Cultural Playing Field

Community Games by Robin Simpson
February 28, 2014, 10:10 am
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On Monday I was in Birmingham to meet Nikki Enoch, the National Manager of Community Games (a legacy of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games). Since January 2012 there have been 3,551 Community Games across England. Each Community Games has to be led by volunteers, needs an cultural element as well as sports and must have opening and closing events. Community Games is run by a partnership involving the County Sports Partnership Network and the YMCA, and is administered by Nikki who is a freelance consultant. To run a Community Games in your community all you need to do is register on the Community Games website at You will then be contacted by your local County Sports Partnership and will receive a toolkit, access to e-training and a package of resources including bunting, banners, postcards and t-shirts that can be customised for your event. You get a page on the national Community Games website to promote your event and help and advice from your local County Sports Partnership. We talked about the potential to involve voluntary arts groups in providing the cultural elements of Community Games, the possibility of voluntary arts groups leading their own Community Games and the opportunities to link Community Games to Voluntary Arts Week. Community Games is an England initiative at the moment but has ambitions to spread to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Robin Simpson.


Keeping the Spirit of 2012 alive by Robin Simpson
November 22, 2013, 4:34 pm
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On Wednesday afternoon I took part in a meeting of the seven projects funded by the Big Lottery Fund/Spirit of 2012 Trust ‘Keeping the Spirit Alive’ programme. The Big Lottery Fund has established the £40m Spirit of 2012 Trust to take an ongoing role in supporting the legacy of London 2012. The Trust will focus on volunteerism, attitudes to disabilities, and the potential of young people to be more involved their communities, using sport, culture and the arts, with other major events (such as the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games) providing a spur. It was incredibly interesting and inspiring to meet representatives of the other six funded projects and to learn more about their plans. We found a lot of commonality between our projects and huge potential for collaboration. You can read about all seven projects at:

Robin Simpson.

Running Your Group Weekly, 11 February 2013 by Robin Simpson
February 15, 2013, 11:01 am
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On Monday I hosted Running Your Group Weekly. Kevin and I were joined by Irene Heathcote from Quilts 4 London – the winners of the 2013 England Epic Award. Irene told us how a simple idea to make gifts for the athletes at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games developed into a massive project that involved thousands of people across the UK (and Australia!) with Irene’s postman making four deliveries a day as the pennants rolled in. You can watch our conversation with Irene at and please join us there next Monday at 5 pm for another Running Your Group Weekly video webcast.

Robin Simpson.

The Volunteering Network by Robin Simpson
November 16, 2012, 4:25 pm
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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.

Has volunteering developed a new momentum? by Robin Simpson
November 9, 2012, 3:55 pm
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I was in London again on Thursday to take part in the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) Members Assembly meeting. The theme of the meeting was ‘Has volunteering developed a new momentum?’ – looking at the effect of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games on volunteering. NCVO Chair, Martyn Lewis, introduced the debate, saying “it’s been an amazing summer of volunteering but it does present a challenge for the volunteering organisations”.

Justin Davis-Smith, Chief Executive of Volunteering England said “we have never seen volunteering more in the public eye” but wondered whether we could keep this going. He pointed out that the 270 volunteer centres around the country are having a very tough time with their funding cut by 25% this year, on top of 18% cuts last year. Research undertaken by LOCOG indicates that 44% of the UK population wish they had been Games Makers. Justin asked how we can bottle the spirit of London 2012 in a climate where many organisations who have been working with volunteers for many years are suffering. He suggested there were six lessons from the success of the Games Makers programme: leadership, planning & strategy, management & training, recognition, innovation & technology and investment.

