Lasting Legacy to the Olympics Speech, House of Lords, 24th January 2013
Baroness Floella Benjamin: My Lords I congratulate the Noble Lord for securing this important debate and for his comprehensive opening speech.
My Lords, I believe any consideration of Olympic legacy that does not give a high priority to children will be seriously flawed. Because ‘Childhood lasts a lifetime’ and what we deliver for them today at the early stages will influence their lives forever.
My Lords, in the government’s legacy plan, one of its five aims is ‘to inspire a generation of young people to take part in local volunteering, cultural and physical activity’.
The role of the arts and creative industries in delivering a lasting Olympic legacy, should be to inspire a generation of children as well as young people, to take part in the arts.
Every child should be able to take part in the same artistic activities that we enjoy as adults. But to truly share in that same experience and reap the benefits, they need their own books, plays, films and music, created for them by artists who know how to fire up their imaginations. This is a vital part of their growing up and a preparation for their adult lives.
So the arts and creative industries must do more for children than they do for adults. But children should not be expected just to sit and watch.
The creative industries have to put on plays for them, but they also have to let them have opportunities to put on their own plays too. Not just publish books for children but also encourage them to write their stories and poems, through competitions and campaigns such as the ones set up by the BookTrust.
The creative arts have to bring children into museums and art galleries and let them paint and draw, have hands-on participation. Bring them into the concert hall and let them make music, dance for them and with them.
Children need twice as much to stimulate their fresh impressionable minds to get that wonderful feeling of experiencing things for the first time. But more often than not, that is not the case.
My Lords, in a debate last year, I spoke about the Freedom of Information request made by the charity, Action for Children’s Arts, of which I am a patron, so I declare an interest.
It showed that most of the UK’s major arts organisations spend far less on producing work aimed specifically at children, than they do on work for adults, in most cases only around 1% of their total budget.
My Lords, it is with a heavy heart that I say, today of the 337 million pounds in grants that Arts Council- England will give next year to the 688 organisations that it supports, just over 2% will go to organisations producing work specifically for children. 51 organisations will receive grants ranging from 1 million to 25 million pounds. But only one of these, the fantastic Unicorn Theatre, in London, produces work exclusively for children.
What kind of legacy is this type of policy going to produce.
Children need more, yet we give them less. They depend more than any other population group, on services in their local community. Services provided by charities as well as local authorities. That includes after-school clubs, nurseries, parks which offer sporting activities, like those provided by the Mappin Group’s, Parks & Community Project. Music Schools, like the World Heartbeat Music Academy, and of course libraries too, many of whom are being threatened by cuts.
‘Please sir I want some more!’ Oliver’s plea was turned down, and that’s when the real problems started.
In the current economic climate, asking for more is particularly difficult. Where is it to come from?
My Lords, Children’s arts organisations are almost all under-funded and under-staffed. They lack the time and the expertise to go in search of funds from the private sector. They are wholly dependent on public funding and, like Oliver, apt to find themselves at the mercy of the Beadle.
The Action for Children’s Arts conference last year, called for arts organisations and the arts funding system to ‘put children first’.
I am making that plea once again. For if we really want to secure a lasting legacy from the Olympics, we have no choice but to put children first.
My Lords, Action for Children’s Arts has two proposals to make.
Firstly to create an ‘Olympic legacy working group’, made up of leaders from the arts and creative industries, with a brief to identify ways of integrating work for children into the output of their organisations.
Secondly that the statutory arts funding bodies be asked to evaluate the extent to which their existing policies for children, encourage artists and arts organisations to create original works for this age group.
So I ask my Noble Friend will the Government support these proposals? And if so what practical steps will they take to facilitate them?
My Lords, all Children need beauty around them, but those from disadvantaged backgrounds, whose lives revolve around gang and drug culture and don’t have any exposure to creativity, need it more than ever.
They need to be able to channel their energy creativity artistically and positively.
To feel they belong and have a part to play in their community and their society. Giving them the opportunity to create a legacy, they can pass on to their own children.
Surely this is what we all want for all children. So let’s make sure it happens and not miss this opportunity which the successful London Olympics has given our great country.
A nation is judged by the way they provide for its children…. the future!
We must not let them down…. So let’s give children more!