Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: Thursday, 21 May 2009

Inquiry into the Funding of the Arts

21 May 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr David McNarry (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Dominic Bradley
Mr Francie Brolly
Lord Browne
Mr Kieran McCarthy
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Pat Ramsey
Mr Ken Robinson
Mr Jim Shannon

Witnesses:

Mr Iain Carlisle ) Ulster-Scots Community Network
Mr William Humphrey )

The Deputy Chairperson (Mr McNarry):

I welcome the representatives of the Ulster-Scots Community Network.

Mr McCausland:

I declare an interest in that organisation; consequently, I will not take part in the discussion.

The Deputy Chairperson:

William Humphrey is the director of the Ulster-Scots Community Network, and Iain Carlisle is the organisation’s operations manager. I have asked members to work with me, and I will ask you to do that as well. We are way over our time, without any disrespect to you. The earlier evidence sessions proved to be extremely interesting, as I am sure yours will. I will shut up, because I have used up enough time, and ask William to make his 10-minute presentation. If you could do it in less than 10 minutes, it would be appreciated.

Mr William Humphrey (Ulster-Scots Community Network):

Thank you for the invitation. I will set the area of Ulster-Scots interests in context. Ulster-Scots culture has a long history in Northern Ireland that stretches back 400 years to the time before the Plantation when the first Lowland Scots arrived in Ulster in 1606. They brought with them the Lowland-Scots culture and language, which evolved into what, in common-day parlance, we now call Ulster Scots. Ulster Scots is part of Northern Ireland’s cultural diversity, and must have a place in a shared and better future. Ulster-Scots culture should be set alongside the Irish culture and other cultures in that diversity.

The Ulster-Scots Community Network is a representative body that covers all of nine-county Ulster and an umbrella organisation of some 170 groups. Those include groups that are actively involved in promoting language; drama; dance; piping; drumming; academia; fiddle; bands; schools; libraries; churches; living history; youth groups; and festivals.

The Ulster-Scots community has been poorly served with development workers in recent years. For example, the Ulster-Scots Community Network has five members of staff, three of whom are development workers on the ground. Two deal with geographic areas of Ulster, and one deals with education. Recently, however, we wrote to the Ulster-Scots Agency about appointing administrative officers to assist groups in places such as Bready, Kilkeel and Markethill to promote Ulster Scots. That would be hugely important.

As I said, the network consists of some 170 groups. A colleague from a group in rural Ulster told me that he learned at meetings with officials from the Department for Social Development that the Department’s ratio is for one development worker to every 15 groups. That shows the difficulties that development workers face. There are not enough of them, and, frankly, they are overworked and overstretched.

Our full-time staff of five are charged with progressing community development, capacity building and increasing confidence. That is hugely important in the Ulster-Scots community, because from those being developed, improved and progressed will come better engagement between communities and, ultimately, lead to better community relations across Northern Ireland.

The number of groups that are affiliated to the network demonstrates the high level of interest in the sector and the demand for it at a high and low level. That demand has to be addressed. The Ulster-Scots culture has been marginalised, and not just when it comes to funding. It is much more than that. The Ulster-Scots Community Network is committed to seeing the end of the omission of Ulster-Scots from the formal education system and after-schools and youth development.

Ulster Scots has been ignored by the academic world, and we have been denied access to the media, especially television. Key events in our history, for example, have been ignored by the BBC simply because it did not know about them or did not understand them, and then it is too late when the moment has passed. Education and the media are key areas for any culture or sector, as those who have an interest in Irish are well aware.

The Ulster-Scots Community Network recently established the Ulster-Scots Education Forum. Its members are practising teachers who are preparing a document on Ulster Scots, which will go to the Committee for Education and to this Committee. Recent examples of the network’s work with schools, led by Matthew Warwick, our education officer, include ‘The Boat Factory’, a play that was put together by the Ulster-Scots Agency and a number of schools across Northern Ireland. The play is centred on the mainstreaming of Ulster Scots in schools and with regard to our industrial heritage. The play was written by Dan Gordon, and I know that a number of members of the Committee attended performances. That event was important in trying to mainstream Ulster Scots in education and the community.

The network is working on a project about the production of a Lambeg drum, which will visit schools with a fife, and be taught in schools. I mentioned language, and the language is important in a number of schools, and that is driven largely by individual teachers or principals. A key example of that is Ballinamore Primary School in north Antrim.