Tiger de Souza, Head of Volunteering at NSPCC, suggested that people had volunteered for London 2012 to be part of something massive – a once in a lifetime opportunity. Do any of our current volunteering opportunities generate similar feelings? He pointed out the attraction of a very defined time period for volunteering – whereas most volunteering opportunities are open-ended. Tiger suggested that when you ask most people how they got into volunteering the answer is something like “I made a throwaway remark at a dinner party and the next thing I knew I was the Treasurer!” He talked about the need for succession planning, role descriptions and advertising and wondered how many of us are truly following best practice. Tiger felt that calling the London 2012 volunteers ‘Games Makers’ had made a big difference. The Games Maker training events had been incredibly slick and professional, the volunteers felt special and privileged, good use had been made of technology and the whole experience had been fun. Tiger said the key lessons were that volunteering needs a re-brand, we need to create opportunities that fit into people’s lives and we need to develop recognition of the value of volunteers (as a society). The challenge is investment – we need to be creative.

It was a fascinating discussion with some excellent speakers – easily the best NCVO Members Assembly meeting I have been to.

Robin Simpson.

Making Music Conference 2012 by Robin Simpson
September 20, 2012, 12:43 pm
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Last weekend I was at the Making Music conference at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff. On Saturday afternoon Daniel and I had a meeting with Nick Smith and Katherine Lane from Superact and Robin Osterley and Evan Dawson from Making Music to discuss Bandstand Marathon. We reflected on the success of the 2012 Bandstand Marathon which had included more than 300 events across the country on the previous Sunday. We also talked in detail about the plans for Bandstand Marathon 2013 which is likely to take place in July. We discussed a number of additional components we hope to add next year, including links between Voluntary Arts Week in May and Bandstand Marathon in July. On Saturday evening the Making Music conference concert included the premiere of ‘Island Race’ – a short choral piece which I wrote with Robin Osterley and Evan Dawson to celebrate London 2012. Robin conducted the Richard Williams singers, the Gentlemen Songsters and the Abergavenny Borough Band in a rousing performance at the end of the concert. It was a very exciting experience to hear my words sung by the choirs and I think the piece worked well (though I am a little biased!). The concert was recorded by BBC Radio 3 and I am looking forward to hearing the recording. If you’re interested you can see the words of ‘Island Race’ at and Making Music members who are interested in performing the piece can download scores for free from

Robin Simpson.

Bandstand Marathon 2013 by Robin Simpson
July 6, 2012, 9:55 am
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On Tuesday I was in London to meet Nick Smith and Katherine Lane from Superact – the organisers of Bandstand Marathon. Bandstand Marathon – hundreds of simultaneous performances on bandstands across the country on a designated day each year – has become a very successful annual event over the past four years. This year, on 9 September, Bandstand Marathon will be the final event of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. On Tuesday I met Nick and Katherine, with Robin Osterley and Evan Dawson from Making Music, to discuss plans for Bandstand Marathon 2013. We talked about expanding the range of groups involved to encompass the other performing arts, visual arts and crafts as well as music. We also discussed a potential project to establish new community choirs around the country with the target of performing as part of Bandstand Marathon. And we looked at the possibility of moving the date of Bandstand Marathon to coincide with Voluntary Arts Week in May 2013. After much discussion we agreed that trying to bundle Bandstand Marathon and a number of possible connected projects together with Voluntary Arts Week might prove too complicated a concept to market effectively. We also felt that Bandstand Marathon would be better suited to a date in July at the end of the school year. We did, however, agree that we would work together to develop several initiatives to increase arts participation which could be launched during Voluntary Arts Week in May and then work towards final performances as part of Bandstand Marathon in July. We also agreed to cross-promote Voluntary Arts Week and Bandstand Marathon.

Robin Simpson.

Everyone’s a Winner – the Amateo Annual Conference 2012, Cecil Sharp House, London by Robin Simpson
June 22, 2012, 1:34 pm
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On Sunday, Monday and Tuesday I was at Cecil Sharp House in London for the Amateo conference, ‘Everyone’s a Winner’. It was a wonderful conference – great venue, excellent food, good attendance from across Europe, interesting speakers, fantastic performances and good weather!

