Two woman over a table full of craft supplies
Unlimited at Blackpool Art B&B July 2021. Photo by Claire Griffiths images

Filling the tool box: building up advice, support, and guidance for Unlimited.

You know the phrase, ‘if the only tool you have is a hammer, you’ll treat everything as though it were a nail?’ To deliver everything that’s needed for Unlimited to launch fully into independence, we need a whole new toolbox. Guiding us through these unfamiliar processes has been a cohort of helpful peers from our wider network. We want to thank them for their advice, support, and training and share the insight they have graced us with. Here’s Jo Verrent with all you need to know…

When anyone is stuck, they reach out, and we are no different. Our first ‘go to’ places are our delivery partners, members of our transition team, our team, our trustees in waiting and, of course, our artists.

Both of our delivery partners are long established arts organisations, so there is much to learn from each of them across all areas of business planning, development, and delivery – thanks in particular to David Hevey and Sally Yarwood at Shape Arts and Deborah Chadbourn and Róise Goan at Artsadmin for being so generous with support and advice.

Our Transition Team has expanded, although we still go back to Mark Robinson, Lara Ratnaraja, and Helga Henry to pick their brains if we need to! Sam Scott Woods is leading on our communications and through her, Honest Studio have developed our new branding, Surface Impression, are working on our new website, and Eleanor Turney has been creating content for it.

We’ve been working with Counter Culture on our CIO application and on financial and legal stuff, with Anisa Haghdadi from Beatfreeks on policy drafting and Fidelis Navas from Gamma Talent on recruitment. We’ve also had great support from Nicholas Keegan who smartened up our contracts whilst on placement with us from Goldsmiths and Sam Redway who recently helped with budget formatting for a major application. The larger roles we’ve advertised and interviewed for, the smaller roles we’ve asked around and taken people on recommendation.

Our Board hold an immense number of skills, experience, and knowledge. We undertook a board skills audit across the summer so know exactly who to go to for what. They’ve been getting training too, ensuring there is a strong baseline of knowledge from which they can act – in addition to sessions mentioned previously, they are now getting Unconscious Bias/allyship training from The Other Box.

Ongoing training is essential for all. Last month, some of our team got to undertake some brilliant Trans Awareness training by Gendered Intelligence – thanks to Roxanne Carney, Pink Suits, and Vijay Patel, of one of our artists. We have to spend a long time sourcing training – lots of great stuff out there but not all as accessible as one would expect. Trainers take note!


Coaching, mentoring and time with critical friends

The value of coaching was drilled into me by working with Sarah Pickthall on Sync Leadership many years ago (Sarah is doing brilliant coaching and leadership work for disabled creatives via Inclusive Leadership at Clore). I’ve had the same coach on and off since I did my Clore fellowship in 2012 – Isabel Mortimer – who is not afraid to hold up a mirror to help me see my behaviours more clearly. Some members of the team have also had coaching from a variety of coaches selected to meet their specific needs, such as Emma Haughton and Sarah Pickthall herself.

I also have a mentor thanks to the Creative Wakefield Advance programme*. I’m working with David Parrish, who wrote T-Shirts and Suits: A Guide to the Business of Creativity, a book I used over 30 years ago to help plan my very first enterprise, and most recently Chase One Rabbit: Strategic Marketing for Business Success. He’s been given the task of keeping me on track as we transition and helping me identify things that might otherwise fall through the gaps.

Since the pandemic started, I’ve also been trying to have a meet up once per month with someone who can give me fresh insights – most have been over a virtual lunch. This time with critical friends has been invaluable. I’ve met up with Joon Lynn Goh, Migrants in Culture, Bryony McIntyre, Arika, Trish Wheatley, DAO and more. These meet ups have worked best when they have no fixed agenda and are about mutual exchange – just an unpressurised hour to explore, and to listen to different perspectives. It’s on my list to fix up slots for the autumn – do let me know if you fancy a ‘working lunch’ or know someone who might be interested!

Formal learning opportunities

There are two formal programmes that Unlimited applied to join – one via the New Infrastructure Programme from National Lotteries Community Fund and the second being an Arts Fundraising and Philanthropy senior fellowship from Cause 4, University of Leeds, and Arts Fundraising and Philanthropy.

The key element of the former is a Design Lab, run by Careful Industries which includes group and individual sessions on digital organisational change and tools giving us the baseline knowledge to both keep compliant with the law and act ethically. Our introduction phase includes brushing up on GDPR with Rowenna Fielding, Data Storytelling/ visualisation with artist Stefanie Posavec, online access with Elizabeth Ward from Scope’s Big Hack, and we have more on ethics, privacy, CRM, and data security to come including two sessions by John Mortimer, from the Human Learning Systems community. Next, we get to work intensively on our own projects, ours being to develop a new fit for purpose CRM system supported by experts that will support both us and our communities of artists and allies.

It’s really useful to be on a non-arts programme learning from peers such as Edible London, Bytes, Friends, Families and Travellers, Girl Dreamer, The Roots Programme and Sector 3. We are all so different and yet face very similar challenges with size, scale, growth, and keeping on top of data!

The Fellowship is a mix of lectures, assignments, monthly meet ups, and more. Our lecturers for our first intensive ranged from Mark Hollander, Leeds 2023, to Arundhati Ghosh from India Foundation for the Arts. Our guest speakers for our monthly meetings include Paul Amadi, Chief Supporter Officer at British Red Cross, Michelle Wright, CEO of Cause 4, Sir Nick Serota, Chair at Arts Council England, Moira Sinclair, Chief Executive at Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Clare Woodcraft, Executive Director, Centre for Strategic Philanthropy at Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, and Ros Kerslake, CEO of National Lottery Heritage Fund amongst others.

I’ve undertaken all new learning!

Creating a learning culture

That’s a lot of learning going on, and we’ll have a very full tool box by next March. All these areas need attention as we build the new company structure and having this scaffolding in place provides shortcuts to information, expertise, and more. Unlimited is exceptionally privileged in being able to access what we can – and we want to take the best of what we learn and share it widely.

It’s one thing to reflect, to learn, to take in other perspectives, it’s another to take action, to actually implement what you learn and change the habits of a lifetime. It’s a step further again to recognise and value the importance of learning whatever stage you are at, and build a culture of stretch, curiosity and reflection which is what we hope to do in the new company. One key learning so far is that there are no failures – just experiences and our reactions to them; from every experience we can learn. To end with another quote, as Confucius says our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. Just look at the tools we have around us to help us each time we need help!

* Advance is a support programme for creative and cultural practitioners, freelancers and SMEs based in Wakefield and the wider Yorkshire Humber region. Brought to you by Creative England, Advance is delivered in partnership with Wakefield Council and funded by The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s Cultural Development Fund grant, which is administered by Arts Council England.