Chair: Josie Underwood

Minutes: Mimi Doulton

Present: Vicki Mortimer, Susan Kempster, Alastair Cope, Jake Orr, Paule Constable, Nikki Edmonds, Adele Thomas, Peter McKintosh, Freddie Crossle

Apologies: Bill Bankes Jones, Paul Carey Jones

Updates and reports

Drafting a question for ACE at WhatsNext? 

Paule suggestions: Either would they like to explain how their current policies are doing anything to engage with the current crisis in retaining practical skills in the workforce or how does Let’s Create and Levelling Up agenda relate to strategic thinking about wider ecosystem of the workforce?

Vicki: instinct is that in the WhatsNext room the first question will be handled better. The second question requires quite an explicit explanation of the pre-existing and ongoing problem. We would have to formulate a question of multiple parts about the problems with Lets Create and current funding targets.

Josie: We could also have a meeting directly with ACE where it’s just us and them. We haven’t done this for a while. 

Paule: Might be a good way to remind them publicly they need to engage. Will draft and share with the group for comment.

Vicki: I think what happens in our private ACE meetings is we tend to meet people without much policy-making heft. 

Paule: I can’t attend WhatsNext so if we do this, somebody needs to submit it and attend on behalf of FMTW.

Banking

Paule: we have always banked with Tide. Tide have decided we aren’t a business by their definition. We haven’t had a bank account for four weeks while we wait to re-apply for a Virgin account. Our finances are sitting with Keith who is our legal adviser, they have an account where they can hold funds without them being taxed etc.

Big 12 Project

Jake: the big 12 are the largest receivers of NPO funding (currently). We have previously asked them to support FMTW via fundraising efforts. Had a meeting a couple of weeks ago – they want us to propose something we can work on together over a period of time. Josie, Al and Jake have had a meeting about kickstarting that conversation again whilst being conscious that today is the NPO decision outcome which may impact our original ask. 

We would like to propose an idea to the big 12; over the course of a year, meeting on a quarterly basis to update them on current freelance affairs. Bring case studies of organisations doing things differently, trialling things, our own reports etc. Keep them informed but also provoke them to think about how they engage with freelancers.

Also keen to work with them individually on developing their own freelance charter that could be presented publicly. Develop this with freelancers local to each organisation. FMTW could either facilitate it or work with local facilitators. 

Josie: we have talked about an umbrella freelance charter before, but this would be about making something bespoke for each venue with their freelancers. What we can offer as an independent organisation is providing a space where freelancers can openly talk about that specific venue in a safe environment. We would pay facilitators for this project.

Mimi: would a private session be truly anonymous if organisations know which of their freelancers are engaging with the project?

Josie: unless it is more of an open invite to those sessions.

Jake: should be open to any freelancers from that area whether they are working with that organisation or not. 

Josie: anyone interested in this is welcome to come on board and offer ideas.

Vicki: the information sharing proposal links in to what we are about to discuss (how to listen to freelancers). 

Action points:

  • Paule draft something for ACE / WhatsNext and share with the group for comment.
  • Conversation post-WhatsNext about whether we then think there is merit in meeting them independently. 
  • Ask Bill if he can attend WhatsNext – if not, put it in the Active signal
  • Call out for people to join big12 proposal group

Agenda points

Listening to freelancers

Josie: it feels like listening to freelancers and reporting to venues, governments, back to freelancers etc. feels like a productive thing for us to be doing as an organisation. We need to think more directly about how we listen to them and what we can do to make the process more efficient and satisfying for the freelance community.

Three areas + unions to explore:

Direct communication – how do we deal with direct emails/tweets/communication from freelancers who reach out to us? Pointing to the website as a helpful resource helps, but there is also a feeling from freelancers that they just want to be listened to – how do we acknowledge and encourage this, without over-promising our capabilities?

Town halls/listening spaces – what is the most useful and effective way of us creating active listening spaces that lead to action? Is this a mixture of ongoing listening tools (website drop box? Encouraging emails/tweets to us?) and concentrated listening events (town halls etc)? How do we encourage freelancer empowered action (devoted and disgruntled-esque spaces that encourage freelancers to lead their own activism)?

Disseminating the freelance voice – what are the mechanisms in place to make sure freelance voices are heard? How do we decide who needs to hear what?

Unions – there seems to be a number of reasons that freelancers come to us rather than using their unions; maybe we could address this? Do we need to help educate on how a union works and what they can help with? This way we can encourage use of unions, and encourage active participation.

Direct communication

Paule: when people send big things in, we aren’t a union, we don’t have legal support or a massive body of people. In some ways there is space for them to come into FMTW for a while and create activity if they have an appetite for that. 

Vicki: Being clear that we are a diagnostic rather than transformative organisation. The big problems are a diagnosis in themselves. Invite people to Friday meeting and then integrate that information into what we share with ACE, DCMS etc. Then it folds back into the wider freelance community.

Nicki had parallel experience of this from Citea – sense of feeling responsibility to respond properly. Discussed what an auto-reply might be able to deliver: promise that the email will be read and to reply within a certain amount of time, pointing people to website resources, date of next town hall / Freelance problem solving, flag that we are a voluntary organisation. 

Suggestion of a WhatsApp business account as a channel for communication. Would need a small group of volunteers who were up for responding but more dynamic and immediately visible.

Mimi suggested a volunteer mentorship scheme – Singers Resound – people making an enquiry are connected with one of the professionals who has volunteered their time for a one-to-one mentoring session about problems freelancers have. We acknowledged that would need a lot of organisation and admin to make it work well. 