When a programme was being put together a few years ago for the Smithsonian Festival, amazingly, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure excluded Ulster Scots. We found that incredible, when one thinks of the impact of the Ulster-Scots community on the creation of the New World with regard to Presidents, and the people who went there and made huge contributions to industry, commerce, the arts, movie making and, of course, the military.

Ulster Scots should be mainstreamed in the arts, drama and culture right across all those areas. However, change can happen only gradually. The difficulty is that if it happens very gradually, equality delayed is equality denied.

The network receives funding from the Arts Council, but we need a more strategic and proactive approach from the Arts Council. In working with it, we are trying to build that relationship to our mutual benefit. We need the Department of Education, and the education sector as a whole, to embrace Ulster-Scots culture as the culture of many of the children in our schools. The development of Ulster-Scots culture is good for Northern Ireland. Such development recognises and respects our history and our cultural diversity. It enriches our lives, and a large section of our community enjoys that culture.

Embracing Ulster Scots would open up the potential for social economy businesses and tourism. The fastest growing sector in the Northern Ireland economy is tourism, and 50% of tourists are cultural tourists, who are very discerning and will travel regardless of the economic situation or their circumstances. In Northern Ireland, the vast diversity of our cultural mix means that we have a huge selling point, and we are hugely attractive to people, regardless of the diaspora that they come from.

As I said, we have five members of staff. The network, which was previously called the Ulster-Scots Heritage Council, was established in 1995. It is based in Belfast, but it has a sub-office in Markethill in County Armagh. Iain Carlisle is our operations manager, and we have a director, two development officers who work out on the ground and an educational officer. Our key objectives are to provide an organisation that acts as an umbrella for those who are engaged in Ulster-Scots activities across Ulster; to promote Ulster-Scots activities and educate our community and other communities; to act as a focal point for the dissemination of information, thereby raising awareness of Ulster Scots and its rich and diverse culture and tradition; and to develop Ulster-Scots culture and heritage throughout the education and tourism sectors in Northern Ireland.

We represent some 170 groups, and we have worked collaboratively with those groups on many projects. Iain Carlisle will explain some of those projects, both past and present.

The Deputy Chairperson:

Thank you, William. Iain, I am not putting pressure on you, but could you be as quick as possible? A number of members have indicated that they have to leave soon. I apologise, but I am anxious that I do not lose the quorum, which would mean that the whole thing is up the shoot.

Mr Iain Carlisle (Ulster-Scots Community Network):

We are involved in a number of ongoing projects. In the closed financial year, some of those projects included working with more than 50 schools and libraries. We have put on taster-session showcases, book weeks and musical workshops. We also had four very successful pilot tours centred on Ulster-Scots history and culture, which ran on the four Sundays in July last year to Carrickfergus Castle and Andrew Jackson’s cottage. We used a professional Blue Badge tourist guide, who provided information on Ulster-Scots culture and history, and there was live music at the venues. It had an encouraging uptake, with an average of 33 tourists for each tour. It was aimed the tour-ship market, and the project was delivered for less than £3,000, which was good value for money.

The Burns 250 Festival was core funded by Belfast City Council’s good relations fund, its festival fund and the Arts Council. It was a four-day festival with over 12 events. We had an average uptake of between 200 and 300 people, with audiences of up to 500 at some events. There was a mix of dance music, poetry, history, cookery and education. Again, it was a cocktail of partnership funding: the Arts Council, Belfast City Council and some from our own core funding budget.

The Arts Council are working in partnership with us on a Lambeg drum project. The instrument, and the resulting booklet, will be included in tours of schools and be of use to our staff and Ulster-Scots Agency staff. Last year, we finished a wide-ranging project called the Sons and Daughters of Donegal with one of our core member groups in south Donegal, which examined the lives of 20 notable Ulster-Scots natives with Donegal roots, including politicians, military leaders and religious leaders. Again, that was done in partnership with the Ulster-Scots Agency.

