CONCERTA Presentation at Hi-Vis: NRTF Conference 2019

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The first of our ‘Big Conversations’ at this years NRTF Conference ‘Hi-Vis: Value, Impact and Sucess of Rural Touring’ focussed on our CONCERTA Social Impact Study.

The CONCERTA Listen Up and Shout Out session gave delegates a chance to hear an overview of the studies undertaken by Coventry University, the research methods used, and the results produced.

The presentation was given by Nick Henry, one of the lead researchers on the project and filmed by RB Films.

You can watch the whole thing above (with subtitles provided by Youtube) or flick through the slides below to get a detailed overview of the project.

NRTF CONCERTA Presentation

CONCERTA – Contributing to Community Enhancement through Rural Touring Arts

Tuesday, June 25, 2019
Executive Summary

The CONCERTA Project

In 2016, Arts Council England (ACE) launched the second round of calls for proposals to the Research Grants Programme. The call sought proposals aimed at collaborative research work to develop the evidence base around the impact of arts and culture. The role of the Research Grants Programme is to generate evidence:

■     to better understand the impact of arts and culture;

■     to make the best case for arts and culture in the context of reduced public spending; and

■     to promote greater collaboration and co-operation between the arts and cultural sector and research partners.

CONCERTA has been a national study of the benefits, for local community development, of a relatively under-researched form of creative activity: rural touring arts.

Devised by the National Rural Touring Forum (NRTF) (Lead Applicant), in collaboration with the Centre for Business in Society (CBiS) at Coventry University (Research Partner), the CONCERTA project (Contributing to Community Enhancement through Rural Touring Arts) was provided with funding of circa £150,000 by ACE under the terms of the Research Grants Programme for the period from December 2016 until March 2019. NRTF was the Lead Partner and accountable body, with oversight provided by a Steering Group, chaired by NRTF and including ACE and the NRTF Board.
CONCERTA has been based on a mixed methods research design, combining the development of a national, geo-referenced data-driven evidence base of professional rural touring activity with the production of a series of more qualitative case studies of the impact of touring rural arts.
The choice of case studies included a return to some of those areas studied by Matarasso (2004) Only Connect in consideration of the potential of the cumulative impact of rural touring through time.

The project was designed to support NRTF and its Scheme members in their professional activities.

The project encompassed five methodological strands:

■     Rural Touring Schemes organisational characteristics, activities and impacts: An on-line questionnaire was sent to all 24 English Rural Touring Schemes funded in 2016.

■     Mapping the patterns and characteristics of English rural touring arts activity: a comprehensive, geo-referenced evidence base of five years of English Rural Touring Scheme activity, for all 24 English Rural Touring Schemes funded in 2016. This comprises over 700 digital maps. Activity data collected through the scheme survey has been combined geographically (using ESRI ArcGIS) with socioeconomic data from sources such as Census (, Neighbourhood statistics (www.neighbourhood. and Employment (

■     Case Studies of the impacts of rural touring activities:–    Five Core Caseswere selected reflecting levels of ‘rurality’ in Rural Touring Schemes;-  Two ‘Cumulative’ Cases and an interview with François Matarasso – representing a return to local rural touring areas previously studied by Matarasso (2004); and- Two ‘Non-Scheme’ Rural (touring) Arts Investigations to investigate the possible benefits and impacts of other, often amateur, arts-based activities, rather than professional Touring Schemes. In the spirit of co-design and partnership, these cases were undertaken by NRTF with oversight by Coventry University.

■     Supporting professional touring development and wider dissemination: a range of knowledge transfer and technical expertise activities to support NRTF, their membership Schemes and broader understanding of the characteristics and benefits of professional rural touring.

Rural Touring Schemes: Delivering arts and culture to rural communities

Below is an example of one of the national maps produced from Scheme data, representing number of different art-form types by location in 2012-2017, by Scheme, mapped against national Rural Urban Classification 10. 

In summary, the Rural Touring Schemes represent a set of small, relatively stable, long-established organisations.

Overall, annual turnovers are low, and very low in some instances, and this is reflected in employment structures. These range from between one and ten employees, often supported by a freelancer or several. The Schemes exhibit substantial variety in terms of company structure. Some are private companies, some are effectively franchises or projects run by other companies, and some are community interest companies. Many of the more established companies are charities.

