New support for creative sector freelancers from £4.1 million Commonwealth Games legacy fund
Published: Friday 29 Sep 2023
The first directory listing all of the business support and help available to the thousands of freelancers working in the region has been launched by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) as part of a new package of support for the £1.1 billion-a-year cultural and creative sectors.
The West Midlands Creative Freelancer Support directory, now on the WMCA website, lists more than 200 offers of support provided by 138 organisations, individuals or collectives.
These include mentoring, training and development, seminars, information sources, networks, advocacy, workspace and equipment provision, and funding opportunities.
The West Midlands’ creative and cultural sectors are a hugely important part of the region’s economy, directly employing around 25,000 people. But they were among the sectors hit hardest by the pandemic, with freelancers, who make up around one third of the workforce, among those most affected economically by successive lockdowns.
The WMCA’s Cultural Leadership Board (CLB) commissioned the directory to provide an overall picture of the resources currently available to freelancers and to identify potential gaps or opportunities to provide even more support.
CLB members gathered with freelancers from across the region and leaders of sector organisations at the Birmingham Open Media (BOM) yesterday, Thursday, 28th September, to discuss the findings and put forward their own ideas of what further help and support they require.
This support for freelancers is part of a £4.1 million package from the WMCA’s Commonwealth Games Legacy Enhancement Fund that will aid the ongoing recovery of the region’s cultural and creative sectors, which includes developing plans to drive engagement, investment, and skills development.
Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands and WMCA chair, said: “There are many thousands of local people who as freelancers make a huge contribution towards keeping our wonderfully rich and diverse cultural sector and creative industries going. They generate many benefits for our region and not just economically. Arts and culture can have an incredibly positive impact on the wellbeing of individuals and entire communities.
“The directory that the Cultural Leadership Board has commissioned is an important piece of work because we know freelancers can feel invisible, especially when it comes to the support they need to develop their skills and opportunities, and during times of crisis as we saw with the pandemic.
“This is just the beginning, and very soon we’ll be making more announcements about how £4.1 million from the Commonwealth Games Legacy Enhancement Fund, combined with the new partnerships we’re creating with national organisations such as Arts Council England, will deliver a significant investment into our cultural and creative organisations helping them to thrive in the months and years ahead.”
The West Midlands has one of the largest cultural and creative sectors outside of London.
In addition to the economic value to the region, arts, culture and heritage deliver a number of other benefits linked to health and wellbeing, skills development, volunteering, pride of place, attractiveness of place for inward investment, and community cohesion.
Support for the sector is also being strengthened thanks to the region’s ground-breaking devolution deal, agreed with Government in March. This has paved the way for new direct partnerships with the likes of Arts Council England, Historic England, Sport England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the National Lottery Community Fund and Visit Britain to ensure more people have opportunities to take part in arts and heritage activities.
Skinder Hundal, chair of the WMCA’s Cultural Leadership Board and global director of arts at the British Council, said: “Our report ‘Mapping support for creative freelancers in the West Midlands’ showed there were over 200 offers of support available when the report was written. The key question is how we can signpost this support better and also leverage further support through the Commonwealth Games Legacy Enhancement Fund.
“This is an important first step for the CLB as we look at what else can be done or how the existing offer could be made more visible and accessible.”
Alison Grade, a West Midlands-based career freelancer, who sits on the CLB’s freelancer working group, said: “Freelancers are the lifeblood of the creative industries, their skills and expertise are a key ingredient in our region’s creative output. The challenge for many is that they’ve been offered technical training to do their work, but little support in how to be the best freelancer they can be. This is hard enough when it’s business as usual, but the global pandemic, strikes and cost of living crises mean many need to think differently about how they approach their work, and this support is much needed.
“The WMCA should be commended for recognising this and leading from the front once again – this support is very positive news for the region, its economy, and the freelance community.”
The West Midlands Creative Freelancer Support directory is part of the WMCA’s Cultural Advocacy Toolkit created in partnerships with its advisory groups and a range of partners to advocate for and promote the importance of culture across the region.
Find out more about the WMCA’s culture programme of work at www.wmca.org.uk/what-we-do/culture-and-digital/culture.
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