An open letter to UK Museums, Libraries, Heritage Sites, Archives and Galleries and their sector organisations from the Museum Freelance Network (updated 21 March 2020)

21 March 2020

Yesterday the Museum Freelance Network penned an open letter to UK Museums, Libraries, Heritage Sites, Archives and Galleries and their sector organisations about the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on freelancers, and what the sector could do to support them.

In response to the Government’s press conference later that day, and in light of the lack of anywhere near enough support for the self-employed, we have today (21 March 2020) updated the letter with the following:

The financial support measures announced by UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak on 20 March 2020 have largely been welcomed by our sector organisations (please see their joint statement). However, the measures do not go anywhere near far enough to support and protect the self-employed – who are such an intrinsic part of the cultural and heritage sectors’ ecosystems – whose livelihoods face decimation.

We are calling on UK Museums, Libraries, Heritage Sites, Archives and Galleries and sector organisations to visibly and robustly stand up for freelancers who they frequently depend so greatly on.

There are other precedents and models which the UK could adopt. For example, in Norway the self-employed will receive 80% of their average earnings over the last three years; whilst another idea is a temporary universal basic income.

So, in addition to the seven points for how the sector can help freelancers we originally listed, we’re adding an eighth point today:

8. Lobby for us. Please lobby and advocate for the sector’s self-employed, whether that’s proactively applying pressure to Government and your local MP, or simply sharing our concerns on your own communication channels. We appreciate any support you can give that helps to amplify the urgent call for more financial support for the self-employed.

Our original letter is set out below:

20 March 2020

The Coronavirus pandemic has impacted enormously on all walks of life and has made the situation for freelancers more precarious than ever, especially with no real support forthcoming from Government.

Freelancers have already had months of work and income cancelled or postponed indefinitely, with no or very limited hope of being able to secure new work and income in the foreseeable future.

A heartfelt thank you to organisations and individuals who have already reached out to the freelance community, got in touch with their freelancers and/or shared useful resources. For those of you asking, we’ve put together a list of seven things you can do to help freelancers at this very difficult time:

1. Don’t forget us Freelancers are an integral part of the cultural sector’s eco-system. We believe in this sector and want it to thrive as much as you do. We are your colleagues, friends, contributors. Please remember to include us in your plans, lobbying and communications.

2. Communicate with us Keep lines of communication open. If you’re a client working with a freelancer, please be open and transparent. We know planning is difficult, circumstances are changing continuously, and you may not have the answers now, but please keep in touch.

3. Involve us Freelancers are creative, resourceful and bring diverse perspectives to problems. Involve us in your decision-making as we may be able to help. We are a part of your community.

4. Pay us Pay on time or even ahead of payment terms, as cashflow for freelancers is likely to be harder than normal and income levels are likely to dip substantially. If there are reasons for paying late (e.g. difficulty getting sign-off remotely), please let us know so that we can expect this.

5. Pay us fairly Please don't put downward pressure on freelancers' rate because of the Coronvirus pandemic. A freelance day rate covers many costs such as such as pensions, training, tax, insurance as well as allowing us to build up a bit of a buffer for lean times. Please respect and value us as a core part of the sector workforce.

6. Check in on us This is a stressful and uncertain time for everyone. Freelancers don’t have regular work colleagues who can touch base with them, and a lot of their usual well-being mechanisms have disappeared (e.g. a face-to-face client meeting, working in a co-working space, a coffee shop meetup, a trip to the gym). If you can touch base with any freelancers in your network (even if you’re not currently working with them), they will really appreciate that.

7. Keep commissioning us Times are incredibly difficult for the sector, with unprecedented pressure and some impossibly tough decisions that need to be made. But where possible, please keep commissioning us and allow us to contribute to this wonderful sector that we so adore.

Download this letter as a PDF.

Best wishes, Christina Lister & Marge Ainsley, co-leaders of the volunteer-run Museum Freelance Network, on behalf of freelancers working with museums, libraries, archives, galleries and heritage sites.