Between them the Schemes deliver annually between 2,000 to 2,500 events, incorporating a wide portfolio of art-form performances and a small number of more interactive activities (including workshops, training, etc.). These are distributed across between 800 to 1,000 venues although there is some evidence that venue numbers may be dropping. Over the last five years, the Schemes have jointly delivered 9,500 events to audiences numbering just over 700,000. Annual average audiences per event sit at a highly consistent 70 to 80 person annual average.

ACE funding is core to the sector, with 21 of the 24 Schemes attaining National Portfolio Organisation status, and seven in which ACE funding accounts for over fifty percent of funding. Ticket sales represent around a third of Scheme incomes, with notable variation across Schemes. Local Authorities remain the other main funder, although at an increasingly low scale.Change dynamics are evident across the sector but one relationship is clear: simply put, the greater the turnover, the more staff are employed, the more freelancers used and the more events are programmed.

The impacts of rural touring
Table ES1 (overleaf) summarises the range of impacts of rural touring identified by the research. Bringing arts activity – quality, diverse, and challenging arts activity – to a substantial range of accessible and remote rural areas, rural touring has been shown to be integral to catalysing and supporting community life in English rural areas, especially as other villages ‘anchors’ have diminished.
The act of bringing touring arts to rural areas (engagement and participation) generates a range of individual and community benefits, including personal development and well-being, community assets and capacity and, ultimately, stronger rural communities.
Table ES1: The Impacts of Rural Touring Arts

Promotes participation in the arts and creative activity
EngagementParticipationInspiration·            Provides and catalyses high-quality, accessible, affordable, arts activity in people’s own local rural communities·            Encourages engagement with the arts and creative activity, including a broader appreciation of the arts and its diversity·            Inspires audiences to attend other, and a wider variety of, arts and culture events·            Inspires people to take up a personal interest in the arts and creative activity – and raises the aspirations of those who already participate·            Potential individual health and well-being outcomes given generation of emotion, thought, challenge, captivation, empowerment, etc. through engagement and participation
Builds art and community assetsActivitiesBuildings·            Develops new programmes and strands of village activity, including the identification, rethinking and re-using of existing assets·            Provides an income stream for local activities, facilities and employment·            Supports  the provision of new community centres and facilities, including their development as arts venues·            Acts as a ‘magnet’ to other arts activities to encourage the development of cultural hubs, venues and events·            Contribute to, and potentially form, ‘community anchors’ – and their capacity to deliver broader services, and social, economic and rural development
Generates individual and community capacity  VolunteeringSkillsNetworksActivism·            Brings local people together to plan and support activity in arts and culture – volunteering ·            Develops individual confidence and skills·            Generates volunteering, interest groups and social networks·            Generates voluntary activity and self-organisation beyond the arts – community activism
Builds stronger senses of communityInclusionIdentityCohesionSafety
·            Brings people together:-         Reduces social isolation and builds (new) social relationships-         Provides non-threatening environments (e.g. for challenging experiences/ people with protected characteristics)-         Promotes diversity and challenges stereotypes-         Develops community cohesion·            Develops a sense of pride in, and belonging to, community·            Reduces fear and contributes to community safety

Issues, challenges and good practice

In providing an updated national overview of the organisational characteristics, activities, and impacts of the ACE-funded English Rural Touring Schemes, a number of issues were raised by interviewees (Table ES2). These centred around aspects such as: funding and sustaining the rural touring arts model; strategy and rationale (and achievement of them); and, operational effectiveness.TableES2: Issues for Rural Touring Arts

Funding Quality PerformancesThe reducing subsidy model reaching a point where it is becoming unviable to programmeFinancial models and pressures leading to lack of risk and ‘safe programming’ – can communities be rewarded for riskier programming?What is quality anyway?
Limits of the modelTouring model focusses companies on touring performances only – missed opportunities for innovative workshops/ community arts/ targeted commissions etc.Contradictions of promoting high-quality professional events through unpaid volunteers – and the growing challenges of ‘professionalisation’Skills concentrated in the hands of a small number of peopleSpread too thinly?
DiversityAchieving cultural diversity throughout the rural touring modelLack of work around protected characteristics
SuccessionNarrow and shrinking group of ageing promoters – and volunteersLimited work to develop skill and succession in communities
Who benefits and who comes to events?Are touring shows catering for an audience who would access the arts anyway?Could the spending have more impact if it was better targeted?What do we know about the local people who do not attend?

