A new survey launched by Sport England will collect the first local-authority-level data on arts attendance and participation in England since 2009/10.

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Local-authority-level data on arts attendance and participation in England will once again be collected through a new survey. Launched by Sport England, the ‘Active Lives Survey’ will ask around 200,000 people across England about their engagement with leisure activities, including sport and culture, between November 2015 and November 2016.

The data will be used to inform Arts Council England’s (ACE) work, including funding granted through the Creative People and Places programme, project targeting and planning, and place-based policy and activity across England.

The survey will be the first since 2009/10 with a sufficiently large sample size to offer insights on arts participation and attendance at a local-authority level.

The survey will measure five key aspects of arts and cultural engagement:

  • Arts participation;
  • Arts attendance;
  • Museums and gallery attendance;
  • Use of a public library service;
  • Participation in dance activities, including creative and artistic dance.

It will also collect a range of demographic data, but not ask questions about engagement with specific art forms. 

The survey will collect responses from at least 500 adults in each of England’s 326 local authority areas, except for the City of London and the Isles of Scilly, where it will collect at least 250 responses. At least 2,000 responses will be collected from each of the eight ‘Core Cities’: Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle, Sheffield, Nottingham, Birmingham and Bristol.

The survey builds on Sport England’s ‘Active People Survey’, a telephone survey launched in 2005/06. The new ‘futureproofed’ survey is web-based and uses postal methods to invite people to complete the survey online.

ACE invested in the original Active People Survey for two years from 2008, so that arts attendance and participation could be measured alongside engagement with sport. But after it pulled funding from the survey in 2010, no local-level data on arts engagement has been available.

Sport England plans to run the new survey for five years, but ACE has committed to invest in the new survey for just one year. Subject to available funds, it hopes to refresh the data every four to five years. The cost to ACE for the 2015/16 survey was £175,000 + VAT, for fieldwork, data collection and analysis. It expects the cost of re-investing in future surveys to be similar.

ACE told AP: “We feel population-levels shifts in arts engagement take a long period to achieve and to show-up in statistics. Annually, we don’t feel that there would be significant changes in population-level rates of engagement rates at a local-level. More practically, investment into large-scale surveys with geographical coverage across England is expensive and our research budget is not currently large enough to enable us to invest annually into the Active Lives Survey.”

In five years’ time, when there is no guarantee Sport England will still be running the survey, ACE will “assess opportunities and available resources with a view to collaborate again with a Government partner.”

Data collected in 2015/16 will form a new baseline, as ACE does not expect the dataset to be directly comparable with the 2008-10 Active People Survey data.

Research company Ipsos MORI will collect the data for Sport England, with support from ACE, Public Health England and the Department for Transport.

ACE plans to publish the 2015/16 tranche of data in February 2017.

A photo of Frances Richens