“Burn it down and start again”

In keeping with the name of their Freelancer Task Force sub-group, independent producers Ashleigh Bowmott and Laura Sweeney of The Uncultured talked with us about the need for radical, collectivist change, and the discourse surrounding freelancers in the arts

“A pandemic is the perfect time to launch a new arts producing company, right? … Right?” 

In the early weeks of lockdown– in the absence of any meaningful connection with my past or future employers, any of the organisations for whom I’ve worked myself to the bone over the last five years– I started wondering whether maybe I’d imagined an entire industry in my head. 

My work had disappeared; replaced by a new day job, where I felt like an unrecognisable version of myself. Other freelancers I had worked with regularly were applying for entry-level jobs in other industries, filing for Universal Credit, re-writing their CVs. There was an overwhelming feeling that we were parting ways, that this would all last a lot longer than anyone was brave enough to admit. The ongoing weekly redundancy announcements from theatres around the UK which followed, and the continuing lack of a meaningful response from the government with regards to the financial cliff-edge faced by countless organisations and freelancers in the performing arts, only heightened that feeling of powerlessness. That feeling that we were all just bricks in the side of a collapsing building.

The idea that over 200,000 other theatre freelancers were, and still are, experiencing the same feelings of disconnection and isolation, is hard for me to fathom. Maybe it’s because I struggle to recognise and articulate those things when I feel them myself, maybe it’s because in the months since those early weeks, I have managed to find tiny morsels of solidarity in occasional Whatsapps and Zoom calls with former colleagues. I’ve found encouragement in, and tried to keep up to date with, the work of newly-formed advocacy groups like Freelancers Make Theatre Work, the Freelance Task Force, as well as cross-industry associations like the Alliance of Associations and Professionals for Theatre and Live Events (AAPTLE). But listening to Artistic Directors talking about ‘mothballing’, and reading news stories about potential future contracts which would place the financial burden of Covid-19 on the self-employed, that feeling of utter powerlessness, and the inevitability of any positive change unravelling, manages to weasel its way back into my head. 

Enter Ashleigh Bowmott and Laura Sweeney– two independent arts producers, whose refusal to accept the idea that freelancers are anything other than a majority force with the potential to affect massive change, feels like an ice bath for my tired, sore brain. Having worked together for around a year, towards the end of 2019 they sought to formalise their working partnership by forming a company. Undeterred by the national lockdown and arrival of Ashleigh’s baby, they forged ahead with The Uncultured, a producing company within which they aimed to continue to play with and interrogate convention, through performance and live art. 

Often our projects reject traditional definitions of taste, culture and art in order to create a space for social change. These marginal and radical practices are joyful, sorrowful, painful and soulful, but always impactful and powerful.”

Having also put themselves forward to be representatives for the Yard Theatre on Fuel’s Freelance Task Force– which brings together reps from over 100 arts organisations to foreground the needs of the self-employed community– Ashleigh and Laura documented their thinking on taking up the position as a job share, and the contradictions they encountered on their decision-making process. 

 Their insistence on the potential for this moment to be a turning-point in the ongoing struggle against discrimination and insularity in UK theatre, is nothing if not hopeful. In their words below, you’ll hear them mention their own cynicism and pessimism about the industry—don’t let that distract you; there is no denying the innate hopefulness of their work, and their beliefs. And their acknowledgment that all of this is an ongoing project makes me think of Audre Lorde. “Revolution is not a onetime event”. 

Laura: “Things weren’t exactly rosy for us as freelancers before Covid, working within a racist, sexist, ableist and financially unjust system, so trying something new was necessary anyway”

Ashleigh and Laura were a natural choice to discuss the complexity of starting something new in a moment of upheaval—on choosing which course of action to take. Their work is not without precedent, and I’m hopeful about the potential it has to inspire meaningful, widespread change, across an industry that could do with a bit of burning.

Ash is an arts producer and facilitator who has made a purposeful choice to integrate the politics and practicalities of work and life. She combines work as an artist, curator, producer and educator as a vehicle for developing methodologies of care and resistance. She has a PhD in collaborative artistic practices, which considers the intersectionality of creating artworks between peoples, species and levels of sentience. ​Ash has delivered talks, workshops and artworks worldwide. She is a mother of 2 and lives on a boat in London. 