The research was able also to point to examples of responses to such challenges across the Schemes. Table ES3 overleaf provides some examples of Good Practice identified during the research programme.
Table ES3: Good Practice Examples in Rural Touring Arts[1]

NRTFProgrammes to promote quality and innovation at a local level e.g. Rural Touring Dance Initiative (in partnership with The Place, Take Art and China Plate)
Schemes Targeted development schemes for promoters (Young Promoters Scheme Black Country Touring  and  Creative Arts East)Collaboration and joint projects between schemes for strategic outcomes (Shropshire and Black Country “My Big Fat Cow Pat Wedding”)Using programming to challenge racism and promote diversity (Spot on Lancashire, “The Chef Show”)Targeted support for Promoters (Village Ventures/ Live and Local  – patch based link workers)Tailored support schemes for artists (Developing Artists For Rural Touring (DART) Scheme, Live and Local)Transparent, tiered risk-based subsidy rating for different performances (Spot on Lancashire)Pitching Meetings bringing local promoters together before each season to consider the whole menu of shows as a group, talk through what would work for them and organise dates together (Carn to Cove)
Volunteer support and training (Wem Town Hall)Community capacity building (Borwick and Priest Hutton)Driving wider programming through the use of rural touring programme to test out/ pilot approaches/art-form/ artists (Bulkington Community and Conference Centre)


Recommendation 1: Given learning from this research, further enhance the NRTF Annual Survey instrument. Consider how this supports regular sector-level development of impact reporting.
Recommendation 2:
NRTF to consider further the role of Rural Touring Schemes within current policy horizons over and above engagement and participation in the arts, such as in ‘supporting anchors of local community/rural development’, ‘contribution to civil society capacity’, ‘enhancing social cohesion’ and, ‘delivery of health and well-being’.
Recommendation 3:
Continued recognition and development of NRTF sector support to Schemes – communication and feedback; training, dissemination of reports, guides and resource packs (‘help fuel’); and, strategic programmes to promote excellence and innovation at a local level.
Recommendation 4:
For the sector and its stakeholders to consider strategic responses to key challenges raised by this Report: Succession and Sustainability; Sustainability: funding and finance; and Diversity and Cohesion.
Recommendation 5:
To consider research on Rural Touring Arts and Health and Well-Being as a substantial emerging research priority.

[1] These examples are drawn solely from the Report Case Studies. Good practice examples exist across the Rural Touring Schemes


RTDI Company Profile: Uchenna Dance

In the second of our Rural Touring Dance Initiative Company profiles, we find a little bit more out about how Uchenna Dance are preparing for their Autumn rural tour of ‘The Head Wrap Diaries’ from their Creative Director Vicki Igbowke.

What are you most looking forward to?

Being on tour! This is our first tour of this scale and to rural audiences, we are really excited to be part of the scheme and sharing this show with those we would not normally engage with.

What have you packed in readiness for rural locations?

Food is VERY important to the company (LOL) so we have all packed those essential snacks that will keep us going while on the road. We also have some equipment, set and a mobile installation that we hope to be able to display at most venues.

How do you think it will be different from touring to towns?

The difference is that rural touring as a real intimate feel to it, we are being welcomed into the local community by the local community on all levels including communication with promoters pre-tour, recreating bespoke versions of the show for each individual venue to being looked after post show in the homes of those from the community. You just don’t get this kind of intimacy touring to town and big cities. 

Can you sum up your show in 3 words?

Culture, Laughter, Hair

What would you say to anyone who has never seen dance /theatre?

