Cultural Playing Field


Welsh Language Commissioner/WCVA Parliamentary Reception by Robin Simpson
January 22, 2016, 10:46 am
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WCVA reception

The Welsh Language Commissioner, Meri Huws

On Thursday afternoon Gareth and I were at the House of Lords for a reception organised by the Welsh Language Commissioner and the Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA) and hosted by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson. This was an event for UK-wide third sector organisations operating in Wales to discuss the need to work through the medium of Welsh. Each organisation had been asked to bring two representatives – their UK Chief Executive and their Wales Director or equivalent. The Welsh Language Commissioner, Meri Huws, spoke about the implications for third sector organisations of the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011, emphasising the principle that people in Wales can live their lives through the medium of Welsh if that is what they wish to do. She said the third sector needs to think in different ways to move forward with dignity for people in an increasingly bilingual nation. WCVA Chief Executive, Ruth Marks, said that Welsh language, culture and identity is fundamental across all our work. She spoke about the current legislative and policy environment (including the effects of the new Social Services and Wellbeing Act and the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act). Ruth also discussed the Welsh Language and volunteering as well as good governance and quality systems (including Investing in Volunteers and PQASSO). She explained that there is now a Memorandum of Understanding between WCVA and the Welsh Language Commissioner and a WCVA Trustee has been appointed as the organisation’s Welsh Language Champion.

Robin Simpson.



Culture Guides Conference, Budapest by Robin Simpson
October 9, 2015, 1:48 pm
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On Monday and Tuesday I was in Budapest, Hungary, with Laraine and Daniel for the final conference of our EU Culture Guides project. Culture Guides was a two-year project that started in October 2013 under the Grundtvig strand of the European Commission’s Lifelong Learning Programme. Six partners from five countries aimed to investigate the possibility of a European framework to recruit, train and manage volunteers to act as mentors or guides to introduce and help marginalised social groups to participate in local art and culture activities, either as audience members or as active participants. Voluntary Arts ran pilot Culture Guides schemes in four locations – St Helens and Swale & Medway in England, and Torfaen and Wrexham in Wales.

Dora Duro, Chair of the Hungarian Parliament Committee on Culture

Dora Duro, Chair of the Hungarian Parliament Committee on Culture

The conference was opened by Dora Duro, Chair of the Hungarian Parliament Committee on Culture. I chaired the first panel session in which the six partner organisations summarised how the project had worked in each of the participating countries. The conference included a range of group sessions in which we looked at the learning from the Culture Guide pilots and shared our experiences of working with different socially marginalised end-users. There were also practical participatory sessions in which we learned some circus skills and Hungarian folk songs. The Keynote speech was given by Professor Sandor Striker from ELTE, the University of National Excellence in Hungary, who spoke about ‘Art and culture policies for the socially marginalised’. We also had a presentation from Dr Cees van den Bos, from the Netherlands, comparing volunteering in different countries. The conference brought together partner organisations, volunteers, other cultural organisations, civil society and volunteering organisations from across Europe. It was a really enjoyable couple of days and a nice way to bring this excellent project to an end.

For more details please see Daniel’s excellent Culture Guides Handbook at: http://www.cultureguides.eu/outcome-and-results/guidelines-for-the-european-handbook/

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



Our Cultural Commons roundtable, Cardiff by Robin Simpson
March 6, 2015, 3:34 pm
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On Friday I was at the beautiful setting of the Norwegian Church in Cardiff Bay for the second of the Our Cultural Commons high-level national policy roundtables. This event was co-hosted for us by Nick Capaldi, Chief Executive of the Arts Council of Wales and included representatives of the Wales Council for Voluntary Action, Literature Wales, Creu Cymru, Cadw (Welsh Government’s historic environment service), National Theatre Wales, Wrexham Borough Council, Rhondda Cynon Taff Council, Disability Arts Cymru, the Adult Learning and the Culture Sector Consultancy and others.