Laura is a creative producer working with performance and live artists to develop strategies for creating new work and sustainability, with artist development at the core. She works with artists in a holistic way, ensuring that care is embedded in their shared practice. She is Deputy Chair of the Board for Home Live Art. She is currently part of the British Council GENERATE programme that connects UK and US producers, curators and programmers. She is also a current recipient of a Jerwood bursary to focus on training opportunities.

“Here we are, enjoying the glamorous life of a producer, in front of the bins in the rain”

We love the way you wrote about your thinking behind starting The Uncultured, as well as deciding to apply for and join the Freelance Task Force. How have you found the experience of working on them so far? 

AB: The Uncultured is our way of working together with a little cape of collectivity on. We’ve worked together for a while now, so in our day-to-day nothing much about our working practices has changed, but the idea behind being decidedly open about our collectivism allows us a sort of buffer. I think in reality, just like everything else dying under capitalism there are just hoards of individuals scrapping around, desperately trying to survive. Working together is a bit of a reaction to this I guess. We’re in a small way dependent on one another to achieve anything. We can be empathetic and responsive to each others lives outside of work. We have to have a lot of trust in one another as sort of representatives of one another’s voice or opinion as that’s how any form of collectivism is perceived. To me that makes us better at our work: we bring two skillsets and a whole new skillset that is formed when those are combined; we have capacity above and beyond what we could individually commit to; and our everyday work is a little less lonely and leads to far fewer existential crises. 

LS: Joining the Freelance TaskForce has been an interesting experiment – with over 150 freelancers involved I’m sure you can imagine it’s a bit like herding cats. It proves how wide the sector is and even though we are all freelancers, we’re finding that we often have very little in common in our approaches to work, hopes for the sector and how we think that should happen. It’s a huge plus point, our difference, but it does pose some challenges in how to ensure everyone can feel heard and also for us to feel like we’ve achieved something that doesn’t necessarily have to be agreed by everyone. We’re halfway through now and it feels like we’re getting somewhere – especially in our subgroup called “Burn it down and start again”… we’re invested in thinking about real change, probably impossible change, but finding the time to think about the seemingly impossible is a valuable exercise in optimism.

With the creative ecology of the UK already being as under-funded and insular as it is, prior to the impact of Covid-19, there’s undoubtedly overwhelming need for structural change in the Arts and in how large institutions relate to their freelancers, audiences, and communities. What I’m wondering is, how do you get past the initial uncertainty around starting a new course of action– the question of ‘is this the right thing to be doing
now, and am I doing it for the right reasons’? 

LS: it’s fair to say that things weren’t exactly rosy for us as freelancers before Covid, working within a racist, sexist, ableist and financially unjust system, so trying something new was necessary anyway – Ash and I used this time to think a bit more clearly about what we want to do and I’m sure other people are in the same situation as well. The right thing to be doing now is different for everyone. Some people have capacity to think about how structural change in the sector needs to happen, whilst others are just trying to keep their heads above water. For us, working together, giving us a bit of a buffer, felt like the right move to make sure we can keep going. To be honest, I was on the verge of quitting pre-Covid so this feels like a lifeline in saving our practices and allowing us space to support others in one of the toughest times we’ve collectively experienced in our careers…as well as acknowledge we are in a GLOBAL PANDEMIC. 

AB: There’s something in the ‘is this the right thing’ bit of this question about imposter syndrome…which I guess could also just be called “Being a Womxn syndrome”, where you feel that structures aren’t set up for you (because they’re not) and preclude you (because they do). Having very little to lose, cheers Covid, and having someone you trust with common interests gives you a bit of confidence in your decisions. It’s another perk of collectivism.

What do you think is the best course of unified action for creative freelancers who don’t want things to return to the pre-Covid ‘normal’? 

