Cultural Playing Field


Understanding Everyday Participation by Robin Simpson
March 20, 2014, 6:16 pm
Filed under: comment | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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.



Cultural Commissioning Programme Advisory Group meeting by Robin Simpson
February 20, 2014, 3:41 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , , , ,

On Tuesday I was in London to take part in a meeting of the Cultural Commissioning Programme Advisory Group. The Cultural Commissioning Programme is a three year programme, funded by Arts Council England, to explore how arts organisations can better engage with commissioning in order to develop better public service outcomes, diversifying income and users for arts organisations and ensuring high quality arts work in a public service context. Since the first meeting of the Advisory Group in November, the programme partners (the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, New Philanthropy Capital, the New Economics Foundation and Mission, Models, Money) have agreed three main areas of focus with Arts Council England: older people; mental health & wellbeing; and place-based commissioning. On Tuesday we looked at an overview of the programme workstreams and considered the detailed evaluation framework. I pointed out the importance of the potential role of intermediaries or brokers to ensure the involvement of small, local culture organisations in commissioning. We agreed the need to ensure that, as well as persuading more arts organisations to apply for commissioned work and urging commissioners to consider arts organisations, it will be important for the programme to focus on maximising the positive impacts on society of this activity. We were joined on Tuesday by Jane Tarr, Arts Council England Director of Resilience, who explained how the Cultural Commissioning Programme fits within ACE’s goals and priorities.

Robin Simpson.



Cultural Commissioning Programme Advisory Group meeting by Robin Simpson
November 22, 2013, 4:32 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , , , ,

On Tuesday I was in London to take part in the first meeting of the Cultural Commissioning Programme Advisory Group. The Cultural Commissioning Programme is a three year programme, finishing in June 2016, funded by £895k from Arts Council England and being delivered by a partnership between the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, New Philanthropy Capital, the New Economics Foundation and Mission, Models, Money. In a changing landscape for public service delivery, with new markets developing, arts organisations provide high quality services that contribute to public service outcomes but few are engaged with public service commissioning. The programme will explore how arts organisations can better engage with commissioning in order to develop better public service outcomes, diversifying income and users for arts organisations and ensuring high quality arts work in a public service context. The Programme Advisory Group is chaired by Lord Michael Bichard and includes representatives of charitable trusts, local authorities, arts organisations, infrastructure bodies and corporate funders. On Tuesday we discussed the initial findings from the scoping phase of the programme and agreed the terms of reference for the Advisory Group.

Robin Simpson.



NCVO Members Assembly meeting by Robin Simpson
November 15, 2013, 10:54 am
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , ,

On Thursday I was at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations in London for my last meeting as a member of the NCVO Members Assembly. The first session of the day focussed on the draft new NCVO Strategic Plan. I took part in groups discussing the questions ‘how could NCVO work better with infrastructure organisations?’ and ‘is it realistic to ask members to share their knowledge and practices with others?’ After lunch we took part in the NCVO AGM and I am delighted to report that my place representing Recreation and Culture on the NCVO Members Assembly is to be taken by our old friend Jacqui Devereux from the Community Media Association. In the afternoon we looked at ‘Campaigning and the current environment’ and discussed the situation regarding the Lobbying Bill. The Bill is about to go into committee stage at the House of Lords, and NCVO and its voluntary sector partners will be trying to secure further changes. In response to significant changes in the campaigning environment a Campaigning and Lobbying Standards Group was established in September 2013 and will hold its first meeting next week, chaired by Sir Stuart Etherington. Finally we looked at ‘Preparing for the 2015 General election’, discussing the feedback to NCVO’s consultation on campaigning priorities for the election. I have enjoyed my time on the NCVO Members Assembly: it has been good to have the opportunity to influence NCVO’s work but the meetings are also a very valuable networking opportunity and provide a useful update on key voluntary sector issues.

Robin Simpson.



