Freelancing means being your own accountant, new business department, admin assistant, facilities manager and boss all in one day, alongside doing the work you’re actually qualified to do. So you need all the help you can get, and ideally without forking out each time. Every freelancer has their own mix of resources — here’s what works for me:
Talking about the UK education system isn’t very uplifting. Family income and where you live still seem to define how well you’re likely to do at school. In international rankings of reading, maths and science performance among 15- and 16-year-olds, little has improved despite government ambitions to make our schools among the best in the world by 2020. Meanwhile, there’s both a shortage of qualified teachers and a ever-tighter budget squeezes on the schools employing them, with almost two thirds expected to cut one or more teaching posts before September.
But another trend, said Joe Hallgarten, former director of Creative Learning and Development at the Royal Society of Arts — speaking at a recent On Purpose event — is the rise of organisations working outside or with schools. (The Charity Commission for England and Wales, for example, lists some 65,000 registered charities dedicated broadly to young people’s education.) They’re bringing writers and artists and scientists into classrooms. They’re helping kids start a business, or teaching them martial arts or philosophy. And they’re introducing them to modern-world skills like coding — “the new piano lessons”.
At a panel discussion last month about young people and technology, the most telling moment came towards the end, when someone in the audience raised her hand. She worked for an organisation that recruits numerous young volunteers, she told us, and one of the questions they always ask at interviews is: “What are your hobbies?”. For the first time not long ago, a 16-year-old girl had responded: “Going on my phone”.
There was a collective, sharp intake of breath among the audience, most of us of generations who remember life before the Internet. We may be just as attached to endless scrolling, and just as afflicted by powernoia as adolescents; but unlike them, we automatically think that’s a bad thing.
London’s libraries have long been my escape — from too many flatmates in Bermondsey, from cabin fever in Islington, from an envelope-stuffing job in Dulwich. Not for their books, though (a good book, I want for my own shelves), but for something much less noble: free WiFi, decent desk space, plug sockets, a printer. And a sort-of quiet, most of the time. London’s reading rooms are my office.
They saw me through nearly a year of nomadism, when the longest sublet I took was for a month, each time in a new borough of the city, and as I was finding my feet as a freelancer while wanting maximum flexibility. I tried a coworking hub in London Bridge for a while: it was overpriced and underfriendly, full of 20-year-old entrepreneurs loudly practising their pitch. I joined a shared workspace in Brixton for social businesses, but kept feeling I wasn’t being quite sociable enough. In the end, it’s the public libraries that have been the constant alternative to whichever kitchen table I’ve squatted at, or from too many trips to Costa.
It’s almost two years ago to the day that I sat in a living room in North London with two people I’d met a week previously and agreed to make a documentary together about something I knew nothing about.
Unladylike, the story of women’s boxing in the UK, is still in progress. Part of me is horrified that it’s taken so long; I probably wouldn’t have signed up to this if I’d known what a beast it would become. Part of me, though, is secretly proud that we’ve stuck at it despite (between the three of us) one birth, one bereavement, several career changes, multiple moving-of-houses, one major computer crash, numerous months in other countries/continents, full-time jobs – and a budget of roughly zero. Still many, many more weekend editing sessions to go till it’s done – here’s a preview in the meantime.
Romanian TV journalist Lorelei Mihala and I worked together last year for two weeks in two cities, funded by the Council of Europe’s Mediane project. Here’s what came out of it (scroll down for more photos and video).
One in five young people – around 5.5 million citizens – in the EU are unable to find work; many more do jobs for which they are overqualified. Youth unemployment regularly hits the headlines across Europe – but what are the stories behind the statistics? A report from Bucharest and London
My exchange partner Lorelei and I are finally finishing up our joint project, part of the Council of Europe’s work to encourage more diversity in the media. Our full piece is coming soon; in the meantime, here’s a little preview – thanks to Iqraa (Somali) in London and Kiki (from Nigeria) in Bucharest – of what we talked about.
I’ve gone from a tiny organisation – my last employer had just one part-time staff member – to a huge one: the British Council is the UK’s largest charity, works in over 100 countries, and employs some 7000 people. Another change: my stint at British Council is part of a one-year programme, run by On Purpose, that aims to ‘develop leaders’ in the social enterprise sector.
(What’s a social enterprise? Good question. Simplest of the dozens of hazy definitions: a business for social purpose – think the Big Issue magazine.)
The idea behind On Purpose is that there are loads of start-ups with noble intentions, and plenty of funding and schemes to support the entrepreneurs behind them, but a weak spot still in terms of the managers and professionals needed to keep those new businesses going. And, of course, to make those initiatives broader and better, since scaling up the successful models is one of the big challenges right now. Continue reading “Going big, with purpose”→
“Do your research. Don’t be scared to try and do what you always wanted to do. Think of something really challenging”
I spent my summer months at the Mark Evison Foundation helping with their first proper evaluation of their youth programmes; the quote above was one response to the question “What would your advice be to future applicants?” (though it could apply to life in general…).
Anecdotally, the trustees knew there’d been tangible benefits of the foundation’s work – i.e. encouraging young people to plan personal challenges and funding the most motivated teams or individuals to see those challenges through. But, now in their fifth year of giving awards and with plans to expand, they needed something more concrete than anecdotal evidence or the excited emails we got from some of the award-winners returning from their trips.
It’s been a busy few months, but I’m excited by the variety of stuff I get to learn (and write) about. Recently I’ve spoken to economists in Washington and Nairobi about grain storage and irrigation; to community leaders from Cameroon and India about child marriage and female genital mutilation; and to researchers about the growing intrusion of business onto the territory of humanitarian aid groups. (The latter also involved a demonstration of ‘Peepoo‘, a single-use ‘personal toilet’ – a sort of bucket liner that can be sealed and then rapidly sanitises excrement. Incredible, but true: more people in Africa have access to the internet than to decent sanitation.)