AB: There have been so many things wrong I don’t really know where to start. The levels of nuance in designing a whole new model are beyond my intelligence. But people centred co-design, feminist models of economics, amplification of marginalised voices and horizontal organisational structures probably add up to a good start. In my wildest dreams a truly unified action would be if all freelancers withdrew their labour completely. Every single one of us, just as the industry were allowed its precious “reopen”. No artists, no actors, barely any designers, barely any arts workers, just loads and loads of gatekeepers with no point to their bloody gate. All labour withdrawn, all participation withdrawn, a very obvious absence which would prove the necessity of our presence. Of course there are loads of problems with this, not only that it financially hits those withdrawing their labour the most, but also that it would just quickly perpetuate the exploitation of younger workers for whom this would present an obvious opportunity but without any support or structure. 

A step down from that might be full accountability for all the unpaid labour that we do, so that we could calculate, even based on minimum wage, how much all this unpaid work might be worth. Naming that, and naming the jobs that don’t get paid, might help us hint at some of the problems. My hunch is that anything that seems like advocacy, care, relationship building, training and finding more work will be the stuff that doesn’t get valued (paid for). This will disproportionately affect marginalised voices making the lack of value attributed to these tasks just another prop to systemic injustice. 

A really small thing that we could all do would just be shifting our discourse. Recognition that freelancers are the workforce majority in this sector at least linguistically gives us power. I keep thinking about that and the potentiality within it gives me a naughty little power surge. 

LS: What she said.

“We collaborate to draw upon our sunny dispositions and optimistic outlook”

We’re also grappling with the necessary evil of having to work for free, while trying to eliminate the need for it. How do you balance working within the system to bring about change, versus wanting to burn the whole thing to the ground? 

LS: I think unless you want to burn the whole thing to the ground you won’t be able to make change within the system, because you’re already starting from a place of compromise. Nearly all of this activism is unpaid, and if you want to commit to doing that, you have to question where you want to put your energy. At the start of Covid, we had a conversation where we said ‘do we want to work for free to support 1 person, or do we want to work for free to support hundreds if not thousands’. We chose the latter, which meant that we shifted our focus to creating resources to help people access the support available in the existing system, but we also advocate for proper, burn-it-down change alongside this. Change takes time and in that awkward in between period we acknowledge that people still need support, so doing both feels necessary for us.

AB: I like how Lola Olufemi writes about this sort of thing in her book Feminism, Interrupted: Disrupting Power. She explains that ‘only work that seeks to shake and unsettle the very foundations of the sexist state is feminist work’ (p. 35). Interestingly for this conversation, she proposes collectivism and working towards common interests as a powerful method of approaching this. I think shaking and unsettling the system is the work. This takes time, but it doesn’t take away from how valuable that incremental work is and allows us to recognise that this is work in progress. We can vision, labour and then manifest, but basically always towards the aim of getting down to those foundations and totally changing it.

And lastly, on a lighter note, what’s something else you’ve started during lockdown that you hope to continue?

LS: I adopted a dog in May so we’ve been enjoying a more PG life. Ash and I have also started to take off Monday’s and Friday’s during this time to try and minimise the amount of unpaid work we do, which feels like a huge achievement and a big wet kiss to our mental health – we have to make sure we keep valuing ourselves going forwards. 

AB: Lockdown has been a strange one for me because I had a baby just as it started. Having a newborn is all about staying indoors and washing your hands a lot, so in many ways I just felt like lots of people joined me in solidarity. When I’ve not been looking after two small kids I’ve been working, almost entirely for free. But lol, this isn’t necessarily on a lighter note so far…The thing I’m grateful for is that because I’ve been working from home so much I’ve been able to keep exclusively breastfeeding my daughter for longer than I probably otherwise would have been able to. Were it not for lockdown, shlepping across London to some pointless and unpaid meeting would probably have stopped me doing this. Now we all know we can just do it on zoom, boob out and pen in hand. I hope that people make it easier for those who cannot attend physically to still be part of conversations at distance. We’ve proved we can do it now so there’s no excuses. 

You can keep up with The Uncultured at their website, and make sure to check out their Twitter for some amazing resources on arts funding, job opportunities, and creative networks. Follow Ashleigh Bowmott and Laura Sweeney to see more of their empowering, world-shaking work.    

