A Letter on ‘Community’

Photo by Jeremy Cai on Unsplash

In the midst of a year overrun with a pandemic, a wave of protests against police brutality, systemic racism, and the ever worsening effects of the climate crisis, I think it’s fair to say human relations have taken a serious hit. The prominence of digital communication isn’t quite enough to fight the effects of isolation, political and social divide seem more entrenched than ever. Even groups of people rallying for incredibly valuable causes like the climate or antiracism are falling victim to infighting and lack of unity. So how do we avoid further division? How do we unite without dividing or ostracizing?

When discussing this month’s theme, we thought about the concept of unity, togetherness. It’s a beautiful idea but ultimately we decided it wasn’t exactly what we wanted to celebrate. Because what is more beautiful than ignoring differences to unite is seeing these differences and allowing them to exist, to take space between us. 

Interestingly (at least to me, but I’m a bit of an etymology nerd), community and unity come from different latin words. Same root, but a clear difference in meaning. Unity comes from unus, one, whereas community comes from communis, common. And to me, that subtle difference is the key to the strength and the beauty of community. It doesn’t require the individual to join a unit, as much as it encourages them to find a commonality around which to rally. Not we are one, but we are together.

The essence of community that I’m fascinated with is that tension between unity and difference. Community implies proximity and a common sense of purpose, principles shared with others who otherwise may or may not be similar to you.

In How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X Kendi highlights the differences between segregation, assimilation and antiracism. Segregation uses differences to justify discrimination and oppression. Assimilation seeks to erase differences and uphold the oppressor as the ideal to which all should aspire. Antiracism sees differences, accepts and celebrates them.

So perhaps the key to creating a lasting community is to accept and celebrate differences between individuals, and to recognise that these differences will lead to discussions, disagreements, and maybe even conflict.

I shy away from confrontation because I don’t feel confident in my opinions or my ability to express them. In the past, that’s led me to silence myself and to want unity and homogeneity and tolerance above all else. Don’t criticise, don’t clash, don’t express yourself too much.

I was able to hold these views because my humanity and my basic rights weren’t being questioned.

I could stay silent because I was ignorant of the pain that makes speaking out necessary, a tool for survival.

My silence was complicit and my desire for a quiet calm and peaceful world hinged on the persistent oppression of others. Others whose lives, whose desires, whose humanity I did not value as highly as I did my own.

I am starting to understand that confrontation can be a powerful thing. Differences of opinions spark discussions, creativity, worldviews and ambitions I couldn’t have dreamt of.

I am learning to determine when confrontation is an opportunity to engage with new ideas and when confrontation is necessary to allow lives to be lived and breaths to be breathed.

I am hoping I can use my voice to fight against conflict that kills and to contribute to conflict that creates.

I’d like to propose a metaphor because as previously stated I am a nerd, and if there’s one thing I love more than etymology, it’s figures of speech that rope in wildly unrelated topics. So let’s think for a second about gravity. About how gravity brings all objects with mass together but if left unchallenged by other energies, brings about destruction (don’t take my word for it, I’m paraphrasing Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time). 

According to the laws of physics, if the universe wasn’t expanding as rapidly as it is, gravity would eventually take over and cause the universe to shrink back to an infinitely dense state. A reverse Big Bang, named the Big Crunch (which I think sounds a bit like a brand of cereal but that’s off topic).

Gravity brings objects together, community brings people together.

But it’s the external forces, the momentum with which we’re moving, our differences that stop us from shrinking and merging into a single point of infinite density.

Staying unique, accepting conflict and friction allows us to stay human. To expand our worldview as our universe is expanding.

A letter on ‘Growth’

"<spanPhoto by Clemens van Lay on Unsplash

Life is made up of hundreds of thousands of moments. Some move us, others change us, and some moments provoke us. Busy lives, distracted lives, and daily routines tend to take us away from important moments. However, 2020 has been full of moments, and it’s been the time to slow down. We’ve stopped. We’ve listened to 2020, and we’ve focused.