Nick Capaldi opened the discussion by saying he thought Our Cultural Commons “a very interesting proposition in these very challenging times – what it is to sustain and promote local arts and creativity, continuing to make things happen despite difficult circumstances”. He asked what needs to happen to create the environment for this activity to take place. Nick pointed out that if “our cutural life, first and last, is local” this presents an interesting challenge to the Arts Council of Wales as a national organisation. He said “I can think of no better organisation than Voluntary Arts to be working with on this”.

Voluntary Arts Wales Chair, Hamish Fyfe, outlined the concept of Our Cultural Commons, saying “partnership is necessary for us to carry on doing what we do”.

Lee Corner, Convener of Our Cultural Commons, then chaired the debate. It was a fascinating discussion which looked at community asset transfer, volunteering, partnerships, networking, capacity building, sharing of control and power and much more.

John McGrath from National Theatre Wales spoke about three models – the participatory arts model, the amateur arts model and the voluntary sector training volunteers to fulfil roles. I emphasised the need to develop better connections between these three models – and the difficulty of doing so. I spoke about how Voluntary Arts supports the creative citizens who run voluntary arts groups and the work we are doing (through the Putting Down Roots project funded by the Arts Council of Wales and our Spirit of 2012 project) to connect professionally-led participatory arts initiatives to local amateur arts groups, and our work (also through the Spirit of 2012 project) to connect amateur arts groups to Volunteer Centres.

In summing up the discussion I asked: 1. if everyone agrees that we need the kind of collaborative approach suggested by Our Cultural Commons, why are not doing more of this already?; 2. how do we gather together a broader range of cultural partners, beyond the people we already know?; 3. is the need to sustain and develop the local cultural infrastructure a sufficient incentive to bring people together or do we also need to look at collaborating on cultural activity?

I urged everyone to continue the conversation, by signing up to the Our Cultural Commons newsletter, joining the growing set of partner organisations listed on the Our Cultural Commons website and writing provocations or think-pieces about Our Cultural Commons for the website. Further roundtables are planned in Belfast, Dublin and London over the coming weeks. More details at: http://www.ourculturalcommons.org



Fuel by Robin Simpson
December 5, 2014, 2:26 pm
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On Tuesday afternoon I was at Somerset House in London to meet Louise Blackwell and Bridget Floyer at Fuel. Fuel is a producing arts organisation working in partnership with a range of artists to develop, create and present new work across the UK. I first met Louise, and her Co-Director Kate McGrath, in July 2013 and we have kept in touch since, considering ways in which Fuel and Voluntary Arts might be able to collaborate. Fuel’s New Theatre in Your Neighbourhood research project is exploring ways in which the company can improve the way it tours shows, “building stronger relationships with partners, connecting artists and the communities we visit in inspiring and meaningful ways, and developing audiences”. The project has been working in six areas in England since 2013. Two of these areas are geographically close to some of the locations for our Spirit of 2012 and Culture Guides projects and we discussed the potential for developing connections between these projects.

Robin SImpson.



Culture Guides by Robin Simpson
July 24, 2014, 11:07 am
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Culture Guides logo

Culture Guides logo

On Wednesday I joined Daniel, Laraine and Janina in Birmingham for part of our two-day Culture Guides event. Culture Guides is our EU Grundtvig partnership project, which is engaging volunteers as “culture guides” in six European countries – to reach out and strengthen the access for social and cultural marginalised groups to arts and culture as a gateway to personal development and social inclusion. It is based on the concept of “cultural sustainability” meaning that active citizenship, social inclusion and cultural cohesion will be promoted by “citizens help citizens” in a civil society context. In the UK, Voluntary Arts is working in four areas to recruit and develop volunteer Culture Guides – Wrexham and Torfaen in Wales, and St Helens and Faversham in England. This week volunteers and representatives of our partner organisations from Wrexham and St Helens joined us in Birmingham to learn more about the project and to start to explore the details of how the volunteer Culture Guides will work in practice in each location. You can see more details of the Culture Guides project at http://www.cultureguides.eu/ and there is a Facebook group for the UK part of the project at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/533636160091364/?fref=ts

Robin Simpson.



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 http://www.communitygames.org.uk/. 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.