Big Conversation 2017

“It makes me happy – I feel more alive.”

National survey highlights the positive impact of being creative.

  • Voluntary Arts’ survey attracted over 1000 responses from people across the UK and Ireland
  • Overwhelming optimism from those actively participating in creative activity
  • Strong emphasis on mental health, personal achievement and social cohesion as reasons for taking part in creative activities
  • Funding, recognition, diversity, marketing and recruiting new members identified as the biggest challenges

UK Government research suggests that there are over 60,000 voluntary-led creative arts groups active in the UK, involving over 10 million participants each week – singers, actors, quilters, knitters, painters, dancers and much more. This enormous sector has a huge impact on our society but its informal structure means this importance is often overlooked.

Voluntary Arts, as the voice of the voluntary and amateur arts, has sought to bring more in-depth analysis of the circumstances in which these groups operate to public attention.

Among those currently taking part in voluntary and amateur arts groups, there is overwhelming positivity about the future of their groups and activities, despite some strong challenges. The average score for how positively the respondents viewed their future prospects was 4.5 out of a possible 5. Only 5% of those surveyed expressed a pessimistic view for the future, showing a remarkable trend of positivity and determination among those who are regularly creative.

This positive outlook is despite numerous issues emerging as being strong concerns for those involved. The most prominent challenge is ‘funding’, with 55% saying this presented a significant challenge. There seems to be a difficulty for voluntary and community arts groups in finding suitable funding sources for which they are eligible and which also have application processes that are proportionate to their relatively limited capacity. While ‘venues and space’ ranked further down as a concern, it is evident from comments that the need for funding is often linked to venue hire and this has been impacted upon by local authority cuts forcing increased hire fees and, sometimes, venues closing altogether.

Other issues that feature prominently are ‘gaining recognition and support’ – with many groups reporting that they find their amateur creative practice is not taken seriously by others – and also difficulties with attracting new members, particularly younger participants and those from more diverse backgrounds. ‘Improving diversity of participants’ ranked as the third most important issue, with 19% describing this as ‘very significant’. This difficulty to attract new and diverse members can be linked to two other significant issues relating to marketing and digital skills, with 43% (marketing) and 34% (digital) rating these as either ‘quite significant’ or ‘very significant’ challenges.

Voluntary Arts aims to address the issues facing creative groups through its advocacy work and through guidance and resources. Many areas of concern are dealt with in Voluntary Arts briefings and toolkits, available for anyone to download for free. The survey results revealed that those who have used these resources rated them highly - an average score of 4.09 out of 5. In total, 76% of respondents gave a positive rating to the guidance provided by Voluntary Arts.

Participants identify a wide range of benefits gained from participating in creative activities but strong themes emerged from the responses, including positive effects on mental health, a sense of personal achievement and opportunities to engage socially with people from different backgrounds who share common interests. The same themes are also evident when those who say they are not actively participating at the moment are asked what motivates them to consider joining a group or activity.

When asked why they take part, survey respondents said:

  • “I love being able to meet people from all walks of life through participating, people different from me but connected by our creative practice.”
  • “It makes me happy - I feel more alive, I have something to look forward during the week. It helps my confidence, as I do something I'm good at and that I enjoy doing.”
  • “Fun, meeting new people, making new friends, being creative, laughing, exchanging ideas, supporting each other, being part of something, being part of a community, improved self-esteem, feeling good after taking part”
  • “I have a stress problem and this activity helps me relax. I also feel that it's the part of my week that's truly meaningful and I take a lot of joy in what we do.”
  • “It helps me manage my mental illness (clinical depression and anxiety) being able to do something creative gives me the chance to concentrate on something that brings me pleasure (mostly!) and gets me out of the house and into the company of like-minded people. The creative groups I go to are an absolute lifeline for me. Without them I would be socially and physically isolated.”
  • “Enjoyment at seeing people realising they can do something they thought they couldn't, and seeing a diverse group work together as one and gain confidence as times goes on. Personal benefits are that I'm a bit more confident in my own abilities.”

Robin Simpson, Chief Executive of Voluntary Arts, said:

From my own personal experience I know the ‘Wednesday night effect’: however bad a week I am having, however depressing the news is, however dangerous the world seems to be getting, for two hours on a Wednesday evening my amateur music group takes all my attention, brings me together with my friends, reminds me who I am and challenges me in a fun and rewarding way. The results of The Big Conversation show that I am not alone. Taking part in everyday creative cultural activity produces an amazing positivity. I hope this survey helps to raise the profile of voluntary and amateur arts groups across the UK and Ireland and persuades more people to get creative.

For more in-depth analysis of the results of this national survey, stay up to date with Voluntary Arts on Twitter, Facebook and our enews.