“We get to decide what goes onstage”

Penny Babakhani on sustainable producing, the climate crisis, and leaving behind the ‘old world’ post-Covid

Almost a month ago, a strategy consultancy company called BritainThinks published a report on the findings of their research programme, ‘Coronavirus Diaries’. For three months, from April to June, they monitored the mood, news consumption, and opinions on the government, of fifty people– from a variety of backgrounds, occupations, and geographical locations across the UK. The participants ranged from small business owners, to self-employed and gig-economy workers, to non-frontline essential workers, to people working from home. To supplement this more personal level of data tracking, BritainThinks also polled a much larger pool of UK adults on two separate occasions in April and June.

You’ve probably seen the headlines summarising their findings. Only 12% of Britons want a return to life “exactly as it was” before the Coronavirus crisis, and for many, “the worst-case scenario is that the UK returns to ‘normal’”. When looking at areas for improvement, the emphasis was on increased funding for the NHS (60% of respondents indicated they’d be willing to pay higher taxes in order to do so), increased wages for key workers, and an economic revival effort evenly spread across the country (rather focused solely on London).

Amongst other findings about the volatility of public opinion, and division surrounding how to achieve substantial change, one of the most poignant findings came towards the end of the report, in a single phrase. There is a desire to see good come from this. 

Of all the people I’ve spoken to about the future of the Arts post-Covid, Penny Babakhani is one of the few who embodies that phrase. She feels the constant, pressing potential of this moment– for it to be a turning point; a rupture in our attitude to the climate crisis; a time for the radical re-thinking of the organisational landscape of theatre. 

She talks about pressing commercial theatre producers to commit to systemic change in the wry, tongue-in-cheek sort of way you might talk about trying to get a toddler to let go of the remote control. She is limitlessly determined to changing the apparatus of cultural hegemony, and if you haven’t heard her name before, get used to it– you’re going to be hearing it a lot more in the coming years. 

I sat down to chat to Penny about her hopes for this moment, how her values as a creative producer have developed in tandem with her understanding of sustainability, and the cultural legacy to which she is heir– a legacy which lies somewhere in the intersection between Iran, Germany, and the UK. 

Penny graduated with a degree in English Literature from Durham in 2016, before studying an MA in Creative Producing at Mountview– which she completed in 2017. Since then, she’s gone on to work at Selladoor in programming, production and administration– and she’s now on furlough from her role there as full-time Administrator. 

At the same time as doing all of this, she’s continued to develop shows as an independent producer, with her most recent sell-out show, Dual, at the Vault Festival earlier this year, winning a ‘Show of the Week award’, as well as garnering a huge critical response. People called it ‘electric’, ‘powerhouse writing’, and Lyn Gardner said it was ‘a form of liberation’. 

You might know her from a recent Stage feature, in which she discussed her decision to donate her entire furlough salary to funds in support of freelance theatre-makers, and encouraged other furloughed staff to do the same. Or you might know her from her insanely well-crafted and thoughtful Twitter threads, which are truly in a league of their own. 

She’s one of the few people I know who, when faced with circumstances that benefit her, only becomes more resolved to use those circumstances to lift other people up, and dismantle the systems that perpetuate those privileges. 

You can find Penny on Twitter @PennyBabakhani, and make sure to check out her recommended charity, Arts Emergency. You can find the tweet we discussed at 19:38, from Tarek Iskander, here

To find out more about Dual, read about it here, and here

You can also listen to this interview on our Soundcloud

“I’m all about stories”

We chatted with Quarantine FM co-founder Kate McKeown about how to start something completely original, and navigate spectacular success from the comfort of your home – but not so much your comfort zone.

New projects. Like the sourdough starter sitting in the freezer, or the tax return waiting to be finished– lockdown, for better or worse, has given many of us a chance to do that thing we keep meaning to do. For some, it’s an opportunity for creative release, or to explore a different outlet for expression. For others, it’s a chance to fail at something without feeling the usual guilt for having wasted our time. But when London-based actor/singer Kate McKeown and Dublin-based broadcaster and DJ Anna-Rose Charleton decided to start Quarantine FM from their kitchen tables, they certainly weren’t expecting it to become the fastest-growing online radio station in Ireland.

Four months later, with hundreds of interviews under their belt and nearly a thousand hours of airtime, Quarantine FM’s team of artists, presenters and producers is now fifty-strong, and growing. This week, FreeBird founder Emma Gaynor sat down to talk with Kate, about starting a project during a pandemic, the value of authentic and open conversations, and their shared love of Dolly Alderton.

