A photograph of a glass table on top of which sit many brightly coloured wires. A pair of white hands reaches down to rearrange the wires.
Unlimited Connects at Watershed. Photo by Jon Aitken.

Setting up new systems from scratch

As Unlimited moves from a programme to an independent organisation, it’s a chance to set up new systems from scratch. We’ve never had our own bank account, finance systems, data storage, health and safety policies, and so on thanks to the incredibly generous support of our delivery partners Shape Arts and Artsadmin. Now it’s time to develop our own systems, structures, policies and practices…

We have been a programme since 2013, supported by our delivery partners Shape Arts and Artsadmin, and led by freelance senior producer, Jo Verrent. This means we have a good understanding of remote working (which has stood us in excellent stead during the pandemic) but that we own few systems ourselves and so need to start from scratch as we build anew for the independent Unlimited organisation.

Setting up all the infrastructure for any organisation can be stressful – the need to learn enough about everything to make wise and accessible choices can seem overwhelming. We are therefore incredibly grateful to announce that we’ve just gained funding from the National Lottery Community Fund’s New Infrastructure Fund to help us through this process and ensure we get it right first time.

The fund is working with between eight and ten organisations supplying a package of funding, combined with on-site coaching and expertise provided by a Design Lab over 12 months. The Design Lab will be a dedicated team which will provide both expert advice and practical support. Receiving this funding is so timely. This additional capacity and guidance will benefit us hugely right now when disabled people are increasingly both marginalised and at risk.

Our core challenge is capacity. The demand on Unlimited is extensive – the past seven years has increased awareness and therefore demand (such as the recent 70% increase in requests for funding). Our desire to work accessibly, inclusively, and intersectionally adds positive challenge to all tasks.

We asked the New Infrastructure Fund why we were selected and Cassie Robinson, Deputy Director for Funding Strategy at The National Lottery Community Fund, said:

“We’re delighted that thanks to National Lottery players we are able to support a range of established and emerging infrastructure organisations with the opportunity, space and time to plan for the future.

We understand that for grassroots, community-led and frontline organisations across the UK to be adaptive and resilient there’s a need for a diverse and effective support system, which includes infrastructure organisations, and this is especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

What will it enable us to do?

Unlimited is centred around disabled artists (our new board is 54% artists, all of them disabled people) and also has a growing band of allies – organisations and individuals who want the same change that we do. We know that with better systems in place, we can improve our support.

It also means that we’ll be able to focus future funds better if all the administrative systems are working harmoniously, making us more viable and resilient and also an easier place to work, work with, and be funded by!

We need to select the best and most appropriate data tools for the new organisation as we uncouple from those used at Shape Arts and Artsadmin, that enable us to support both artists and allies alike. This includes aspects such as:

  • Systematising and managing our data for staff, freelancers, artists, allies, and more
  • Dealing with GDPR in a compliant way
  • Examining communications from email
  • Looking at how we work best collaboratively, remotely, and face to face
  • All things data storage – to where personal and private data is stored and protected
  • And much more

However, it’s not just support choosing the tools, it also how we use them. We love data and know we have already been getting (and publishing) strong results. We also know that our data isn’t yet joined up as formally as it could be to our decision making; we could use data more effectively if we were more skilled. We are really keen to experiment with new approaches for testing, experimenting, and iterating - that’s where we think the learning is – and then we could cascade that learning out through our allies into the cultural sector as a whole.

Massive thanks to the New Infrastructure Fund for giving us the boost and access to the expertise – it’s so rare that funds and expertise exist for this element of the work that we do, but it’s vital to ensure that we do it well. Perfect timing for us as we transition into independence!