Inclusive and diverse communities discussion, led by Shape

Inclusive and diverse communities discussion, led by Shape

On Sunday we started with the AGM of Amateo, the European Network for Active Participation in Cultural Activities, and the news that Amateo President Tom de Rooij would have to step down from the Amateo Board as he is to lose his job following the merger of his organisation, Kunstfactor – the Netherlands association for the amateur arts. Together with the retirement from the Board of Amateo Vice President Kaat Peeters, who is about to start a new job in Belgium, this was an unexpected blow to Amateo. We were very fortunate that Voluntary Arts Trustee Aled Rhys-Jones was prepared to step into the breach and will now lead Amateo forward as its new President.

Lunch at the Amateo Conference

Lunch at the Amateo Conference

On Sunday evening the focus of the conference was the response of the amateur arts to the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad and we were treated to amazing performances by Morris Offspring and Kinetica Bloco. Morris Offspring is a young group led by the choreographer Laurel Swift (who took part in the original consultative weekend we held with the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2009 which developed the ideas for the Open Stages project). Laurel has been reinterpreting traditional English Morris dancing for the stage and it was great to see Morris Offspring at Cecil Sharp House, the home of English folk music. Kinetica Bloco is a stunning carnival band from South London, led my music teacher Mat Fox who took his approach from Brazil’s AfroReggae (who I visited in Rio de Janeiro in March 2010). Around 50 young people from Brixton and Peckham poured through the doors of Cecil Sharp House to entertain us with a deafening performance that was Brazilian with a strong London flavour and could probably have been heard in Rio!

The theme of the conference on Monday was research into the amateur arts. We brought together academics from the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands for a thought-provoking (and occasionally heated!) discussion and made some real progress on a way forward for Amateo to develop Europe-wide research. We finished the day with a compelling performance by Signdance Collective who blur the boundaries between sign language, mime and dance.

The final day of the conference focussed on disabled people and the amateur arts with a fascinating series of presentations led by Tony Heaton from Shape and Tabitha Allum from StageText.

Group discussions about research into the amateur arts

Group discussions about research into the amateur arts

I don’t think it would be an over-statement to say that the Amateo Conference was a huge success. Many thanks and congratulations to Aled, Helen Thomas, Anne Witton and Gillian Harrison and especially to our conference organiser, Daniel Carpenter. I look forward to the 2013 conference in the Czech Republic.

I put together a quick compilation of images from the Amateo conference to give an impression of the event. Take a look at:

Robin Simpson.

RSC Open Stages Showcase – Stratford-upon-Avon, 15/14/15 and 21/22 July 2012 by Robin Simpson
June 15, 2012, 11:03 am
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On two consecutive weekends in July (13/14/15 July and 21/22 July) twelve amateur theatre productions from all over the UK will be performing in Stratford-upon-Avon as part of the World Shakespeare Festival. These twelve productions have been selected from more than 270 amateur theatre groups taking part in our RSC Open Stages project and represent some of the best amateur theatre you will ever see.

They include:

