There can be few creative-digital professionals in Brighton and Hove that have not heard of the Brighton Fuse project. This research showed the first solid evidence of the astounding growth of the cluster, the importance of creative and design skills to this growth, and the resilience and innovation in the city’s firms. Everyone from Government ministers to the Financial Times to the World Economic Forum sat up and paid attention. But some voices rightfully asked “what about the freelance sector?”
The Fuse results showed that Brighton’s firms on average use 7 freelancers each year. They also employ on average 7 workers. This clearly means that a large part of the wealth generated by the cluster’s companies is thanks to our temporarily contracted friends. And there is a lot we don’t know about this ‘reserve army of labour’.
The Fuse 2 project is aimed at revealing the hard work and value-added of independent creative-digital and IT professionals. We want to understand the nature of their role in projects, how they upgrade their skills, how they find work, and what are their challenges. This last point in important because there may be specific policies or tax rules that make freelancers’ lives difficult, and by surfacing these issues we can collectively recommend adjustments or changes that may help. There may be other ways to support the freelance community such as through customised Continuing Professional Development and training that fits their lifestyles.
Over the next months we will be asking for freelancers views in three ways. Firstly Wired Sussex with the Universities of Brighton and Sussex will be approaching freelancers to fill out an online questionnaire, with quickly answered questions that we promise will be more enjoyable than your tax return. Secondly we will be approaching some freelancers to do a one-hour face-to-face interview so we can get a sense of individual context beyond the ticked boxes. Thirdly we will be organising focus groups of freelancers so we can create a buzz around the findings as they emerge and focus discussion on solutions.
We hope that the freelancer community are as excited as we are about this opportunity to learn about, and potentially improve the working lives of what some would call the ‘unsung heroes’ of the creative economy.