I. WORKING FROM HOME

EG: You’ve created and managed Quarantine FM entirely from home, first in Ireland, and now in London — how has that been?

KM: I came back [to the UK] last Monday. Anna-Rose and I had been doing the radio station from Monday to Fridays, 9am to 9pm, twelve hours a day. I went to work in a hospital, because I had no money, so I’d work Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm and then I’d go straight home, go straight upstairs and then go to bed at like 11pm or 12am and just do radio stuff all evening. It’s intense, you just find yourself constantly consumed by it and you never have time to think about anything else, ‘cause you’re constantly like, ‘Oh, I should do this and this’.

EG: It’s high-pressure, isn’t it?

KM: Yeah, constantly – I always try to relate it back to your Leaving Cert or your A-Levels, where you sit down for a hot second to have a cup of tea, and you’re like, ‘Oh no but I still need to study!’. It’s that! When you’re doing something that you’re so passionate about as well– it’s nice to find something that we really, really liked, and what was important is that a lot of people were relying on us. Working from home, we were so lucky to be able to get so many people on the project because a lot of our presenters are from the UK, and they’re in London, and they had nothing to do, and they were sitting in their flat all day every day. So we were like, ‘Why don’t you do a show or two on our radio station?’, and that gave them at least a tiny bit of stability or security or schedule, even if it’s just once a day. 

II. MANAGING PEOPLE

EG: You guys must have learnt so much about yourselves, running this and managing people, can we talk about that? 

KM: Yeah, so Anna Rose and I, we have a show called ‘Dirty DMs’ and we did our first hour-long show last week, with a whole segment on the things we’ve learnt. I think it’s really interesting; we’ve learnt so much. Personally, I’ve done a business degree, and I’ve always just wanted to be an actor – that’s all I wanted to do. And I think with QFM, it definitely gave me more purpose, and I realised that I’m actually pretty good at managing and pretty good at organising, and it gave me a newfound fire for something else– which was really nice. Because I do say to people, if you can find anything else that you’d like to do, do that instead of acting, because acting is hard! […] At the moment there’s nothing [going on in theatre] anyway, so I’m gonna try and diversify my career.

Team managing has been huge. […] I’m lucky that I’m kind of a good team manager, I know that about myself– and we have to be able to take credit where credit’s due, you know. And managing people during COVID was really tricky, because everybody was in a completely different headspace. 

Anna Rose and myself, […] to make sure that everybody was okay, we kind of became a lot of peoples’ shoulders to lean on – which was great, I’m never gonna complain about that. So we were really trying to make sure that, yes, we were absolutely hounding everybody all day everyday because it was so much work, but we did it in a way where we tried to be really sensitive towards people. A lot of people had a really tough time, we had to be very careful and really aware of that. Some people would call us and say, ‘look I can’t do a show this week, I just can’t.’ And we’d be like, ‘yeah, fine! If you’re having a bad time, absolutely fine, please let us know so that we can keep communicating.’

I think that was one of my big things, […] learning how to communicate with very, very sensitive people in a very, very sensitive time. Another [thing] I learnt was just saying ‘no’ and just being able to stop. I learnt that I could just Zoom someone for an hour […] instead of trekking an hour on the tube, or in the car, or whatever, to see someone for coffee. And I think a lot of people are finding that it’s important to have some space. Not that I’ve actually had any — but I realised that I need some. So that was good.

III. SUCCESS / GOALS

EG: You guys have achieved so much, and your programming has been absolutely amazing. What initial ideas did you set out to achieve, and do you have any other big goals you’re reaching for?

KM: We just set it up [thinking] it would be a two week project, and then it just, kind of, spiralled. So when it came to goals, we had to sit down at week five or six, and go, ‘Ok, you need to make a statement, you need to make a business plan, you need to sort out what’s going on here because whatever is happening, it’s a thing.’ We always say it was our little child that we birthed, and it just kept on running away from us, and we had to try and run after it!

That’s what QFM is. […] The idea was to get guests, have some great music, platform people and hear their stories. I’m all about stories, Anna Rose is all about stories– we just want to talk to people.