Some of the agreed projects that we are beginning work on are a schools resource pack for Scottish country dancing in primary schools, which we are working on with the Arts Council; a children’s language text introducing Ulster-Scots words and phrases to Key Stage 1 pupils; and funding seminars for our community groups to facilitate access to a number of core funders such as the Ulster-Scots Agency, the Arts Council and the Community Relations Council. We are also continuing work on projects in a historical and cultural context, such as the Ulster Scots influence in shaping America and the life and legacy of the Reverend WF Marshall.

To raise the capacity of local Ulster-Scots musicians, we also hope to be able to facilitate masterclass format opportunities using traditional musicians from Ulster and Scotland. That is a taster of some of the project work that we are involved in, as well as the community development work.

The Deputy Chairperson:

Thank you, you have been very helpful. Four members have expressed a wish to ask a question. Nelson has declared an interest in this, and so will not say anything.

Mr McCarthy:

Thank you for your presentation. I commend the work that you are doing, and wish you every success in the future. What has your experience been in attracting funding from the private sector for your work?

Mr Carlisle:

To date, we have not actively pursued private or corporate funding. Given that we have a small staff, seeking private and corporate sponsorship is an onerous and time-consuming task.

The organisation started from a relatively low base, and our focus has been exclusively on community development. We have sought core funding from the Arts Council and the Ulster-Scots Agency. We have experienced some very good partnership funding with Belfast City Council, the Community Relations Council and the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland, so we do not exclusively seek funding from DCAL’s budget. Certainly, the private or corporate sector is one that we have not been able to explore as yet, but I would not rule it out.

Mr Humphrey:

We organise the Belfast Ulster-Scots festival. This year, it took the form of the Burns Festival because of the celebrations of the 250th anniversary of Burns’s birth. We have attracted private-sector funding for the festival, but the festival itself is very young, and has not yet been developed to its full potential. Private-sector buy-in tends to be brought in by festivals that have been around for a long time and that have large audiences. We aspire to be able to do that and to have something similar to the West Belfast festival.

Mr McCarthy:

Hopefully, over time, you will.

Mr D Bradley:

What are the biggest difficulties that you encounter because of funding shortfalls?

Mr Humphrey:

I mentioned the huge demand that exists. The bulk of our funding comes from the DCAL family, the Ulster-Scots Agency and the Arts Council. That is why we deliberately focused on partnership funding over the past year.

The documentation that we submitted shows that we have attracted a significant amount of money from councils for the promotion and development of Ulster-Scots work. That is particularly the case with Belfast City Council, because its budget. In some way, that helps to alleviate the problem.

Funding is short because budgets are tight and becoming increasingly more so because of the economic downturn. That means that the development work that we want to do and the projects that we want to bring to fruition have had to be put on hold simply because the funding has not been there. However, we understand that the funding may well not be available because of the economic climate and the demands on Government in the foreseeable future.

Mr D Bradley:

Which projects have been put on hold?

Mr Humphrey:

We are keen to increase the amount of staff that we employ. We believe that regional centres and employment of staff are key issues. We can talk about projects and the putting together of publications and leaflets, but to become a confident and coherent community, the Ulster-Scots community needs to be funded and needs to have workers on the ground.

I mentioned the ratio that was set out by the Department for Social Development of one development officer working with 15 groups. All our members of staff work massively above that ratio, which places extreme demands on their time. One of our colleagues was taken ill and rushed to hospital last night due to that stress, and we are concerned about him.

However, many projects are, effectively, curtailed because staff on the ground cannot cope with the demand. That is a recurrent theme. Exponential growth has taken place, and it is difficult for the demand to meet the supply.

Lord Browne:

Your development officers target and visit various areas and advise groups how to access funding and how to plan events. Do you focus particularly on areas of social need that require regeneration? Do you receive enough funding to target those areas? I saw the play that Dan Gordon wrote; it is an excellent production. Is it easy for you to access primary and secondary schools or do the school authorities hinder you? Do you visit a wide selection of schools?

Mr Carlisle:

Much of our work is carried out in areas of social deprivation. There are few major barriers, because most community groups in those areas are glad to receive project work or advice on how to source funding.

The major difficulty is that Ulster-Scots community groups have started from a low level. The boom in growth and interest has happened only in the past 10 years. With help, those groups are capable of sourcing smaller funding streams. The agency runs a scheme through which it provides £250 for a one-off event. Such events do not tie up much time or manpower. The groups lack the capacity, confidence and ability to tackle the major funding streams. The expertise does not exist on the ground to apply for the £30,000, £40,000 and £50,000 Arts Council projects. As William said, although we work closely with as many groups as possible, we cannot fill in forms in for every group. Three development workers cannot serve nine counties.

