Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the National Operatic and Dramatic Association

  I am[3] writing with reference to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee inquiry into the nature and adequacy of public support for theatre in Britain. I would like to request that the nature and lack of public support for voluntary or amateur theatre in Britain be included within the enquiry.

  The National Operatic and Dramatic Association (NODA) is the major infrastructure body for amateur and community theatre in the UK. Founded in 1899, it has a membership of over 2,400 amateur theatre companies and 3,000 individuals throughout the United Kingdom, staging musicals, operas, plays, concerts and pantomimes in a wide variety of performing venues, ranging from the country's leading professional theatres to village halls. Amateur theatre is often a springboard for the development of new performing talent, and a survey of our members carried out in 2002 revealed the value of value of amateur theatre to the UK economy and the sheer number of people involved in this community activity:

    —  The total annual turnover of NODA-affiliated amateur theatre groups is £34 million.

    —  The total number of performances given per year is 25,760.

    —  The total number of people attending performances per year is 7,315,840.

    —  The total number of people actively involved is 437,800. 29% of these are under 21.

  Public support in the UK for amateur theatre is patchy. There is no dedicated and publicly funded infrastructure body in England, with amateur theatre being represented by a number of umbrella bodies including NODA, the Little Theatre Guild of Great Britain (LTG), the National Drama Festivals Association (NDFA) and the All England Drama Festival (AETF). All of these bodies save AETF have a UK-wide remit, and all are self-financing. Arts Council England does not provide any funding towards infrastructure organisations for amateur and community theatre, other than youth theatre through its support for the National Association of Youth Theatre.

  NODA has 2,090 affiliated societies in England. The Little Theatre Guild (LTG), which represents amateur companies which control their own premises, has 95 members located in England. In addition the All England Theatre Festival and National Drama Festival Association cater for amateur theatre groups which participate in local drama festivals, and are concerned with around 100 festivals of one-act and full length plays, involving some 500 or more theatre companies. However it is clear that there are thousands of community drama groups in England that currently do not benefit from a dedicated infrastructure body1. It is believed that establishing such a body would be of immense benefit to the many hundreds of thousands of people, particularly in rural communities, who participate in this very valuable form of community activity, in particular through the development of training and festivals at regional level, funding schemes and enhancement of opportunities for new writing and cultural diversity.

  The existing organisations representing amateur theatre in England have held a series of meetings (funded by the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust) under the chairmanship of Charles Hart, Drama Officer of Arts Council England, and have agreed in principle that there is a need for a dedicated association for amateur theatre groups in England. They have therefore agreed that a feasibility study should be commissioned to explore how such an association should be constituted and financed and what its exact role should be. Funding has been secured from the Carnegie UK Trust and the DTI, a consultant appointed, and the report will be published in Spring 2005.

  The situation is very different in Scotland and Wales, which have their own long-standing representative bodies. These serve as models of what such an organisation in England could achieve. The Scottish Community Drama Association (SCDA) was founded in 1926 and works to promote all aspects of community drama in Scotland. SCDA received funding of £50,000 from the Scottish Arts Council in 2004-05. The Drama Association of Wales/ Cymdeithas Ddrama Cymru (DAW) was founded in 1934 and has been core funded by the Arts Council of Wales since 1974. The function of the Drama Association of Wales is to increase opportunities for people in the community to be creatively involved in drama. DAW received funding of £123,400 in 2003-04 from the Arts Council of Wales.

  There are three recent publications of relevance to the issue of the lack of public support for voluntary theatre in England.

  1.   Volunteering: A Code of Good Practice, part of the Compact on relations between Government and the Voluntary and Community Sector in England.

  This code applies to all government departments and by extension NDPBs, and specifically states that "public funding should be invested in creating and maintaining a modern, dynamic volunteering infrastructure" and that the Government undertakes to "aim to adopt policies which ensure that volunteering infrastructure bodies can rely on realistic sustainable long-term funding".

  2.  The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) recently published its Compact Advocacy Programme Departmental Review—Evaluating the effectiveness of the Compact within the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. This provides a fairly robust analysis of the failure of the DCMS, and ACE in particular, to implement the Compact fully. The Review states categorically that "the Compact and its five Codes of Good Practice apply equally to NDPBs as to central government departments such as DCMS" and that this year's Compact Action Plan "includes working with NDPBs to ensure that they too are Compact compliant in all their dealings with the VCS".

  NODA has itself discovered complete ignorance of the Compact at its regional ACE office. There is a clear divide between ACE's national office, which voices a desire to assist voluntary arts, and the regional arts councils, which have responsibility for Grants for the Arts and which do not consider themselves empowered to take on new revenue clients.

  3.   Engaging With The Voluntary And Community Sector: The DCMS Strategy for Implementation of HM Treasury's Cross Cutting Review "The Role of the Voluntary and Community Sector in Service Delivery".

  This Strategy "seeks to identify ways in which [the DCMS] can work more closely with the sector, to mutual benefit, using its distinctive features and expertise to help achieve the Department's objectives, and in return, using the Department's resources to support and help build capacity in the voluntary sector".

  NODA is delighted that the DCMS wishes to work more closely with the voluntary sector. Unfortunately Arts Council England does not appear to take quite such an enlightened attitude. The Strategy notes that "in 2003-04 ACE is providing approximately £770,000 of revenue funding across a number of organisations that support voluntary and community groups". This represents just 0.3% of the total revenue funding provided to arts organisations by ACE that year. In particular, while there is at least some revenue funding going to the Voluntary Arts Network and to amateur music and dance, there is, as already pointed out, no revenue funding for amateur theatre infrastructure bodies.

  The Strategy states that the DCMS will ensure that all NDPBs are aware of the terms of the Compact and its Codes of Good Practice. We have written to Arts Council England to enquire what steps it is taking to implement the Compact. They have replied that they are working to ensure that they comply with its principles and recognise the need to raise awareness of the Compact among its staff.

  We have also noted that the DCMS is committed to assisting in increasing VCS activity by 5% in 2006. We have respectfully pointed out that since, as is acknowledged in the Strategy, there has been no proper analysis of the number of people participating in the voluntary arts, it is odd to seek an increase in numbers participating without actually mapping the numbers involved in the first place. Our own research suggests that close on 450,000 people are actively involved in amateur theatre, and the Voluntary Arts Network can provide some indicative figures for other voluntary arts activity, but there is a real need for a proper comprehensive mapping exercise. We are pleased that the Strategy states that DCMS will "encourage" Arts Council England to carry out better mapping of the voluntary sector, but are yet to establish what steps ACE will take to achieve this.

  Finally, I should expand on the earlier reference to the comparison between the lack of funding for amateur theatre and the public support given to amateur music. Making Music (the National Federation of Music Societies) received £138,436 of revenue funding from Arts Council England in 2003-04 along with £36,627 from Arts Council North East and £51,500 from Arts Council Yorkshire. Through public funding it has been able to develop infrastructure support for amateur music groups, initiatives to enhance new writing and participation by young people, funding schemes and a network of regional training and development officers, which the amateur theatre sector in England can only look on with envy.

  We hope very much the Committee will wish to include public support for amateur theatre within the remit of its enquiry, and look forward to hearing from you.

6 January 2005

3   A sample investigation of activities in five English cities and districts revealed that only 19% of amateur drama groups active there were affiliated to a national "umbrella" organisation. Hutchinson, R and Feist, A (1991): Amateur Arts in the UK, London: Policy Studies Institute. Back

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