Freelancers get a voice with new initiative

The last year has had a devastating and detrimental impact on not only the theatre industry, but also on creative freelancers.

Throughout the pandemic freelancers, who make up 70% of theatre workforce, have received the least, if any, help or financial support from the government. Due to this lack of support, we have witnessed a huge number of individuals - family, friends, colleagues - plunged into uncertainty, fighting for survival, losing their livelihoods, and very sadly leaving the industry. All through no fault of their own.

Research carried out in March this year by the Centre for Cultural Value found that freelancers working within creative roles has fallen by 38,000 since the start of 2020. It is not clear how many of these come from within theatre, but it will give a great cause for concern. Read more about the project here.

Also in March, the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union (BECTU) surveyed nearly 4000 creative freelancers in its ‘One year on’ survey and discovered that over 30% were made redundant during the pandemic, 77% had seen a drop in income, and 21% were unable to gain access to the financial support they required. Further details can be found here. These are individuals with incredible skill sets who play a pivotal role in creating our country’s world class theatre. Is it not then fundamental that these people are nurtured, cared for and invested in? Why then have they been treated so badly? 

A variety of schemes were launched to help freelancers including The Theatre Artists Fund set up by film and stage director, Sam Mendes, along with the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre. It raised around £1.9M and helped around 2,600 freelancers across the UK.

Freelancers Make Theatre Work was set up to ‘amplify the voice of freelance workers across the performing arts’ during the pandemic. They have built up a community of over 200,000 theatre freelancers within the UK and carry out a range of research and campaigns that you can join in with including the latest one #TheatreCanChange. Find out more here.

As theatres start to come alive again within the next few weeks, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, launches a new £250,000 programme to let creative freelancers have their say and help get them back on their feet. 

‘Creative Freelancers: Shaping London’s Recovery’ will see up to 50 diverse creative freelancers work in collaboration with a variety of leaders from cultural institutions, funders and councils, to improve working conditions, training and more, and safeguard their futures as the City recovers from the pandemic.

The programme, funded by the London Economic Action Partnership and run by theatre company Fuel, aims to give freelancers a say over improving job conditions, provide recommendations, establish training opportunities and eventually develop a ‘Freelancer Charter’ that sets out standards for what should be expected of employers and best practice guidance.

Freelancers and organisations taking part are still yet to be confirmed, however organisations wanting to collaborate on this programme includes Battersea Arts Centre, the National Theatre, The Royal Opera House and Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Find out more about it here via The Stage.

I think this is a fantastic programme, which will do wonders for our freelancers. Finally, they have been given a voice and they will be listened to. Why was this not brought in before now?

We have haemorrhaged creative talent over the past year, and it has to stop. I hope this new initiative will put an end to it and possibly even bring back the lost talent and make opportunities for new. It is so important to protect our people and do what we can to bring our industry back to life.

I am very excited to see where this new initiative takes our industry.  As the movement says, ‘Freelancers make theatre work’, and not a truer word has been spoken.

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