Arts Council England’s Cultural Commissioning Programme by Robin Simpson
August 16, 2013, 1:52 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , , , ,

On Tuesday I was interviewed over the phone by Sally Bagwell at New Philanthropy Capital as part of the initial scoping stage of Arts Council England’s Cultural Commissioning Programme. A new consortium of organisations led by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), and including New Philanthropy Capital, the New Economics Foundation and Mission Models Money, is developing a mix of activities to help both commissioners in the public services and the arts, museums and libraries sectors. The aim of the programme is to help arts and cultural organisations get more involved in commissioning. On Tuesday we spoke about the very limited involvement that voluntary arts groups have in commissioning and the potential for them to bid for funding in this area, particularly in relation to health and wellbeing services.
Robin Simpson.



Evolve 2013: the annual event for the voluntary sector by Robin Simpson
June 18, 2013, 6:50 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , ,

On Monday I was at The Brewery in London to attend ‘Evolve 2013: The annual event for the voluntary sector’. This was the first annual conference of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) since the organisation’s merger with Volunteering England. It was a bigger event than normal – with more than 1000 delegates – and had an obviously increased emphasis on volunteering issues.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson speaking at Evolve 2013

Mayor of London Boris Johnson speaking at Evolve 2013

The morning session included a speech by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who said “volunteering is good for our society: it helps to bind communities together”. He thought it was “critical to raise volunteering up the political agenda”. It was fascinating to see Boris Johnson in action. He is very entertaining, genuinely funny and self-deprecating, though it was interesting that he said very little about the effects of austerity or public funding cuts.

I then attended a seminar on ‘Technology and Social Action’ in which three speakers looked at the effects of the digital revolution on civil society. Helen Goulden, Executive Director of the Innovation Lab at NESTA, spoke about technological trends in relation to giving, including the concept of ‘behavioural targeting’. Karl Wilding, Head of Policy & Research at NCVO, looked at what this means for the voluntary sector, including whether ‘membership’ is still relevant in the digital age. Finally Emma Jane Cross from The BB Group (Beat Bullying) spoke about how her organisation is scaling its support by using online social networks. A really thought-provoking set of presentations which generated an interesting discussion.

In the afternoon NCVO Chief Executive, Sir Stuart Etherington, gave his annual ‘state of the sector’ speech. He said “this isn’t an easy time for voluntary organisations and the voluntary sector: times are tough … The [London 2012] Games lifted the cloud of limitation from people’s lives … volunteering is central to my vision for the sector and this is an opportunity that is too good to miss”. Stuart suggested that the brand ‘Big Society’ has become like “an embarrassing uncle” and reminded politicians that “listening to our experience and involving us should be a necessity, not an afterthought”.  His rallying cry was that “now is the time for the voluntary sector to speak up. We have a good story to tell – let’s make sure we tell it … Helping Government solve problems is not acquiescence. Campaigning is something the public believe we should do”.

John Cruddas, Shadow Cabinet Minister and Head of the Labour Party Policy Review speaking at Evolve 2013

John Cruddas, Shadow Cabinet Minister and Head of the Labour Party Policy Review speaking at Evolve 2013

In the final session of the conference we heard from John Cruddas, Shadow Cabinet Minister and Head of the Labour Party Policy Review. Looking at how we rebuild social capital in the current climate he outlined ten points for consideration. He said “we need a politics that values relationships and wellbeing: we need to reduce social poverty”. He went on to ask “as the state withdraws, how can we reconfigure to create new minimum standards? How can we socialise delivery?” In response to a question from the audience, John Cruddas claimed “I’m probably the last person standing that still believes in the Big Society”. His responses to questions were considered and thoughtful and he was clearly keen to listen to the views of the voluntary sector in preparation for developing the Labour Party Manifesto for the next General Election.

Robin Simpson.



