Cultural Playing Field


Volunteering Network meeting by Robin Simpson
November 28, 2013, 6:22 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , ,

I was in London again on Wednesday to take part in a meeting of the Volunteering Network – the forum which brings together the England Volunteering Development Council and the National Network of Volunteer-Involving Agencies. At Wednesday’s meeting we heard from John Mohan of the Third Sector Research Centre about the The Economic and Social Research Council’s plans to explore ‘Big Data’. This will bring substantial national resources to facilitate access to large scale datasets held by organisations, local and national government. It will enable extensive cross-referencing of community level data (whilst putting in place safeguards to avoid any disclosure of individual data). ESRC will create centres of expertise to facilitate access and generate high quality research. John said this could prove to be an incredibly valuable tool for the voluntary and community sector. It will improve our ability to describe the characteristics of communities and will tell us more about who our supporters and volunteers are.

We then had a presentation from Dame Julia Cleverdon (the former Chief Executive of Business In The Community) about the recently launched campaign for youth social action. Step Up To Serve is a national campaign to inspire a generation of young people through increasing the quality, quantity and frequency of social action for all young people aged between 10 and 20. In this context social action means practical action in the service of others – of double benefit to young people themselves and the community. The goal is to double the number of young people participating in social action to over 50% by 2020. That is an additional 1.7 million young people engaging in social action for the first time. The campaign brings together leaders from across UK civic society, led by HRH The Prince of Wales and with support from all of the main political parties. Dame Julia explained that Step Up To Serve was an attempt to get away from a short-term approach to youth volunteering that has seen successive governments launch new initiatives rather than building on schemes developed by their predecessors. She was adamant that we need a long-term, cross party, approach, stressing “this is not merely a lunch, a launch and a logo”. See: http://www.stepuptoserve.org.uk.

Finally we heard from Clare Delap of the Care Quality Commission about CQC’s new project with Community Service Volunteers and from Tracy Whittle of NCVO about a project to develop volunteering in care homes. NCVO has secured funding from the Department of Health until end of March 2016 to pilot volunteering in care homes with the aims of improving residents’ quality of life outcomes and strengthening local communities. Through the project’s learning, a national standard of good practice in volunteering for this sector will be developed. Working in five pilot sites and with volunteer centres and care homes, the project will aim to engage 350 residents in activities/ relationships with volunteers over 3 years. See: http://www.volunteering.org.uk/policy-and-campaigns/volunteering-in-care-homes.

Robin Simpson.



Keeping the Spirit of 2012 alive by Robin Simpson
November 22, 2013, 4:34 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , ,

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: http://www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/global-content/press-releases/uk-wide/041113_bs_uk_big-big-sing-goes-uk-wide

Robin Simpson.



Age Scotland Awards 2013 by Robin Simpson
October 3, 2013, 10:36 am
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , ,
Age Scotland Awards ceremony in the Garden Lobby of the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh

Age Scotland Awards ceremony in the Garden Lobby of the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh

On Tuesday evening I was in the Garden Lobby at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh to attend the Age Scotland Awards. Age Scotland Chief Executive, Brian Sloan, explained that Tuesday was chosen for the awards ceremony as it was International Older People’s Day as well as being the first day of the 2014 Luminate Festival – Scotland’s Creative Ageing Festival which Age Scotland runs in partnership with Creative Scotland and The Baring Foundation (see: www.luminatescotland.org). The Age Scotland Awards honour people and organisations working for and with older people in Scotland and include awards for campaigning, partnership working and ‘volunteer of the year’. I was delighted to see the final award, for ‘Member Group of the Year’, presented to an arts organisation. Citadel Arts Group specialises in developing plays from the memories of old people. This excellent group performed at the Voluntary Arts Scotland parliamentary reception at the Scottish Parliament last year. The Age Scotland Awards ceremony was moving and inspiring – a great celebration of older people (see: http://www.ageuk.org.uk/scotland/get-involved/age-scotland-awards-2013/).

Robin Simpson.



Up for Arts Lancashire by Robin Simpson
August 20, 2013, 4:20 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , ,

On Tuesday I was in Blackburn to visit Helen Randle at BBC Radio Lancashire. Helen is the Broadcast Manager for our Up for Arts Lancashire project – a partnership between Voluntary Arts England, BBC Radio Lancashire and Lancashire County Council. To date we have run campaigns focussed on creative writing, dance and textile crafts – including dance sessions in 9 libraries across Lancashire and the wonderful People’s Patchwork project. The next focus for Up for Arts is singing – Lancashire in Harmony will include 13 sessions led by conductors who run community choirs across the country and will culminate in the formation of an Up for Arts Choir in time for Christmas. We are also about to launch the Lancashire part of our Volunteering in the Arts project in partnership with the National Operatic and Dramatic Association (NODA). Our aim is to match 25 volunteers with NODA members across Lancashire, encouraging BBC staff, County Council employees and students from local colleges and universities to volunteer to support amateur theatre groups. Lancashire County Council is providing strong support for Up for Arts and helping us develop links with libraries and museums. On Tuesday I also met John Clayton, Managing Editor of BBC Radio Lancashire, who stressed how important Up for Arts is to the radio station. It was great to see how the Up for Arts model, developed over the past few years with BBC Radio Merseyside, is now being used so effectively in a very different context in Lancashire. For more details see: http://www.voluntaryarts.org/take-part/up-for-arts-project/up-for-arts-lancashire/



