Cultural Playing Field


NCVO Annual Conference 2016 by Robin Simpson
April 20, 2016, 4:19 pm
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Sir Stuart Etherington, NCVO Chief Executive

On Monday Louise, Katy and I were among more than 600 delegates at The Brewery in London for the National Council for Voluntary Organisations Annual Conference. NCVO Chief Executive Sir Stuart Etherington opened the conference with a ‘State of the Sector Address’ which acknowledged that these have not been easy times for voluntary organisations. Stuart said “too many people seem to have concluded that there is something wrong with charities” and “when we’ve been asked serious questions we haven’t always responded satisfactorily”. He suggested that public trust is the first, and major, challenge: our relationship with the public is by far the most important we have. While it would be too crude to talk about hostility to charities, the veil has slipped and there is an increasing willingness to ask questions. The genie is not going back in the bottle, nor should it: we cannot afford to be seen as less transparent than the public sector. Stuart emphasised the need for openness in relation to fundraising and executive pay. He said the “growing that notion that charities should be seen but not heard would be a huge waste of talent”. He is increasingly concerned about the anti advocacy clause in Government grant agreements, which he said is clearly a breach of the Voluntary Sector Compact. The best voluntary organisations combine the values of legitimacy and authenticity: charities are experts, anchored in their communities. Stuart finished by saying “we will emerge stronger”. He warned that Trustees need to think clearly about everything they are doing: “it makes money” is no longer a sufficient defence. If there are areas you are uncomfortable about, now is the time to do something about them.

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Lord O’Donnell

The second keynote presentation was by Lord O’Donnell who spoke about the positive effects of volunteering on wellbeing. The former Cabinet Secretary said local authorities are likely to see further reductions of around a quarter in this Parliament but austerity is causing more demand for charities. He outlined three steps to rebuild trust in charities:
1. we need to prove we are making the world a better place
2. we need to demonstrate how our funds are spent
3. we should try to put ourselves out of business – remove the problems rather than just solving them.
Gus O’Donnell spoke about the What Works Centre for Wellbeing – of which he was the first Chair – and the importance of articulating the wellbeing impact of charities. He said it is absolutely vital we measure wellbeing at a national level through the Office for National Statistics. He thought we should be measuring the wellbeing of children in schools. He said “these are tough times for many in our society and for many charities. We could reign in our ambitions and wait for better times but it would be disastrous. Focus on impact, be transparent, be proud and passionate about what you do, and put yourselves out of business.”

I attended two conference workshops: the first was a debate titled ‘In a fast changing world strategic plans are useless. Discuss.’ Girish Menon, Chief Executive of Actionaid UK and Srabani Sen, a senior consultant at NCVO, argued for and against the statement. This led to an interesting discussion which highlighted the value of having a clear strategy, the important role the process of developing a strategic plan can play and the danger that, without effective strategy organisations focus more on sustaining themselves rather than what they want to achieve.

The second workshop I attended was ‘Digital will transform your organisation – practical tips for leaders’. Julie Dodd, digital consultant and author of ‘The New Reality’ said digital technology affects everything. Organisations need to develop a culture of experimentation: test, make, learn. She spoke about the Open University which had found itself at a roadblock and created Future Learn, as a separate startup, which is now one of the most successful MOOC (massive open online course) platforms in the world. Helena Raven, Head of Digital at NSPCC, talked about three simple principles for digital leaders:
1. Design using data
2. Put the user first
3. Embrace agility
She said don’t confuse a lack of strategy for agility – being agile means being organised!

Robin Simpson.

 

 

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Cultural Commissioning Programme Advisory Group meeting by Robin Simpson
December 11, 2015, 11:03 am
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On Wednesday I was at NCVO in London for a meeting of the Cultural Commissioning Programme Advisory Group. We had a fascinating presentation from Alan Higgins, Director of Public Health at Oldham Council about the opportunities for health commissioning arising the Government’s programme of devolution to Greater Manchester. A Public Health memorandum of understanding has now been agreed. One of the five major transformational programmes of work, specified in the MoU is “nurturing a social movement for change – enabling people to make their own informed lifestyle choices”. Alan considered how a social movement for health could be encouraged, drawing on previous examples of social movements including the campaign to make Amsterdam the bicycle capital of the world, the mass trespass on Kinder Scout and the creation of the FC United of Manchester football club. We discussed the role arts and culture organisations might be able to play in this development but also the role that arts and culture might play in the everyday lives of people in Greater Manchester as part of healthier lifestyles. It was a really interesting discussion which highlighted the extent to which the Cultural Commissioning Programme has moved from being simply about helping arts organisations to access funding from public sector commissioning and is increasingly looking at the role of arts and culture in the outcomes of commissioning.

