Cultural Playing Field

Culture UK launch by Robin Simpson
April 4, 2017, 2:39 pm
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On Tuesday Damien and I were in the BBC Radio Theatre in Broadcasting House in London for the launch of Culture UK – a new partnership between the BBC, Arts Council England, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, the Arts Council of Wales and Creative Scotland.


BBC Director-General, Tony Hall, said the aim of Culture UK is “to excite the nation about the arts, opening up funding to a range of arts organisations to make content which can be shown on the BBC, developing UK-wide cultural festivals that can reach new audiences, creating opportunities to showcase emerging and diverse talent, and making the most of technology to inspire new experiences in the arts.”

Tony Hall said “culture makes us believe in the future”. He spoke about the importance of inspiring people about the arts, saying “there are communities we simply don’t engage with: that has to change”. Culture UK will have a development team from across the UK (modelled on that created for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad) which will work towards three big landmark moments a year. Culture UK was launched with the announcement of 26 new commissions. See:
Robin Simpson.


Running Your Group LIVE – Nick Livingston at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland by Robin Simpson
March 8, 2013, 4:22 pm
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On Friday I was in Belfast to interview Nick Livingston, Director of Strategic Development, at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland for Running Your Group LIVE. ‘Ambitions for the Arts’ – the new five-year strategy for the arts in Northern Ireland – is currently out to public consultation and we took this opportunity to ask Nick about the Arts Council’s position in relation to the voluntary arts sector. The draft strategy refers to the Arts Council’s mission to place the Arts at the heart of social, economic and creative life. It goes on to talk about engaging people and deepening their involvement in the arts. I asked Nick about the role practical participation in the arts has to play in helping the Arts Council deliver its mission. The strategy also talks about promoting access and diversity through a wide range of target groups. Volunteering and voluntary activities are a key component of the strategy. I asked Nick what the Arts Council sees as the benefits of volunteering in the arts and what risks volunteering creates. You can watch the full interview at:

Robin Simpson.

Running Your Group Weekly, 4 February 2013 by Robin Simpson
February 7, 2013, 1:42 pm
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On Monday I hosted Running Your Group Weekly. Daniel, Kevin and I were joined by Niall Bogue from Project St Patrick in Fermanagh – the winners of the 2013 Ireland Epic Award and the Peer Award for Excellence. Niall told us about the casual conversation over a few drinks which led to the development of a new kind of St Patrick’s Day Parade involving 500 participants and an audience of 14,000 people. He explained how this massive undertaking is still managed by a committee of nine volunteers and described their eclectic approach to making the St Patrick’s Day celebrations a truly cross-community event. You can watch our conversation with Niall at and please join us there next Monday at 5 pm for another Running Your Group Weekly video webcast.

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.

Running Your Group Weekly, 17 December 2012 by Robin Simpson
December 21, 2012, 11:16 am
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On Monday afternoon I hosted the last Running Your Group Weekly of the year. Kevin, Daniel and I were joined by special guest John McBride from North West Volunteer Centre. John is the Volunteer Co-ordinator for Derry/Londonderry UK City of Culture 2013 and spoke about the City of Culture volunteering programme, given us details of some of the planned initiatives and a sneak preview of some of the major events that will be taking place in Derry/Londonderry next year. The City of Culture programme sounds very exciting and it’s great to see volunteering at the heart of the plans.

Kevin using Running Your Group Weekly to announce a new initiative offering amateur artists and voluntary groups the opportunity to help celebrate Derry/Londonderry UK City of Culture in 2013 by putting on special events in the Verbal Arts Centre during the year. ‘Our City of Culture’, an initiative of Voluntary Arts Ireland and the Verbal Arts Centre, invites amateur groups to make their own contribution to the 2013 celebrations by putting on a special event or performance in the historic Verbal Arts Centre on the city walls, see:

You can watch the recording of Running Your Group Weekly at:

Running Your Group Weekly will return at 5 pm on Monday 7 January.

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.

Arts & Volunteering Toolkit launch, Belfast by Robin Simpson
December 7, 2012, 4:56 pm
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It was International Volunteers Day on Wednesday and I was at The MAC in Belfast for the launch of our Arts & Volunteering Toolkit. The toolkit, originally developed by Voluntary Arts England and Volunteering England, was adapted for use in Northern Ireland by Voluntary Arts Ireland and Volunteer Now. Wendy Osborne from Volunteer Now said all research shows that where volunteers are well managed there is greater impact. She hoped that the toolkit will be used by arts organisations across Northern Ireland to improve their volunteer management. Nick Livingstone from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland congratulated Voluntary Arts Ireland and its partners on developing the toolkit and said that its launch in the run up to Derry UK City of Culture 2013 could not be more timely.

Robin Simpson.

Celebrating the centenary of the Carnegie UK Trust by Robin Simpson
November 9, 2012, 3:52 pm
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On Tuesday evening I was at the Scotland Office in London for a reception to celebrate the centenary of the Carnegie UK Trust. It was interesting to see representatives of a huge range of voluntary organisations that have been helped by the Carnegie UK Trust. The Trust was instrumental in establishing the Voluntary Arts Network in 1992 and played a similar role in the development of many of the national voluntary arts umbrella bodies (including the National Federation of Music Societies in 1935 and the British Federation of Festivals in 1921). Angus Hogg, the Chair of the Carnegie UK Trust, devoted a significant section of his speech to the role the trust has played in supporting the amateur arts.

Robin Simpson.

Running Your Group Weekly by Robin Simpson
November 9, 2012, 3:51 pm
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On Monday afternoon, Daniel, Kevin and I broadcast the second edition of ‘Running Your Group Weekly’ which included a sneak preview of our forthcoming step-by-step tutorial on taking on a volunteer and a recap on the live online event on how to nominate someone for an honour. You can watch the recording of this week’s Running Your Group Weekly at: and please join us at that address every Monday at 5 pm.

Robin Simpson.

Voluntary Arts Week 2012: 12 – 20 May by Robin Simpson
May 11, 2012, 4:14 pm
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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.