Come with an open mind, know that you do not need to get all of it as there is not always a deep and meaningful story to work out and just enjoy the dance and music

Directors Journal – Rural Touring Dance Initiative Meeting

Friday, September 14, 2018

Directors Journal is a behind the scenes insight into what the director of the NRTF, Holly Lombardo is working on. Offering more information on our projects and the long-term goals of the NRTF. This week Holly catches up with the Rural Touring Dance Initiative.

What: Rural Touring Dance Initiative Meeting

Where: The Place London

When: September 2018

Today I went to The Place in London to meet with the partners of the Rural Touring Dance Initiative project; Alison Lord, Take Arts, Director of Dance, Eddie Nixon Artistic Director of The Place and Ed Collier Co-Director of China plate. 

We met to discuss the partnership and how each partner feeds into the actions and outcomes. Each one of us brings something unique and different skills, which makes up a team with expertise and experience to make the RTDI the best it can be. The NRTF has gone through a new structure while RTDI1 was wrapping up and the new RTDI2 launched, this was the first opportunity to talk about how the new structure will support outcomes.

It was a chance to reflect on RTDI1 and what an incredible season of work it was. RTDI2 is about building on the success of the first project and create a legacy for dance in rural venues and communities. 

Rural Touring Dance Initiative is an Arts Council England and Foyle Foundation funded Project that encourages audience’s to try new genres of work & broaden horizons while bringing communities together through dance. It also offers opportunities for dance companies to tour in a new and innovative way out of city black-box venues and into new spaces all over the country. 

We had some very constructive and positive conversations and gave me a chance to finally meet Alison and Eddie. We are going forward together on this project and we will see some amazing outcomes in the future. I am looking forward to working with everyone on the Rural Touring Dance Initiative.

To find out more about the Rural Touring Dance Initiative click here.

RTDI Company Profile: Find out more about James Wilton Dance

In the third of our Rural Touring Dance Initiative Company profiles, we find a little bit more out about how James Wilton is prepared for his Autumn rural tour of ‘Last Man Standing.’

What are you most looking forward to?
New audiences in new areas, as well as testing our work in a completely new setting.

What have you packed in readiness for rural locations ?
Welly boots and our cocker spaniel Henry-thought we’d make the most of the lovely walks whilst in the country!

How do you think it will be different from touring to towns?
It will be nice to be really close to our audience, so often we perform to an auditorium in darkness, I suspect that this may not be the case which is an exciting new challenge as a performer.

Can you sum up your show in 3 words?
Grace, gravity and grit

What would you say to anyone who has never seen dance /theatre?
It can change your perspective on the world without even realising. You can visit other worlds and go inside other peoples minds, without even leaving your seat.

RTDI Company Profile: Find out more about bgroup

Each month we’ll be profiling one of the seasons Rural Touring Dance Initiative companies! First up we have bgroup who won the first-ever RTDI commission to make a dance show specifically for rural touring.

What are you most looking forward to?

A warm welcome for the most part  Point of Echoes is an exciting return for us to touring work in the UK. After spending the last three years choreographing more large scale work for Opera and Theatre stages in Sweden, this challenge of developing an intimate work specifically conceived to work in non-theatre spaces has been extremely engaging. We are looking forward to the proximity of performing up close to our audiences whilst retaining certain epic proportions within the production.

What have you packed in readiness for rural locations?

An area Press coffee maker, a full bag of Huel ‘nutritionally complete food’, oh and a van packed dot the hilt with set costume and lights.

How do you think it will be different from touring to towns?

I guess it’s the intimacy of the communities involved. We have already been bumping into individuals here in Langport who came to see one of our dress rehearsals, I like the immediacy of the conversation that can ensue. In many ways, it feels like the circus has come to the village and it is exciting to be at the hub of that curiosity.

Can you sum up your show in 3 words?

Kinetic creepy storytelling.

What would you say to anyone who has never seen dance /theatre?

Don’t come with preconceived ideas. We have developed a show that draws on the full spectrum of my working experience and curiosities. Point of Echoes is a blend of genres and disciplines. Although the work is based on a script by Stuart Warwick our storytelling methods drift between movement, song and spoken word. I am interested in working expansively, creating a sense of boundlessness, the categorisation of the show is less interesting to me than getting an engaged and curious audience involved. Think an episode of Tales of the Unexpected or The Twilight Zone performed by dancers.