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Celebrating Voluntary Arts &

Their Value For The Local Soul & Local Economy

Karen Baldry - Banbury Business & Arts

Towns & cities across the UK are so fortunate to have a wealth of Voluntary Arts organisations from theatre, musical theatre, and choirs to identify just a few.

Why do such voluntary organisations exist?  Firstly, they are born out of passion that brings uniquely different people together, to create something of soulful worth, which can be shared as an experience for public good.  Secondly, if we examine voluntary theatre at community level for example, it is possible to see the numerous opportunities that are created.  This pastime brings together writers, performers, technicians, sound and light engineers, crafters, marketeers and ushers.  These individuals are not necessarily amateurs, but people who offer a skill set to assist towards a collective project for the community. 


Over 10 million people in the UK regularly actively participate in non-professional artistic creation across a wide range of art forms and cultural activities (DCMS 2008).  Further, the Department of Digital Culture Media & Sport (2008) established that there are over 60,000 participant-driven, self-governed amateur arts groups throughout the UK.  This data still stands today in the absence of new detailed research.

The Arts, and Voluntary Arts sectors are now recognised as contributing significantly to the overall well-being of individuals, not only for the individuals themselves, but also local communities where projects take place.  In 2014, the UK government set up the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Arts, Health & Wellbeing.  A two-year research programme from 2015 - 2017 followed, gathering evidence from professional artists, arts administrators, healthcare professionals, patients, local government, ministers and policy makers.  The resulting report ‘Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing’ July 2017, outlined three major findings:

  1. The Arts can help keep us well, aid our recovery and support longer lives, lived better

  2. The Arts can help meet major challenges facing health and social care, ageing, long-term health conditions and mental health

  3. The Arts can help save money in the health service and social care


Importantly, the report recommended the establishment of a strategy to enhance health and well-being outcomes through the Arts.

It is interesting to note that in the 1980s the Arts were gently squeezed from the school curriculum.  It has always been arguable as to whether the Arts has an equal place in our early learning experience against other significant curricular subjects.  We have now come full circle, with something so fundamental now being reintroduced under a new guise to benefit health outcomes.

Whether an enjoyable pastime or talent in the making, access to the Arts, voluntary or otherwise, can act as a springboard to careers in the Creative Industries, which ultimately fuels the UK economy.  Pre COVID-19, the creative industries contributed £111.7 billion to the UK national economy.

So how do we ascertain the economic value of the Voluntary Arts sector at community level, when individuals are providing a creative service for free?  This sector does not have access to all the benefits afforded to the professional Arts sector. Nevertheless, local venues are hired, often with key professionals as part of the contract, public liability insurance secured, staging and production purchases made, technical equipment hired, publicity materials produced, websites developed, not forgetting the provision of merchandise and hospitality.  All require monetary expenditure. 

The most reliable and quoted research study to date, ‘Our Creative Talent’ (2008), noted that the Amateur and Voluntary Arts sector generates an estimated income of £543m per annum, and in turn incurs an estimated expenditure of £406m, contributed towards the UK economy each year.  While source data must be scrutinized for factual accuracy, there is measurable value in how much the Voluntary Arts sector supports the national economy, and its assistance in sustaining the professional Arts sector however modest.  Banbury’s Voluntary Arts sector certainly contributes to the local, national and international picture. It plays a significant role, offering intrinsic and extrinsic value to the community, whether it is the monetary contribution to the local economy, the health and wellbeing of participants and audiences, or even a sense of belonging and cohesion.


The Voluntary Arts sector in the UK is worth celebrating.  It is passion, philanthropy, well-being and economic value all rolled into one.

Karen Baldry

Banbury Business & Arts


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