CAL Visit London

Legacy creation, the viability of a local velodrome and how we can work better to foster home grown artistic talent were all top of the agenda when Culture, Arts and Leisure (CAL) Committee members visited London recently. In this blog Committee Chairperson Michelle McIlveen MLA tells us more about the visit and how it will help to inform the Committee’s work programme in 2014.

The first port of call on this busy three-day visit was the House of Commons where we met with the Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport to discuss its current Inquiry into the Future of the BBC. We were keen to discover how as members of the CAL Committee we could contribute from a regional standpoint, to upcoming talks on the renewal of the BBCs Charter in 2016.

Discussions also centred upon how we in Northern Ireland can continue to develop and boost our reputation and capacity for local television and film production. This issue is particularly important to the Committee given our recent inquiry into maximising the potential of the Creative Industries here.

Northern Ireland is becoming more popular as a hub for film and television production and we firmly believe that now is the time to fully capitalise on local skills and talent. Our report has called on the Department to establish a ‘one–stop-shop’ to provide advice and guidance to those already working in the Creative sector and access to education and skill development for those wishing to enter the industry. My Committee firmly believes that there is so much potential to create new jobs within the industry here and that this in turn will act as a key driver for greater local economic growth.

Next stop was the House of Lords and a meeting with the EU Scrutiny Sub-committee (E) for Justice, Institutions, Consumer Protection and Culture, which is responsible for scrutinising EU Culture policy. My Committee has just completed its investigation into Gaps in Child Protection and Safeguarding across the CAL remit and we took this opportunity to discuss some of our report findings with our Lord’s colleagues.

One of the key report recommendations we talked about was the creation of a specific Culture, Arts and Leisure e-strategy, to include provisions for information on current child protection policy, to be more readily accessible online. We also discussed the need for organisations working with vulnerable groups to have access to a standardised system of training, advice and education. The Committee outlined its recommendation to DCAL to Pilot a chartermark which could become a recognised ‘best practice’ brand. This would provide assurances to parents and guardians that the groups their children attend have fully regulated and approved safeguards in place.

During our discussions both committees agreed that while the safeguarding of children and vulnerable groups must be a priority, undertaking this on a pan-EU basis does present very particular challenges.

Day 2 dawned with a visit to London’s famous Barbican Arts Centre where we were keen to learn more about the Barbican and Guildhall School’s Creative Learning programme. This ground breaking initiative provides basic and professional level arts access to people of all ages in some of London’s most deprived boroughs. Access to the arts is very much at the core of the Committee’s current work programme and will form the basis of our upcoming Inquiry into Inclusion in the Arts of Working Class Communities. Keep a look out on our website to find out more about this inquiry and how you can contribute.

Sir Nicholas Kenyon, Managing Director of Barbican Arts Centre and Catherine McGuinness, Chairperson were both on hand for discussions and it was inspiring to learn more from them about the success of the Creative Learning programme which reached out to over 40,000 local people in 2012.

In the afternoon, we travelled to Chiswick to visit the Arts Educational Schools London (ArtsEd). ArtsEd is a specialist drama and musical theatre college with strong links to the theatre industry. It also provides an independent day school where students can study core subjects alongside their chosen performing arts classes. Northern Ireland does not have a dedicated performing arts school which means that many of our local young people must travel to London or further afield to receive training. We were therefore very keen to discover more about the foundations needed to create and establish a good performing arts framework, as well as the funding implications and possibilities.

Following a tour of the building and facilities, we got the opportunity to meet and speak with some of the students including Ben Crawford from Coleraine, a first year Musical Theatre student. Ben told us a little about his background in amateur theatre and why he felt he had to go to London to further his career prospects. We also spoke to him about why he chose this particular course and more about his experience of ArtsEd:

On our final day in London we visited the Olympic Park in Stratford where we met with Dr Paul Bricknell, Executive Director of Regeneration and Community Partnerships, London Legacy Development Corporation. The organisation has been tasked with promoting and delivering the physical, social, economic and environmental regeneration of the Olympic Park and its surrounding area and with maximising the legacy of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

With Derry-Londonderry’s year as the first UK City of Culture coming to a close and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Derry City Council already pledging £900,000 to continue the cultural transformation of the city, we are keen to ensure that a meaningful legacy is planned, created and nurtured. It is crucial that local communities and Northern Ireland as a whole can continue to benefit from what has proved to be an exciting and inspiring year. Paul told us more about London’s 2012 experience and how the development of the Olympic Park and sporting venues have become catalysts for the social and physical regeneration of the Stratford area:

Our final stop was the velodrome in the Olympic Park. At present, Northern Ireland is the only region within the UK and Ireland that does not have a purpose built indoor velodrome and there has been a lot of discussion about the feasibility of building one here and laying further foundations to nurture local sporting excellence.

The Olympic velodrome is impressive but it was interesting and useful for us to hear more about challenges that the venue presents and the work that is currently being undertaken to establish its long-term sustainability. The venue was designed as a showcase for the London 2012 Olympics and can seat up to 6,000. This kind of high capacity velodrome requires a stream of high-level tracking cycling events and competitions to make it viable. The building has been heavily modified since the Olympcis last year to make it more user friendly for the general public. During the Games a number of design flaws were identified and these have also been remedied. Funding for these changes has come from the remainder of the funds provided for the Olympic venues by the Westminster Government.

A very deliberate decision was taken by the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority not to make the velodrome a multi-use venue. With superior concert venues close by and the majority of other sports catered for in the Olympic Park, it was decided that the velodrome would not diversify. The Authority takes control of the velodrome in January 2014. Outside the building the BMX track has been redeveloped for use by the general public and will host its first competition in March 2014.

You can find out more about our work, completed and upcoming inquiries and how you can contact us by visiting the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee webpage.

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