[…] We have dream guests; we have a few celebrity bookers and they work really hard in the background, trying to get people. […] We’ve got tiers, we’ve got our top five, and all of our presenters have got their own list. And we’ve achieved a lot of people’s dream guest, which is great. […] I want Dolly Alderton– I keep messaging her! She replies– she’s so lovely– saying, ‘I’m not doing any interviews’ and I’m like ‘When you do, please call me!’ and she’s like ‘Yes, ok!’ (laughs). So I’m working on getting people like Phoebe Waller Bridge for example […] I know we will [eventually], we’ll just have to be really, really annoying. I think that’s one thing that I’ve learned — I’m an incredibly annoying person when I want to be. 

We’ve been really lucky to have had a lot of press, we were in the Economist, in loads of different newspapers […] It’s tricky because at the time where we launched I think it was perfect because there was no news. So we were news for everybody and we were in everything.

IV. HOME AWAY FROM HOME

EG: One other thing I love about Quarantine FM is, similar to my aspirations for FreeBird, just because it’s Irish, that doesn’t mean you have to be Irish to listen to it. […] I think it’s a really great opportunity to educate people about Ireland. I listened to Bridgie’s conversation with the producer of Fair City— which is such a huge national heritage. I think that’s brilliant, that you could have people listening in America, finding out about Fair City

KM: Yeah, I’m so glad you said that! We set it up and we said this is actually brilliant because when I’m in London, I listen to the radio all the time. But there’s something about being Irish that means we just have to always be a little bit in touch with what’s going on there. […] And when you listen to QFM it’s so authentic, we’re authentically Irish and, you know, it’s not leprechauns, it’s not the gold at the end of the rainbow…

EG: –it’s good craic–

KM: We are! So part of the idea is, if you’re living abroad and you miss a bit of Ireland, just have a listen in. Because you’ll be like, ‘Oh that’s funny’ or ‘I remember that!’. Like, the other day one of our presenters played the most hilarious song I hadn’t listened to in ages, which was by ‘Six’.

EG: Oh yeah!

KM: I hadn’t heard that in years! […] Going forward we’re looking to broadcast in Dubai, Australia– places where a lot of Irish people our age have emigrated, so that they can keep in touch. […] People message us saying, ‘We’re living in X, Y and Z’.We’ve got people listening in Bulgaria, Austria– we’ve got a presenter living in Hawai’i at the moment, which is just jokes. I think the online aspect makes it fun, because, who knows who’s listening?

V. PASSION PROJECT

EG: One thing that we’ve mentioned but haven’t talked about is your show ‘Passion Project’.

KM: From the get-go, I thought, ‘I’m doing the arts and culture show, it’s mine.’ All I wanted to do was get people on and talk about what they loved to do. And they happened to be a lot of arts and culture people, because they’re the people I know. And it just kind of spiralled from there. For the first ten to twelve weeks I had three interviews a day, which, with a full time job, is actually insane, when I think about it.

EG: That is mental.

KM: We’re on week sixteen now, and I’ve interviewed a hundred and twenty people– each for fifteen to twenty-five minutes. And it’s been amazing, I’ve had the best fun. [At a certain point] I said, ‘Right, this is insane, and not sustainable, so I’m gonna do one interview a day and start doing other segments on the show’. So I hit up some other presenters– we always have people sending us emails asking whether can they get involved. […] On the show now, I’ve got ‘RuPaul’s Rundown’, ‘Quarantine Classics’, where we talk about classical music, and a ‘Book of the Week’ segment, which is run by Teleri Hughes, who also went to Royal Welsh [with me]. 

We’ve just got lots of random stuff– I’ve got an amazing guy who does stories, like folk tale stories, old Irish myths, legends. It’s a whole motley crew of stuff — I try and play a lot of musical theatre songs. And I’ve had some amazing interviewees, people who I’m obsessed with! I had [choreographer] Drew McOnie, Charlie Stemp, Julie Atherton– a huge goal of mine, I love her so much– Sean Foley [Artistic Director of Birmingham Rep Theatre], Lenny Abrahamson [director of Normal People], Miriam O’Callaghan, Katya Jones [Strictly Come Dancing winner]. We’ve had the highest caliber of people, and they’ve just given their time for free! So it’s been amazing, and I can’t wait to continue on. I now do my three shows on Friday, Saturday, Sunday from 7pm to 8.30pm, and you can just listen in, see what’s going on. I do little tips of things to do, and stuff to watch online, all those kinds of things. It’s just a fun time, that’s the ‘Passion Project’!

