FACT's response to the Precarious Workers Brigade
We recently received an open letter from the Precarious Workers Brigade asking some fair and interesting questions about working life at FACT. As this letter was shared widely, we have decided to publish our reply.
4 April 2014
Dear Precarious Workers Brigade,
Thank you for your letter responding to some of the recent changes to our Front of House structure, and for giving us the opportunity to offer more detail. In this letter, we will explain how we have lost the equivalent of 1.5 full time roles, and not 13 as some articles have incorrectly claimed. We will also discuss the reasoning behind this and the process we have gone through.
We appreciate that you have taken into account the financial pressures that all charities like ourselves are currently facing. Over the last four years, we have reviewed our staff structure twice, resulting in a total of 16 people across the organisation being made redundant, plus reduced working hours, pay cuts and pay freezes for all staff in every other department, including senior management. None of these changes have affected the Front of House team.
We are by no means unique in this, but are an example of an arts organisation that takes our responsibility as a publicly funded arts institution very seriously and regularly reviews our working practices to make sure we are commissioning excellent and enriching arts experiences whilst delivering value for money.
When we reviewed our Front of House structure we felt that it was no longer delivering the access to experience and opportunities that we knew it had the potential to do. We wanted to significantly increase our volunteering opportunities and we wanted to provide quality paid jobs that staff could develop into. After consulting with staff we therefore made the difficult decision to restructure the team giving better development positions to some of them, continuing to offer casual work to others and increasing our volunteer opportunities significantly.
Many people make the mistake of assuming that all volunteers are young, or are looking to begin a career in the arts. However, we know our volunteers are here for all kinds of reasons, are at all stages of life, and that many of them would not have applied for jobs at FACT. We also are appreciative of these different motivations, as a number of our paid members of staff volunteer in various other organisations.
Some people offer their time because they are looking for a new direction in life, some because they are hoping rebuild confidence after a career break, others volunteer for enjoyment and of course, some volunteer to get a foot on the career ladder. Whatever their motivation to volunteer at FACT, our 70 new recruits will all have access to a carefully structured programme of skills development in a range of areas including business planning, marketing campaigns, exhibition development, workshop planning and working with community groups as well as receiving unique opportunities to meet and learn from artists and curators. We feel very strongly that our volunteers should never be required to work a minimum number of hours and it is important that we fit into their lifestyle, and never the other way around.
We fully appreciate that the positive outcomes we are building into our volunteer programme will be of little comfort to our casual staff that previously looked after our exhibitions. However, we have made every effort to minimise the impact of these changes on them and we’d like to take this opportunity to correct a few misunderstandings. Of the nine casual staff affected, two have been redeployed into other paid roles, and five are still working casual hours at FACT. Casual staff have always worked on a combination of exhibitions and special events, and only their hours spent on the galleries have been affected.
We would like to make clear that all paid-for events booked at FACT will only ever be staffed by paid casual staff and not volunteers. We should also clarify that neither of our commercial partners in the building, Picturehouse Cinemas or The Garden by LEAF have been affected by any of these changes.
Of the three part-time staff we previously had, two have been given new full-time roles, with greater opportunities for development and increased salaries. One previous part-time member of staff chose to take voluntary redundancy and we are delighted that this person is continuing to work casual hours at FACT.
We know this is a lot of detail to give, but it is important in order to understand the full picture. In real terms, a total of 60 paid casual hours per week (the equivalent of 1.5 full-time staff) have been lost and of the 13 staff who made up the previous Front of House team, only two are no longer in paid employment with us.
Rather than following a phased method of cutting hours back gradually, we chose to be upfront and honest about the changes we needed to make with our casual team and follow a redundancy procedure. This provided for a full consultation process and compensation where applicable. Though using a redundancy procedure may have been a major factor in creating the negative attention and misunderstandings that we have seen recently (that possibly could have been avoided had we phased it in) we stand by our decision to treat our valued staff with the honesty and respect they deserve.
In an ideal world, we would employ all of the talented people we have had the fortune to meet, however this is not an ideal world and we cannot. What we can do is use the limited resources we have to reach the widest group of people possible and develop useful and real-world skills.
Although our recent move to invigilate our free exhibitions with a combination of full time staff and volunteers is new, it is worth noting that volunteering has always played a part at FACT. As a charity our entire board is made up of volunteers who donate a significant amount of time and resources to supporting and leading the organisation. Over the years, we have also welcomed a host of interns, work placements and volunteers in all areas of our organisation, including in our work with communities, in our marketing department, in our exhibitions teams and with Front of House. Many of these individuals have gone on to work at FACT or other arts organisations around the country. We’ve been lucky to see some develop from getting involved in our young people’s programme to having successful careers in film and media, and others we have met at later stages of their lives and careers.
We are proud that 42% of our current part-time and full-time staff started their career at FACT as either a volunteer or member of Front of House staff, meaning that many of us have first hand experience of the importance of these roles.
This year alone we are hosting two paid apprenticeships and two paid interns through the Creative Employment Programme run by Creative and Cultural Skills, and supported by Arts Council funding.
It is also important to understand that FACT was founded on engagement activities that work with communities to develop creative new skills, with a particular focus on using creative technology. This is still an integral part of who we are now as we aim to bring people, art and technology together. Our current engagement programme reaches thousands of individuals of all ages and backgrounds every year through free and accessible workshops and projects.
These projects include our Young People’s Programme Freehand, which develops the skills of 13-25 year olds in the fields of art, film and technology. Our Veterans in Practice programme works with ex-military personnel aged 30-77 to develop new skills, with one participant saying “It’s brought a creative side out [of me]. I didn’t know any of the people before and this project had led me to full time employment and new doors have been opened for me, along with the people that I’ve met as well.” We have also employed another of the participants in this programme to work on the upcoming Liverpool Veterans website which will benefit thousands of ex-military personnel across the country.
Freehand and Veterans in Practice are just two examples of FACT projects that reach people young and old and offer creative experiences, build confidence, and develop new skills. These projects all require investment, through both time and funding and we are committed to ensuring they will always remain a priority for us. Ultimately we are looking at what will benefit the most people in the long-term.
We are aware that our new scheme has triggered lots of conversations and debate and in response; we are hosting an open discussion on volunteering on 24 June. This will be an opportunity to explore the role that volunteering plays in Liverpool and beyond, and discuss best practice for volunteer schemes. We would welcome your input to such a debate.