Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence from Voluntary Arts

1. Summary

(a)Voluntary Arts believes that active participation in creative activities is a major contributing factor to social interaction and inclusive communities.

(b)Voluntary Arts recommends that the policies on creating “sustainable communities” recognise that the planning system needs to deliver the right cultural facilities to meet local needs.

(c)Voluntary Arts recommends that the policies which “promote the vitality and viability of town centres” make reference to allocation of suitable sites to meet the scale and type of cultural developments in town centres. At present it recognises the need for retail, leisure, commercial, community services and residential development. But not culture.

(d)Voluntary Arts would be delighted to work closely with the Department of Communities and Local Government to help develop policies for the provision of suitable facilities for cultural participation.

2. About Voluntary Arts

Voluntary Arts is the UK and Republic of Ireland development agency for participation in the arts and crafts. We recognise that creative participation is a key part of our culture and, as such, is absolutely vital to our health, social and economic development.

Our vision is for an empowered, participative, fulfilled and healthy civil society, and we work to achieve this by promoting practical participation in the arts and crafts.

We work closely with our extensive network of over 300 national and regional umbrella bodies, and through them, tens of thousands of grassroots voluntary arts and crafts groups and individuals.

3. Voluntary Arts’ Response

Over half the UK adult population is involved in the voluntary arts and crafts – those arts and crafts that people undertake for self-improvement, social networking and leisure, but not primarily for payment. They are wide-ranging and include folk, dance, drama, literature, media, music, visual arts, crafts and applied arts, and festivals.

The voluntary arts are vital to our health, culture, social and economic development. What's more, investing and encouraging participation in the voluntary arts offers a cost-effective way of creating social cohesion and contributing to a healthy nation.

Voluntary Arts is surprised and concerned that the proposed National Planning Policy Framework for England does not include substantial reference to culture in general and the voluntary arts in particular. Although heritage, sport and leisure are included in the draft document, culture is notable only by its absence – a gross misrepresentation of the interests and priorities of the people of England.

Formally organised voluntary and amateur arts groups are a crucially important part of civil society. There are 49,140 groups across England, with a total of 5.9 million members. An additional 3.5 million people volunteer as extras or helpers – a total of 9.4 million people taking part.

Voluntary Arts believes that it is important to act now to ensure that there are policies to protect and plan for the cultural places and spaces that we need today and in the future. The National Planning Policy Framework needs to contain explicit references to culture.

8 September 2011

Prepared 20th December 2011