EG: I’m definitely going to make ‘Passion Project’ part of my Irish radio listening, for sure. And I’ll be texting you and Anna-Rose with my questions– especially if you get Dolly [Alderton]!

KM: When we get Dolly, that’s how it works in this place– when! It’ll be a really good day! When she first replied to me, I was like, ‘Dolly Alderton replied to me!’ It was the coolest thing. Now we’re pals. I mean– who am I, we’re absolutely not pals– but it’s fun. 

We’re gonna do a massive QFM party, with everybody who’s ever been on the station– one in Dublin, and one in London, once we’re allowed and it’s all legal! So you guys should come along! 

EG: Kate thanks so much for taking time to chat with us. 

KM: Thank you guys so much for having me, it’s been amazing!

EG: Our pleasure– you’ve been absolutely amazing! Thank you so much, take care of yourself and we’ll be listening!

 

Listen to Quarantine FM live at www.quarantinefm.ie , or listen back on Soundcloud. To find their weekly schedule of shows, and for guest announcements, check out their Instagram

 

“I was catapulted from the norm”

We chatted to Beth Botham about starting her own business, de-mystifying entrepreneurship for her audience, and comparison on social media

Beth Botham was not your typical seventeen-year-old. In the four months leading up to her A-level exams, she recalls having felt like she was leading a ‘double life’. Her time went by in an exhaustingly upside-down manner; as she studied by night, and underwent chemotherapy treatment during the day. 

 In February of 2015, she was diagnosed with Stage 2A Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, after having found a lump in her neck. The diagnosis revealed, in total, twelve tumors in her neck and chest. 

 Determined to complete her A-levels and attain her conditional university offer, she went on to surpass all expectations, and finished the treatment just five days before taking her exams– which she then went on to pass with flying colours. She went off to Nottingham University in September, and it was only when coming towards the end of her degree did she feel able to process the experience. 

 The result? Beth started Rejuvenate Kits— a line of cancer care kits, with the aim of providing for others the things she didn’t know she needed. They focus on remedying the side-effects of chemotherapy; with products such as organic shampoo and conditioner, essential oils for helping with hair regrowth, natural lip balms, green tea, and broccoli seeds. 

 Around the same time, Beth also started her Youtube channel, as a way of documenting her experiences starting the business, and presenting them to a younger audience in an accessible way. She explains of that time, “As I was going through it, I was learning so much, week on week, so I naturally just thought, ‘I want to put this somewhere, for my own pleasure’, and it was like an archive [… It felt like] a waste for me to go through it and keep it in my mind.” Last month, Beth was named one of the UK’s top 32 Female Entrepreneurs to look out for– and her audience is growing every day. She’s continued to expand her Youtube and Instagram platforms, and is now posting a huge mix of lifestyle, spirituality, relationship and financial advice videos. 

 As recently as 2018, a study by Natwest as part of their Everywoman program revealed that less than five percent of UK workers who identify as female actually own their own business. While the participation of women in the UK workforce is still on the increase, and while the nation-wide lockdown has seen an explosion of side-hustles and burgeoning online stores from small sellers, women have still been projected to bear the brunt of the economic fall-out of Covid-19, while also being more likely to suffer from increased maternity discrimination, increased childcare responsibilities, an increase in domestic abuse cases. And we’re not even mentioning an increasingly widening gender pay gap, made worse by the exemption of employers from having to file gender pay data for this year.

In the aim of continuing the discussion around the gendered nature of business, Emma and Kirsten sat down to chat with Beth, about her experience of being a young entrepreneur, and the first year of running her own business. We chatted about being underestimated in the workplace because of the bodies we inhabit, the difficulties of maintaining structured ‘work’ time when working from home, and Beth’s outlook on having been set apart from her peers at an early age.

Beth’s recommendations: 

You can find Beth’s products at rejuvenatekits.com, and subscribe to her Instagram and Youtube Channel to find out more about her upcoming projects.

You can also listen to this interview on our Soundcloud:

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