This week, I visited schools, and I received nothing but warm welcomes from principals. As William said, we hope that the school principals’ forum will push the educational aspect of Ulster Scots into the mainstream. Principals have offered no major opposition to Ulster Scots.

Mr Humphrey:

Lord Browne asked about areas of social need. Historically, we worked in many areas in Belfast, County Down and County Antrim. To be honest, we have been weak in the west of Ulster and in the north-west. In the near future, we intend to base staff in Donegal, Fermanagh and Londonderry. That is important, because people in the west often feel left out. Moreover, historically, in Donegal and in parts of County Londonderry, the Laganeers made a huge contribution.

In autumn, we held a conference in Templepatrick that we jointly organised with the Ulster-Scots Agency. The education forum was created at that conference, and it is working hard to promote Ulster Scots in schools. Our education officer spends much of his time visiting schools and making presentations. In one of the most successful events at our Burns Festival, 350 kids from the greater Shankill area, which is one of most deprived areas in Northern Ireland, attended a workshop that was delivered by Matthew Warwick, who is a former schoolteacher who taught in that area. He has great empathy with those children. The event was well attended and the kids were enthusiastic about it. Our education officer is committed to school visits after school hours, during the summer holidays and in the three to four months that lead up to the summer.

Lord Browne:

How does the funding that you receive from the Arts Council compare with that received by other organisations?

Mr Carlisle:

We have been fortunate to secure a reasonable amount of funding from the Arts Council for the past three years. Last year, we received approximately £24,000 from the Arts Council: £18,000 for salary support and £6,000 for project support. That funding has gone to some partnership funders.

As an organisation, we are very appreciative of that funding. Culturally speaking, community-based arts activities need more support. I am not saying that professionally-based arts activities need less support, but community-based arts projects in the Ulster-Scots community, whether for dance, drama or bands, are underfunded. There needs to be a wider definition of what community-based arts is so that it includes the activities that our member groups are involved in. Our organisation has had a reasonably good relationship with the Arts Council, but like everyone else, we want more support.

The Deputy Chairperson:

OK. I have left the last two questions to our long-winded members. Pat will go first and will be followed by Jim; I have identified you so that everyone knows who you are.

Mr P Ramsey:

It is unfortunate that we are rushing to finish the session, because this is a hugely important issue. On several occasions in our inquiry, we have used the term “marginalised”, and presumably you are talking about the unionist and Protestant community. I want to tease that out, because there is a sense that public moneys, either from the Arts Council or DCAL, are not being distributed as fairly as people think that they should be. Is there evidence that the unionist groups in particular are alienated or marginalised in that process?

Our inquiry is about the funding of the arts, and we were talking about the culture poor. If additional funding were made available, what contribution would your organisation make to social inclusion and access for people?

The Plantation of Ulster was an important aspect in the history of Ulster, and its 400-year anniversary occurs next year. As a Catholic and a nationalist, that history is important to my culture and my community as well. What have you done with Derry City Council or any groups in that area to prepare for that huge and important event so that it can have the greatest possible impact?

Mr Humphrey:

On the subject of marginalisation, there is a huge perception in the Ulster-Scots community that there has been a disparity in funding. That stacks up over the years, but it is improving, and to be fair, we are getting to the point at which equality will be reached. I give credit to the previous Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, because one of the most positive things that he introduced was the community festivals fund. There was a perception among groups that we work with, and particularly in Belfast, that a lot of that money was going to festivals that were not even nationalist, but republican festivals. A more level playing field has been created, and good work has been done. For example, we got money from Belfast City Council for the Burns Festival. The distribution of money across Northern Ireland is much better now, and that has dealt with the perception that I mentioned.

Ulster-Scots identity is not a Catholic/Protestant issue, nor is it a unionist/nationalist issue. It is multilayered; you can be an Ulster Scot, a Presbyterian, an Orangeman and a unionist; but equally, you can be a Catholic and a nationalist and speak Ulster Scots. John Hume, Cardinal Daly and Gerry Anderson are examples of that.

