners:


Jimmy Deenihan, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Republic of Ireland Government said:

“Phizzfest is a wonderful example of local volunteers and business interests working in tandem for the benefit of the wider community.  The festival was a resounding success with something for people of all ages and backgrounds to enjoy.  Through art and arts related events new experiences were shared by all the participants.”


Carál Ní Chuilín, Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Northern Ireland Executive:

“In many cases arts begins at grass-roots level and wouldn’t be successful without the support of the many voluntary and amateur arts organisations across the island.   Many congratulations to Phizzfest from Dublin, this year’s winners of the Ireland Award, and also to Ballymena Arts Partnership who were runners up and the People’s Champion for Ireland for receiving over 3,500 votes online.  These are great examples of arts in the community and are truly deserving of this recognition.”


Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, Scottish Government:

“Congratulations to Buddy Beat on winning the first Epic Award for groups in Scotland. This is a truly amazing group which demonstrates the power of the arts to change people’s lives for the better. Scotland is a creative nation with a thriving cultural community and our voluntary groups play an important part in that. This project is a worthy winner of an Epic Award in the Year of Creative Scotland 2012.”


Huw Lewis, Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage, Welsh Government:

“The work of Voluntary Arts and here in Wales, Voluntary Arts Wales, in supporting and encouraging the voluntary arts sector is fully acknowledged. They are to be commended in bringing forward the Epic Awards to recognise the work and commitment of this sector. Third Floor Gallery is an excellent example of the ingenuity and creativity of the amateur arts in Wales, harnessing the enthusiasm and energy of local volunteers to create excellent opportunities and facilities for the local community. Their innovative way of working in attracting exhibitions of contemporary photography by world renowned photographers, is to be applauded. Here in Wales we have a long tradition of amateur arts and are very proud of their accomplishments.  I am therefore delighted to congratulate Third Floor Gallery as the winners of the first Wales Epic Award.”


Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, UK Government:

“It was an honour to attend the first ever Epic Awards last year, and I’m delighted to see the ceremony return, and announce a new raft of winners in 2012. The story of Peterborough Male Voice Choir shows just what a group of committed and dedicated local volunteers can achieve, not only in terms of raising tremendous amounts of money for good causes but also – from what I’ve heard – putting on excellent concerts in the process. I’d like to wish them hearty congratulations on receiving their award. They are another excellent example of the wonderful amateur arts activity that goes on in communities across England all year round, and forms the bedrock of the arts in this country.”

Robin Simpson.

Creative People and Places by Robin Simpson
January 20, 2012, 9:38 am
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On Tuesday I was in London to meet Phil Cave at Arts Council England to discuss the new Creative People and Places programme. Creative People and Places will focus Arts Council England investment in parts of the country where people’s involvement in the arts is significantly below the national average, with the aim of increasing the likelihood of participation. A total of £37 million will be available to establish around 15 Creative people and places projects between April 2012 and 31 March 2015. The programme is going to be launched on 30 January. For it to be effective, Phil stressed, Creative People and Places will need to work with the commercial arts and the amateur sector as well as with subsidised professional arts organisations. Voluntary Arts is working with ACE to oversee the involvement of amateur arts organisations in the programme. We will be promoting Creative People and Places to the amateur arts sector, helping to evaluate the involvement of amateur groups in the programme, providing practical assistance to the 15 local projects and working with ACE to research the most effective models for encouraging greater participation in the arts. It is a wonderful opportunity for Voluntary Arts and the sector we represent to work hand-in-hand with ACE and with professional arts organisations to get more people participating in the arts.

Robin Simpson.