Josie: I like the idea of a more current auto-reply with all of that information. 

Mimi: we did also discuss that information being available on the website where the email address is, in addition to an auto-reply.

Susan: a little alarm bell if I go onto a website and they say to only get in touch if you’ve been through all those things. I liked the idea that there will still be a personal reply, but in the meantime here are some resources. Wary of it becoming a ‘don’t contact us until you have to’.

Nikki: it is about how you word it – not being dismissive and patronising. We want to put personal responsibility back on the freelancers to get involved as we aren’t here to solve everything for them.

Josie: we occasionally get emailed a barrage of ideas. Could there be an online space where people drop ideas that others can see? 

Mimi: I think it’s a really good idea. It is entrenched in our culture that we don’t talk to each other, but actually a lot of problems could be solved or at least improved if freelancers were more open with each other.

Josie: I think the auto-reply can be actioned this week, whereas this idea needs a bit more thought/discussion

Paule: we have them for lighting (from a tech perspective) – a brilliant hive mind in certain situations. Apart from monitoring the comments, the level of conversation is really quite interesting and useful. Would avoid us having to solve problems ourselves.

Susan: moderation can be user supported.

Town halls

Peter: we have discussed this before and never done one. We’ve always felt like it’s a good idea, it’s just what format that takes. Is it in real life – more effortful to roll out across country – is it on Zoom, which is light on its feet and doesn’t require so much time and effort. Pros and cons to both. Probably the same as the conversations we had at FutureLabs. Powerful, enabling, necessary. Not about coming up with solutions, just holding a space for connections and ideas.

Not too frequent – we need to be specific about what the ask is. In terms of an FMTW reboot, the question is surely ‘how are you feeling?’ 

Paule: not everything has to have a space of action and forward momentum, can be a space of listening. I keep going back to WhatsNext as a model – I’d be interested to find someone who’d be willing to do a freelance friendly session about your rights as a freelancer. 

Josie: recently went to Stamp-Connect, where freelancers can present their ideas to venues. I gave a talk about the survey. The best thing about the day was the small community corners of freelancers that sprung up. Could be a focussed talk in one space and a chat room in another space. We can do it in different forms – in person, online, around the UK. It’s a big job, but the kind of big job we should take on.

Vicki: My only hesitation about simultaneous events is sometimes you want to be in both and it’s a bit frustrating. Title town hall doesn’t sound quite right. 

Nikki: Citea did happy hours through the pandemic. We also did some more targeted, which felt like a focussed conversation. You are either running workshops or hosting a chat space. My brain also went to a FMTW festival as a one off thing. 

Josie: the original idea of a town hall would be a listening space where people can air their concerns. Make it clear that we listen and then take the knowledge to other people.

Susan: could also be two way for FMTW to talk about what is going on.

Paule: thinking of our colleagues’ experiences, it can be hard to be honest and not feel like your words are being carried with care and responsibility. We need to make sure we aren’t just taking. If the conversations were based around themes, we would still hear individual freelance experience.

Mimi: there would be a merit to trying both ideas separately and seeing which we get the most of. Would the Big12 project be a way to trial it on a small scale?

Disseminating freelance voice

Paule: there are lots of opportunities we are using at the moment eg. speaking at events, conferences. We started thinking about organisations we don’t have contact with. We should always define the relationship and the function (eg. what we did with DCMS). The function of those conversations is to ensure freelancers don’t fall off the agenda; that engagement with freelancers is meaningful. A data driven response to what the industry is like.

We need to make it clear what we can’t do eg. solving one-to-one problems. 

Vicki: some kind of clarity about our relationship with unions. 

Josie: we could do something about what a union is and how to use it. Encourage more active participation in unions. 

Paule: I’d like to have an open conversation with unions about how we work together. I think BECTU are much more open to that conversation than Equity are. We need a much healthier relationship with all three unions and I think there is grit in our current relationship. 

Nikki: part of the problem is to do with paying to be in a union, which is necessary. I think union week is coming up quite soon. Often people don’t go to their union first but come to organisations like us. There is also work to be done around employment law. Lots of union internal communications can’t be shared more publicly. How do you change hearts and minds on it when it comes down to a financial contribution?

Susan: what is the timeline for actioning all of this?

Paule: might be good to tie town hall into Big12 as Mimi suggested

Susan: a large FMTW open house needs to happen. We’ve never done it. We could even just talk about the work we’ve done so far. Invite everyone who has connected through newsletter, socials etc to be in the room. 

Action points:

  • Set up auto reply and share with group for review – Josie
  • Organise a meeting with a core group of people who are interested in running a town hall / FMTW open house – Josie
  • Ask Jake to approach ITC 
  • Organise a conversation about engaging freelancers with unions – Josie

AOB 

Josie share Bat Signal again – please add people to invite

Use Active channel to decide date and time of next monthly meeting

ACTION POINTS RECAP

  • Josie share Bat Signal again – please add people to invite
  • Respond to WhatsApp RE next meeting
  • Set up auto reply and share with group for review – Josie
  • Organise a meeting with a core group of people who are interested in running a town hall / FMTW open house – Josie
  • Ask Jake to approach ITC 
  • Organise a conversation about engaging freelancers with unions – Josie
  • Paule draft something for ACE / WhatsNext and share with the group for comment.
  • Conversation post-WhatsNext about whether we then think there is merit in meeting them independently. 
  • Ask Bill if he can attend WhatsNext – if not, put it in the Active signal
  • Call out for people to join big12 proposal group