Robin Simpson.



NCVO Hinton Lecture 2015 by Robin Simpson
November 11, 2015, 12:08 pm
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Sir John Major delivering the NCVO Hinton Lecture 2015

Sir John Major delivering the NCVO Hinton Lecture 2015

On Tuesday evening I was at the Royal College of General Practitioners in London to see Sir John Major deliver the annual NCVO Hinton Lecture. The former Prime Minister’s speech, titled ‘A Nation at Ease with Itself?’, focussed on inequality, poverty, fairness and social mobility. Addressing a voluntary sector audience, John Major reminded us that, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he introduced Gift Aid and as Prime Minister he launched the National Lottery, 21 years ago. He had observed that it had become increasingly difficult for charities to compete for Treasury funds with pensions, social security, health spending etc. He saw the National Lottery as “money from the public for the public”, “to protect the independence of charities”. To date the Lottery has distributed over £34 billion to good causes and “as intended, most of this money has gone to small local schemes”. But John Major said he worries for the future of the Lottery. It was designed as a national lottery, in effect a monopoly, to maximise returns for the designated good causes but its success has attracted rivals, such as the increasing number of ‘society lotteries’ who pay a far smaller proportion of their income back to worthy causes. John Major also spoke about the importance of small charities, at a time when there is much emphasis on charity mergers. He said small charities “offer small, anonymous acts of kindness, vital to the recipient, that may be overlooked by their larger brethren”. He thought it would be wise to expand the remit and funding of the charity commission. He talked about the poverty of loneliness, saying it is not the responsibility of government to create communities. Rather this is something that has to involve government and charities and faith groups. He said the rise in single person households is a major risk to loneliness and “the community will deal with this issue best”. You can read the full transcript of Sir John Major’s speech at: https://www.ncvo.org.uk/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/1114-a-nation-at-ease-with-itself.

Robin Simpson.



Evolve 2015 – the NCVO annual conference by Robin Simpson
June 18, 2015, 1:33 pm
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David Moorcroft speaking at Evolve 2015

David Moorcroft speaking at Evolve 2015

On Monday Kat and I were at The Brewery in London for Evolve 2015 – the annual conference of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). The conference opened with a session on volunteering in sport. NCVO President, Tanni Grey-Thompson, was joined by David Moorcroft, Director of Sport at Join In (and still the proud holder of the 3000m world record he set in 1982) and Daisy Robinson – a Join In local leader. David Moorcroft said every successful athlete at London 2012 could trace their success back to volunteers. He said volunteering is part of the fabric of this country, but almost always doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Join In has used the latest valuation techniques in the economics of wellbeing to reveal that one volunteer in sport creates wellbeing worth £16,032, for themselves and for those they help play sport, see: https://www.joininuk.org/hidden-diamonds-true-value-of-sport-volunteers/

I then attended three breakout sessions:

  • NCVO analysis of the 2015 election: The implications for your organisation, with Alexandra Kelso, Associate Professor of Politics, University of Southampton, and Andrew O’Brien, Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Charity Finance Group
  • Influencing and Campaigning, Post Election, with Emily Robinson, Deputy Chief Executive, Alcohol Concern, and Jonathan Ellis, Head of Policy, Research and Advocacy, British Red Cross
  • Measuring impact is a waste of time: discuss, with Fazilet Hadi, Group Director Inclusive Society RNIB, Sally Cupitt, Head of NCVO Charities Evaluation Services, and Sarah Mistry, Director of Effectiveness and Learning, Bond.

The conference concluded with an entertaining discussion about the likely political landscape for the next five years, with Andrew Pierce, Consultant Editor of The Daily Mail and Kevin Maguire, Associate Editor of The Daily Mirror, chaired by NCVO Chair, Martyn Lewis.