Arts Participation, Volunteering & the Big Society by Robin Simpson
June 18, 2013, 7:12 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , , ,

On Tuesday I was at the Grand Theatre in Blackpool to speak at the Knowledge Exchange Network’s seminar on Arts Participation, Volunteering & the Big Society. Leeds Metropolitan University was commissioned by Arts Council England to coordinate a Knowledge Exchange Network and a series of seminars exploring key issues in participation and engagement in the arts across the North of England. The work is being coordinated by Leila Jancovich, from the UK Centre for Events Management, and Professor Franco Bianchini from the Cultural Planning and Policy Unit in the School of Cultural Studies. Tuesday’s seminar attracted an audience of around 40 people which included academics and a wide range of arts professionals and volunteers. I spoke about our RSC Open Stages project and the need for better connections between the amateur arts, professionally-led community arts and outreach work from arts institutions. Creative Producer Stella Hall described her experience of working with volunteer performers in several mass participation projects. Janet Berry, the new Programme Director of One Blackpool, gave us a summary of the Government’s Big Society agenda and its practical manifestations. Finally, Clore Fellow Sarah Stannage described her research with volunteer-led museums across Norfolk. These presentations provoked a thoughtful and fascinating discussion, with the diverse range of viewpoints present helping to develop our thinking on arts participation, the voluntary sector, volunteering, local democracy and much more.

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.



Stagetext and community captioning by Robin Simpson
June 7, 2013, 1:28 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , ,

I was in London on Thursday where I met Tabitha Allum, the Chief Executive of Stagetext. We discussed the progress of Stagetext’s work on ‘community captioning’ – encouraging amateur theatre groups to use live captioning for the deaf, deafened and hard of hearing people at their performances. Stagetext now has captioning displays which can be used by amateur groups in London and is seeking funding to enable more training of volunteer captioners within amateur societies. We talked about the potential to include sessions on captioning within the skills-sharing events in our new RSC Open Stages project. We also discussed subtitling the library of Running Your Group LIVE and Running Your Group weekly video webcasts.

Robin Simpson.



Volunteering in the Arts webcast by Robin Simpson
April 26, 2013, 1:14 pm
Filed under: webcast | Tags: , , ,

On Tuesday Daniel and I were in Rhyl in North Wales to interview Tim Day, Director of Volunteering and Policy at the Wales Council for Voluntary Action for Running Your Group LIVE. Our discussion about Volunteering in the Arts looked at a wide range of issues faced by small, local, voluntary arts groups trying to recruit and manage volunteers. When most voluntary arts groups are first set up they tend to be run by a small group of friends and acquaintances: Tim talked about how groups could take the next step and look outside of their circle for volunteers with specialist skills. He discussed the importance (and the difficulty) of turning potential volunteers away if their skills don’t match what is required. Tim also looked at the emerging new forms of volunteering, such as micro-volunteering and remote volunteering. It was a really interesting interview – one of the best Running Your Group LIVE online events we have done. You can watch the recording at http://www.runningyourgroup.org (login and click on ‘Live online events’). Many thanks to everyone who joined in the live online discussion on Monday and contributed questions for Tim.

Robin Simpson.



Normalising Volunteering: improving the public image by Robin Simpson
March 21, 2013, 2:34 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: ,

On Tuesday I was in London in the splendid surroundings of The Museum of The Order of St John to take part in a meeting of the Volunteering Network. The museum building, a few minutes’ walk from Farringdon station, dates from 1504, and houses a fascinating exhibition about The Order of St John and some very impressive works of art (the latest addition is Caravaggio’s ‘The Cardsharps’ – worth a visit to the museum on its own). We were the guests of St John Ambulance for a meeting to look at ‘Normalising Volunteering: improving the public image’. One of the speakers, Helen Timbrell from the National Trust, suggested that to many people volunteering seems a bit dull, a bit worthy. Volunteering is something other people do. Helen had sought some professional marketing advice for the National Trust’s volunteering programme and had been told that the problem is not image or brand – it’s the product that is wrong. What we offer and how we organise it is the problem – not the image. Helen wondered whether having a brand for ‘volunteering’ would be like having a brand for ‘working’ or ‘shopping’. On the other hand, she suggested that the development of the image of ‘recycling’ which has taken us to a point where recycling is now completely normal and it is almost unacceptable not to do it – might provide a model for volunteering. It was an interesting day of discussions about the image of volunteering, the politicisation of volunteering and the real experiences of volunteers and potential volunteers.

Robin Simpson.



Running Your Group LIVE – Nick Livingston at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland by Robin Simpson
March 8, 2013, 4:22 pm
Filed under: webcast | Tags: , , , , ,

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: http://www.voluntaryarts.org/runningyourgrouplive

Robin Simpson.