It gives me the greatest pleasure to present the chair's annual report for the Irish Arts Foundation (IAF).
The core mission of the IAF is to raise the profile of the music and arts of Ireland throughout the UK and to celebrate the many contributions that Irish people have made to British culture. We have continued to deliver the Foundation's objectives through innovative and high quality activities. We note our enormous gratitude for the ongoing support from the Irish Government through the Emigrant Support Programme which enables our work to flourish.
Two major community-based events, The Leeds Gathering in November and Irish History Month in March (now embedded within our Community Participation and Learning Programme), form the bedrock of the IAF's activities and both are now integrated into the cultural life of the city and region. These festivals have strengthened awareness of the enormous impact of the Irish community in Britain, while placing Irish traditional musicians and others working in the creative and cultural industries into the limelight.
We have continued to deliver an excellent programme of community events and workshops, which has created opportunities for local musicians to interact, and to enhance their repertoires and performance skills; and made language training available for Irish learners.
There have been two ongoing developmental ventures in 2015-16: the collaborative work with Leeds City Council Museums and Galleries Services, and the Inter-Celtic musical collaboration, celebrating the musical links between Ireland, Scotland and Brittany. Both of these offer further significant potential to widen our educational and cultural remit.
IAF was represented at the opening of the University of Leeds Cultural Institute in October 2016, where the keynote speaker was Sir Peter Bazalgette. It is hoped that the organisation will make a full contribution to this important new venture for the university and city as it develops.
The Community Archive project, 'Untold Stories; The Development of the Irish Community in Leeds'' which was funded through The Heritage Lottery Fund and nominated for the National Lottery's 2014 awards, remains an enormously valuable and well accessed resource. Connecting the generations of Irish people in Leeds through their shared history, this project demonstrates the very close collaboration between the Foundation and the local community and was the focus for several events over the year.
The completion and implementation of our Strategic Development Plan (Sept 2015-August 2019) will provide a further focus to build on our past successes and continue to deliver high quality artistic work with sustainable outcomes.
The work of the organisation has been admirably led by our Chief Executive, Des Hurley and our Director, Chris O'Malley. The trustees are enormously grateful to them for their vision, energy and boundless enthusiasm. As a community organisation, teamwork remains essential for our continued success.
I would also like to thank the members of the board of trustees for their support and the outreach workshop facilitators and the projects development teams for their hard work on behalf of the IAF.
Finally, on behalf of the trustees, I would like to offer my sincerest gratitude to all our funders, sponsors, volunteers and supporters. Without their very generous financial and in-kind support, the work of the Irish Arts Foundation would be impossible.
In a somewhat peculiar economic climate for the voluntary, cultural and arts sectors, we have unassumingly developed in strength in a variety of ways through further sustaining, diversifying or creating effective local, regional or national collaborations to share resources and ideas, whilst maintaining our core focus: the provision of a contemporary, innovative, streamlined and quality service to provide community based projects for Irish music, arts, heritage and cultural development.
The increasing recognition in the methodology and type of service we are providing is one of the many reasons why other local, regional and national Irish organisations, statutory agencies, voluntary sector and community groups are seeking continued and newer collaborative work with us.
With the invaluable assistance of ongoing support from the Irish Government through the Emigrant Support Programme for the Director and Chief Executive positions, this has enabled the organisation to consolidate our development in both a structured and strategic manner.
Community events, activities, performances and workshops organised by and involving Irish Arts Foundation have been continually well received and supported by the local communities. Previous and more recent events, featuring locally, nationally and internationally established and emerging artists have significantly enhanced the profile, development and awareness of the Irish Arts Foundation.
We intend to continue to promote and develop the work of the Irish Arts Foundation through both our extensive established networks and newer specific target areas, such as schools, universities, community groups/organisations, arts centres, the Irish media in Britain and specialist music, voluntary sector, arts and community publications. These will remain an important medium, in promoting our work, positively maintaining our profile and improving our accessibility and approachability within both the Irish and the wider communities
An extensive e-mailing list has been established for events, concerts and performances. The on-going plan are to further strengthen the Irish arts, cultural and heritage exchange information networks and e-networks through on-going dialogue with other Irish groups who are similarly establishing these ideas and systems such as the new Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith and the Return to Camden Town Festival.
At Irish Arts Foundation we are lucky to have a progressive and forward thinking Board of Trustees who have been committed to see the vision develop. This provides a strong backbone to the organisation. I would like to thank them for their individual and collective guidance, expertise and support throughout this past year.
My thanks also go to our numerous project volunteers, from all age groups and backgrounds, for their continued in kind support, effort and involvement. In particular to Grahame Priestly for preparation of audio and visual workshop teaching resources, Tony Alwell and Tony Mone for publicity materials proof reading and distribution respectively, Steve Evans for events photographic materials, Roisin Ferguson for her post graduate Leeds Metropolitan University events management experience, Sheila Chapman and Bridget O’Donnell our Irish Language conversational class coordinators’, Anna Walsh, nearing completion of her PHD Study of the Irish community in Leeds, Cormac O’Donoghue for meeting with visiting artists at local hotels, airports and railway stations, our Leeds Gathering artist, Gerry Hughes and to Jim and Maria Doody, Patrick Ruane, Bill Fry, Ian Pearson, Bernadette Byrne, Sam Proctor, Gemma Irving, Jenny Cole, Kevin and Andrew Hurley amongst the many other artists and musical colleagues, both locally and nationally, for their efforts - often at short notice! All are much needed and their valuable strengths, and enthusiasm help to keep us going!
I would like to thank my colleagues from the Outreach and Freelance Teams: Jo Lee, for her efforts in the facilitation of the workshop educational cultural days: Gerry Brownridge for workshop delivery leadership with the Irish Elders Cultural Programme, Alison Childs for training and strategic development planning, Christy Herron for website development planning and to Steve Procter from WYCAS for the effort, professionalism and commitment they have brought to their work and the Foundation.
I would also like to once again thank Siobhan Rodgers from Allied Irish Bank Leeds and wish her former colleagues Hugh Kelly and Marie Forde best wishes in their retirement and finally to Jack and Carole Carey Campbell from ‘North Leeds Life’ and Fran Graham from ‘About My Area’: key local community publications, for their in kind support with publicity and marketing of our events.
The future brings the continued challenges: striving to achieve our PQASSO (Practical Quality Assurance System for Small Organisations) accreditation, uncertainty of funding, changes in economic climate, social policy and a consistent awareness within our organisation of the needs to provide improving, evolving and additional services and resources for our stakeholders and service users.
Whilst we are aware that there are further difficult economic times ahead for the arts and cultural sectors: at the Irish Arts Foundation we will collectively endeavour to deal with these challenges with integrity, innovation, resolve and commitment.