NCVO Members’ Assembly meeting by Robin Simpson
May 23, 2013, 1:55 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

On Thursday I was in Leeds to take part in the NVCO Members’ Assembly meeting. The focus of the meeting was on preparing for the next general election. NCVO Deputy Chief Executive Ben Kernighan explained that NCVO would be consulting its members between June and December 2013, asking what they would want the voluntary sector to be in 2020. Ben spoke about the likelihood of another coalition government after the next election and said this showed the importance of trying to influence all the political parties.

NCVO Chair Martyn Lewis said Prime Ministers love to put their stamp on the voluntary sector by creating some new initiative or agency but he would rather they did something about helping the structures that are there already. NCVO Director of Policy Karl Wilding spoke about the rise of the smaller parties as the vehicle for people’s protest and disaffection with the political system. At the next general election the electorate will be older than it has ever been. This will also be a social media election. It is probably going to be a messy election: the chances of a hung parliament are high.

Judy Robinson, Chief Executive of Involve Yorkshire & Humber, proposed three issues to try to get into the party manifestos: economic policy for the regions; poverty and welfare; and prevention. She suggested that, at this election, the only agenda for the political parties will be the economy and jobs (“it’s the economy, stupid”). Judy also exploded some popular myths about the voluntary sector relating to contracting and procurement, loans, volunteering and IT solutions. She stressed that place matters and spoke about the disproportionate hit on the North, the urban and the poor and the resulting effect on the voluntary sector.

The new NCVO President, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson spoke inspiringly and practically about how to influence the political process. She said it is really important to understand how the smaller parties work and explained the effective role that the House of Lords can play. She also agreed that social media has become very important and explained how jokes fail to come across well in Hansard!

Robin Simpson.



The Governance Forum by Robin Simpson
January 25, 2013, 2:27 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , ,

On Wednesday I was in the grand surroundings of the Clothworkers Hall in the City of London to take part in a meeting of the Governance Forum. The Governance Forum is a twice yearly meeting of governance experts who come together to discuss the latest issues in charity governance.  The forum is hosted by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and chaired by Lindsay Driscoll who is also the Chair of the Code of Good Governance Steering Group. As Voluntary Arts was awarded the 2012 Winifred Tumim Memorial Prize for Best Practice in Charity Governance, I was invited to speak to the Governance Forum about the particular governance challenges in a UK-devolved organisation and how Voluntary Arts undertook its organisational governance review and created its innovative Governance Handbook.

Robin Simpson.



Voluntary Arts wins the Winifred Tumim Prize for Best Practice in Charity Governance by Robin Simpson
November 16, 2012, 4:36 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , ,

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.



The Volunteering Network by Robin Simpson
November 16, 2012, 4:25 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , ,

I was in London on Monday for The Volunteering Network – a joint meeting of the England Volunteering Development Council (EVDC) and the Network of National Volunteer-Involving Agencies (NNVIA). We were joined by Justin Davis-Smith, Chief Executive of Volunteering England, and Sir Stuart Etherington, Chief Executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) to address the question ‘where’s the voice of volunteering in our new world?’. Justin and Stuart explained in detail the planned merger between Volunteering England and NCVO and how the new organisation will support volunteering. Justin said volunteering has never been more relevant and necessary but it has never been harder to make the case for investment. Stuart said that NCVO has leading edge experience in governance but not much on other aspects of volunteering and welcomed the additional expertise that Volunteering England would bring. He said volunteering is absolutely core to the future of the new merged organisation: it will be an intrinsic and important part. Stuart suggested that the nature of capacity-building will change over the coming years with more emphasis on digital and peer-to-peer learning and fewer big conference and publications. In the second half of the meeting we focussed on ‘giving time and volunteering: the post-Olympic and Paralympic opportunity’. We heard from David Moorcroft and Rebecca Birkbeck from Join In and David McCullough, the Chief Executive of WRVS. David Moorcroft said three things stood out for him from London 2012: the Torch Relay (which reached almost all parts of the country); the Paralympics (which transformed perceptions of disability); and the Games Makers (who defined the Olympic spirit).

Robin Simpson.