NCVO CHair, Martyn Lewis, at Evolve 2015

NCVO CHair, Martyn Lewis, at Evolve 2015



Understanding Everyday Participation research project partners’ meeting by Robin Simpson
December 5, 2014, 2:25 pm
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I was in London on Monday for a meeting of the partners in the Understanding Everyday Participation research project. This 5-year project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities programme and by Creative Scotland. Understanding Everyday Participation is being run by a consortium of 7 academics at 4 universities with 2 professional researchers and a wide range of partner organisations, including Voluntary Arts. The project is looking at the relationship between participation and cultural value. Orthodox models of culture and the creative economy are based on a narrow definition of participation: one that captures engagement with traditional institutions such as museums and galleries but overlooks more informal activities such as community festivals and hobbies. This project is painting a broader picture of how people make their lives through culture and in particular how communities are formed and connected through participation. The project is undertaking detailed studies of 6 contrasting cultural ecosystems (in Manchester/Salford, Gateshead, Dartmoor, Peterborough, Eilean Siar/Stornoway and Aberdeen). Since we last met, the first round of resident interviews in Salford has been completed and the Aberdeen interviews have been started. We looked at some of the evidence gathered in Aberdeen and discussed the patterns demonstrated by mapping the membership of local clubs. The ethnographic study in Gateshead has also been completed and we had a fascinating presentation about the ‘facilitated participation’ of young people in care in Gateshead. We also looked at the mapping of cultural assets in Gateshead, including places of worship, playgrounds and pubs. This generated an interesting discussion around the question ‘does a place have a cultural signature?’. The Understanding Everyday Participation research project seems to grow more fascinating each time we meet. It still has quite a long way to go but I suspect the outcomes of this project are going to have a very significant impact for the work of Voluntary Arts.

Robin Simpson.



Arts Development UK Professional Development Working Party meeting by Robin Simpson
September 5, 2014, 4:17 pm
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On Friday I was in Birmingham for a meeting of the Arts Development UK (ADUK) Professional Development Working Party. We were joined by Jessica Harris from NCVO to discuss the Cultural Commissioning Programme (CCP) and the potential for links between the CCP learning programme and the ADUK professional fellowship programme. We also considered the possibility of further ADUK national events to share learning and research from the CCP, following the success of the initial national seminars on cultural commissioning in June 2014. We then discussed the ADUK Conference which will take place at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff on 16/17 October, where the keynote speaker will be the Chair of Voluntary Arts, Peter Stark. You can book your conference place at: http://artsdevelopmentuk.org/2014/08/arts-development-uk-conference-arts-for-life/. We were delighted to learn that the 2016 ADUK Conference will be hosted by Hull, UK City of Culture 2016. We also looked at the programme for the next ADUK national seminar which will focus on Arts & Health and will take place at the Catrin Finch Centre at Wrexham University in February or March 2015. The ADUK Professional Development Working Party then discussed ‘Our Cultural Commons’ – which is a partnership between Voluntary Arts and ADUK. We looked in particular at the scoping research currently being undertaken by the C3 Consultancy, led by Sue Isherwood, and talked about how best to publicise Sue’s call for existing examples of innovative, collaborative approaches to local cultural infrastructure. We also considered how the proposed Our Cultural Commons national event in June or July 2015 would fit into ADUK’s wider events programme. Finally we reviewed the ADUK Professional Fellowship Programme, which has now been running for three years, and discussed how to encourage more ADUK members to take part and the potential for further progression beyond the level of Senior Fellow. The fellowship programme is a really interesting way of encouraging and enabling continuing professional development for people working in local arts development and it is good to see how well the scheme has been taken up so far.

Robin Simpson.


Cultural Commissioning Programme Advisory Group meeting by Robin Simpson
July 4, 2014, 2:41 pm
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Later on Tuesday I was at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) in London for a meeting of the Cultural Commissioning Programme Advisory Group. The Cultural Commissioning Programme is a three year programme funded by Arts Council England and being delivered by NCVO, New Philanthropy Capital and the New Economics Foundation. On Tuesday we had a presentation from Hazel Summers, Head of Commissioning at Manchester City Council, about how Manchester has adopted a broader system approach to place-based commissioning. It was particularly interesting to hear from Hazel and Advisory Group member Jo Johnstone, who is the Cultural Partnership Team Leader at Manchester City Council, about how their two teams are working more closely together. We also reflected on the two recent Arts Development UK national seminars on cultural commissioning. We were updated on other components of the Cultural Commissioning Programme including the two commissioning partner pilots, in Gloucestershire and Kent, and the learning programme which starts with a first set of events in Newcastle which will help cultural organisations put themselves in the shoes of commissioners. We also heard about the Cultural Commissioning Programme online peer learning community and the development of web based resources.

Robin Simpson.