We work with a lot of Government and semi-Government agencies to try to put an Ulster-Scots imprint on their work. We work with Tourism Ireland, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, the Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau and Ulster-Scots festivals, such as Orangefest.

For the anniversary of the Plantation of Ulster, our organisation, the Ulster-Scots Agency, the Ulster Society and the Ulster Historical Foundation have worked together to make progress on a project about the Plantation. I commend Derry City Council. Mr Ramsey will be aware of the Walled City signature project and the work on the Apprentice Boys’ hall.

Mr P Ramsey:

We are getting close to it now.

Mr Humphrey:

Absolutely. The chairman of the agency, Mark Thompson, is working in conjunction with the chairman of our organisation and other colleagues in the Ulster Society and the Ulster Historical Foundation to progress the work on the Plantation. It is important that it is put in the right context and that it is something which is not seen to be divisive, but inclusive. It is an important part of our history. If we are to build a society of equals and one in which everyone in Northern Ireland can feel an equal part, it is imperative that we understand each other’s traditions. The understanding of each other’s traditions will, ultimately, lead to better community relations and a better place for all our people to live in.

Mr P Ramsey:

Perhaps, at a later stage, we will sit down and talk about the Plantation.

Mr Carlisle:

Recently, we completed a sizeable Peace III application based around the Plantation for some of our member groups in Donegal. I know that it is Derry City Council’s remit, but it is in that area. A piece of work is being conducted on a series of events that celebrate the Donegal Plantation.

Mr P Ramsey:

I am aware of that.

Mr Shannon:

It is nice to see you, and I apologise for the delay. They say that the best wine is served last. William placed emphasis on the importance of education. Why is it so important that input in education is made?

You said that the funding of the Ulster-Scots Agency, in particular, is not filtering down to where it could do most good. What changes would you make to ensure that the funding is most effective in capitalising on the potential of the Ulster-Scots culture, history and language, for instance?

Mr Humphrey:

Ulster Scots has been maligned and mimicked by various people over the past number of years. Things that have been said about Ulster Scots have become urban myths; they are not true. Some people even think that Ulster Scots was created 10 years ago. I did my history A level, and it was not until I started that course that I was taught about Irish history. However, I was taught virtually nothing about Ulster-Scots history.

I went to the launch of the integrated cultural strategy for Belfast, at which Martin Lynch, the playwright spoke. He said that Belfast was built by unionists, and he said that from a nationalist’s perspective. When one digs deeper, one will find that it was built by Ulster Scots. There is a built heritage and an industrial heritage. The shipyards, the arrivals of William Ritchie and Workman Clark, the mill workers and the rope works are part of an Ulster-Scots heritage. Furthermore, we have the politics, commerce and military. Ulster Scots made a great contribution, at home and abroad, to a huge panoply of areas. They made a contribution to the New World, in what is said to be the greatest democracy in the world.

I had the privilege of being at the Smithsonian Festival, and I could see the thirst that existed in America. That is why we have a great story to tell, and we can attract lots of tourists.

Too much emphasis has been placed on negative issues around Ulster Scots. It should be about making people confident about whom they are and making them feel competent so that they can engage. There is no better place to do that than in schools, where there is a thirst and a need for it. We do not need to fear each other. We are what we are, and we should be proud of that. Our traditions are diverse, but that is a strength for Northern Ireland; not a negative. If people are more competent and confident, they engage more.

I keep going back to this, but it is when being involved in community work, as we are, that we see the importance of working with the communities and empowering them.

Teachers are keen to embrace Ulster Scots, but they need the product. They have huge demands on their time. It is about a huge piece of work being done and providing them with the resources and tools to equip them to teach Ulster Scots in schools. That is why it is imperative that the Department of Education embraces Ulster Scots and delivers for it.

The Deputy Chairperson:

Thank you for attending the Committee. Hansard staff are reporting this Committee session, as they did all sessions. I am sure that you will find reports of all sessions interesting, and you can get a copy of them.

Although we have been pressing you, we did not give you any less time than we gave to anyone else. If you want to add anything, you can write to the Committee Clerk.

Mr Humphrey:

If any Committee members are keen to talk to us or come to our office, we can give them a more detailed presentation of the work that we are continuing to do.

The Deputy Chairperson:

That would be valuable, and thank you for the offer.

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