Community & Collaboration by Leila d’Aronville, April 2020

Leila set up a new community in the form of a facebook page called Tyne and Wear Cultural Freelancers in March 2020, it was received like hot cakes. Here she talks about how and why and what.

“So, this is my first blog – and it was originally written before CV-19 took hold of us all in such a life changing way. I have edited it slightly to be more relevant to the current situation, although most of what it says is relevant today…in fact it is more relevant in some ways! 

 I am starting the first of my blogs off looking at the network and community which we have created together, exploring how and why it is so successful and also exploring my own journey over the last 12 months.

Firstly it might be worth giving a small amount of info about me! I worked for one of the biggest NPOs in the North East for a lot of years, 12 to be exact. That 12 years at Sage Gateshead helped me grow professionally and personally and developed my professional network exponentially. I started in the communications team, but went on to run strategic projects across the region and the country. I left 5 years ago, and have been working freelance ever since – in that time I have had the privilege to work on some truly special projects.

It might also be worth saying that I grew up in a cultural freelancer household with my mother working as a jobbing actor in the North East – a job which she is still doing.

My career has usually been about firsts, as well as being about connecting people and extending and connecting networks.

During my time working for Sing Up – the National Singing Campaign, I was able to test out the idea and usefulness of networks; exploring expectations, purpose, participation and momentum. Moving to the Bridge North East team (not Culture Bridge) meant I was once again in a privileged position to explore and test networks. One of my most positive and successful experiences here was the development of the Sunderland Learning Network, which was set up in partnership with my wonderful colleague Helen Connify.

So, jumping forward to now. A little over 12 years since setting up TWCF. People have recently asked why I think the network works, and I have flippantly talk about it being a happy accident whilst having a glass of wine one Thursday night.

These things are technically true, but the network was formed and based on my extensive experience of testing and developing useful and successful networks.

I recently re-read David Price’s Open; as well as Clay Shirkey’s book on cognitive surplus. David talks about global learning communities and the fact that effective networks are built on 3 main principles; Participation, Passion and Purpose.

If we translate that into TWCF, what do we get?

PARTICPATION

David talks about participation and engagement being essential to a global learning community, and the fact hierarchy gets in the way of collaboration.

In relation to the community of TWCF; the network has always been about the members. Without their/your participation the group would be stagnant. Don’t get me wrong, Caroline and I spend a lot of time and energy making sure people feel supported and able to engage, and the network was set up with collaboration at its heart…but the membership is keeping that going and making sure the online community is all about supporting each other in which ever way they need – being agile and flex to what that is.

PASSION

I don’t think I really need to explain this one! We are all doing what we’re doing because we are passionate…and when we are challenged by the conditions we’re working in and we realise others feel the same, the passion is tenfold.

PURPOSE

The group was set up with purpose! The purpose of relevance. We are collective group with several things in common: the cultural sector; freelance / independent; Tyne and Wear.
The rule is anything posted needs to be relevant. Individuals have been unbelievably good at sticking to that rule! It means the group has clear purpose and has remained relevant.

We have been able to shout with a collective voice – we have been in a position to sit at the table with other loud voices. The experience and network of the members mean our reach is far and high. For once, the grass roots in the North East seems to be gaining and voice.

This is important anyway, but this is especially important right now. We are in the midst of a life changing global experience – and the other side is going to look different. It is up to us to make sure that different is as positive as possible for us!

We are in the process of making the model of TWCF sustainable, building capacity to run it as well as providing opportunities for us to pay other people to work alongside us on pieces of work.

On the other side of CV-19 our sector will still need us, we will still be the makers, the producers, the crafters and the grafters. In the NE freelancers (did) make up over 50% of the creative sector – it is time we use our collective power to ensure a better deal for ourselves! Being a freelancer or an independent organisation is a choice for most of us, which brings with it many positives and some serious negatives, which have been highlighted by the current situation. We should not be in such a precarious position. On the flip side, the funded part of the sector will need us more than ever. We are used to adapting and flexing to the situation; building businesses from the ground and working in a precarious environment – being creative and entrepreneurial! It isn’t about an us and them situation, quite the opposite. It is about creating equity between funded and independent, with an understanding of our value and worth across the sector. I truly believe we need to rebuild this together! “

Visit Tyne and Wear Cultural Freelancers on facebook or the new website https://culturalfreelancers.wordpress.com