  • The Tower Theatre Company from London performing ‘Baba Shakespeare’ by Emmeline Winterbotham which follows a troupe of travelling British players in 1960s India as they journey from desert palace to hill station, performing Shakespeare amid declining audiences, changing circumstances and ever more slender means. (Courtyard Theatre, 7.30pm, Friday 13 July, Tickets cost £5)
  • ‘Julius Caesar’ performed by Rainbow Factory from Belfast, is a contemporary retelling set on the Shankill Road in the early 2000’s during a loyalist feud. The play uses Shakespeare’s tragedy to explore some of the themes of Belfast’s recent past including the relationships between those in power and the role of violence in society. This will be followed by ‘MacBeth in Scots’, performed by Edinburgh Theatre Arts. Translated from Shakespeare by Robin Lorimer, this is the first production of Macbeth to be staged in Scots. The powerful translation brings to vibrant life Shakespeare’s bloody tale of ambition, treachery and downfall. (Courtyard Theatre, 7.30pm, Saturday 14 July, Tickets cost £5)
  • ‘Pocket Dream’ by Elly Brewer and Sandi Toksvig, performed by Riverside Drama Company from Long Eaton, Derbyshire. With actors in dispute with the management and refusing to leave The Cricketers pub, a cast is cobbled together resulting in a hilarious bravado of comic costumes and romantic confusion and fun. (Swan Theatre, 4pm, Sunday 15 July, Tickets cost £5)
  • ‘Henry VIII The Musical’ performed by Walden Musical from Saffron Walden in Essex. ‘Henry VIII The Musical’ is a spell-binding new production about England’s most famous King. At turns powerfully emotive and hilariously funny, this fast paced theatre spectacle keeps audiences entertained for performance after performance. (Courtyard Theatre, 7pm, Sunday 15 July, Tickets cost £5)
  • ‘The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged’ written by Adam Long Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, performed by Tread The Boards, the resident Company at the Attic Theatre, Cox’s Yard, Stratford upon Avon. This whistle-stop tour of the Bard’s complete works promises to leave you laughing until you can laugh no more. Tread the Boards’ unrivalled energy will captivate Shakespeare lovers and haters alike in this energetic and rollercoaster of a performance. (Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 9.30pm, Sunday 15 July, Tickets cost £5)
  • and much more ….


It’s going to be very exciting but also a tough sell as the groups will be performing far from their regular audience base. We are determined to make sure they have as big an audience as possible. Tickets for each production cost only £5.

We are also offering a whole day (half day on Sundays) workshop experience with one of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s professional practitioners in voice, movement or stage combat to any amateurs coming to see the shows on that day – all for only £15!

Full details at:


Please do join us in Stratford-upon-Avon in July if you possibly can.

Please encourage as many people as possible to buy tickets for the shows.

And please watch this brilliant and inspiring video trailer and forward it to everyone you know!:

Robin Simpson.

Joint EVDC/NNVIA meeting by Robin Simpson
June 14, 2012, 7:47 pm
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I was in London on Wednesday to take part in the second joint meeting of the England Volunteering Development Council and the Network of National Volunteer-Involving Agencies. The first part of the meeting focussed on Giving, Volunteering and Social Care Reform as we explored the issues to be tackled by the forthcoming White Paper on Social Care. Dan Poulter, the MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, who is a doctor and a member of the Health Select Committee, talked about the importance of the voluntary sector in delivering high quality social care, the need for more integrated care (joining up between the NHS and the voluntary sector) and the challenges of an ageing population. He thought that personal budgets and the personalisation of care will provide a real opportunity for the voluntary sector to add value to care and urged voluntary sector organisations to get involved in the new local Health and Wellbeing Boards (which were created by the Health Act, earlier this year). We then heard from Olivia Butterworth from the Voluntary Sector Partnerships and Big Society Team at the Department of Health who stressed the importance of articulating the value of volunteering (as distinct from the voluntary sector) in this context. She referred to the Strategic Vision for Volunteering published by the Department of Health in October 2011 and two new funding opportunities which will be open for applications later this year – the DoH Innovation, Excellence and Strategic Development Fund and the Health and Social Care Volunteering Fund.

The afternoon session focussed on working together to make the most of national volunteering campaigns & initiatives. We heard from the former Olympic athlete David Moorcroft who is leading the ‘Join In’ campaign. ‘Join In’ hopes to harness the enthusiasm generated by the London Olympic and Paralympic Games to take sport back into the community. On the weekend between the Olympic and Paralympic Games (18/19 August) sports clubs across the country will be opening their doors to encourage as many people as possible to join in – as participants or as volunteers. We compared and contrasted the approach taken by ‘Join In’ with three other volunteering campaigns – ‘Give More’, ‘Make a Difference Day’ and ‘Volunteers Week’ – and discussed whether the proliferation of national campaigns strengthened or weakened each other. It was interesting to compare our approach to Voluntary Arts Week with that of some more established campaigns.

Robin Simpson.