The moments of 2020 have provoked us. 

We desperately want to go back to ‘normal’, but it’s just not possible. And frankly, even if we could go back, the life pre-Covid that we used to know simply wasn’t… normal. 

Thanks to Covid-19, life as we know it has fundamentally changed. We’re staying apart to keep each other healthy, but none of us can feel completely well while we’re apart. Some of us are probably asking questions we’ve never asked before; about ourselves, our families, our careers, our culture. And there aren’t necessarily easy answers to those questions– no quick fixes for the crises we currently face. 

We’re all going to need a deep re-think about many areas of our lives. Our attitudes, our priorities, and most importantly, our compassion. We’ve been forced to take a beat and assess how we think, decide what we stand for, and how we voice it. And most importantly, we’ve had to dig deep into thinking about how to make changes for the better.  I know, myself, I’ve learnt a serious amount in the last few months, been forced to think about other people (rightly so) and made bolder choices than ever before. 

Routine allows us to go through life without thinking much; change forces us to look at things with fresh eyes. In this post-Covid world, people around the world are now changing paths– in their careers, studies, relationships– and opening up to the idea of something new. Many people have more time to reflect, adapt, and finally make room for growth. Growth isn’t easy. We know it’s often uncomfortable, confusing, messy and can be full of feelings you weren’t expecting. But let’s be honest: normal wasn’t working. And with FreeBird, we want to help support this communal growth into something new.

At its most basic level, this pandemic is dealing us two options: evolve, or regress. 

Here at Freebird we believe in growth, we believe in change, and– as a core team– we believe in supporting something different . We all know that for anyone in the arts, if we were afraid to take risks and adapt to change, we wouldn’t survive. In an ever-changing industry filled with uncertainty and variation, we’ve learned to adapt to our surroundings on a daily basis. But what happens when life comes to a halt? Daily activities and routines go out the window and life as we always knew it, has completely changed. In my opinion, you have the option to step forward into growth or step backwards into safety. Come with us on this month’s journey into growth and let’s get inspired together. We are completely here for taking risks. If we didn’t ever jump, we might not ever fall. A brilliant colleague once said to me – “Sometimes you have to jump… and it feels like you’re free falling, but when you free fall, you land.” That one certainly stays with me. 

For myself personally, after several brilliant, busy years at Bill Kenwright Limited, I’ve now made the decision to step away. I couldn’t have ever imagined– on the 16th of March– the scale of events that were to follow. Over the next week, the country launched into lockdown, we’ll certainly never forget rushing home that night to watch Boris give that speech that halted life as we knew it. Having worked tirelessly for BKL from my kitchen table in the ensuing months, I remained part of a core team battling against the damage Covid-19 was, and still is, wreaking on the theatre, events and live entertainement industry– battling the unknown. As news of redundancy consultations, venue closures, and ongoing chaos unfolded across the performing arts each week, lives and careers came to a complete stand-still. And after five solid months of helping to keep the wheels turning, this girl now needs a break! 

How is it then, that somehow– in a time of ultimate crisis– I almost feel more grounded than ever? I’m a prolific planner; I plan my life day-in, day-out. I write daily tasks and lists, track my eating habits, my sleep, and constantly have things booked to look forward to, along with goals to achieve. Perhaps taking control of my time has enabled me to feel more steady. For now, I’m trusting that this has all happened for a reason. I’m allowing myself space to breathe, and understand that the events of this year are bigger than any of us. I’m allowing myself space to reflect and assess– I want time to consider the elements of my life and my industry that require change. I don’t know for sure, but a large part of my gut tells me this shake up hasn’t happened for nothing. 

One thing’s for sure– we’re ready for there to be something new; a world where fighting consistently for change and progress means there is no ‘normal’, but there are goals and ambitions that unite us and guide us forwards. We all know it’s time for change. Let’s take this opportunity for Growth–  we’re all in it together, and there’s a hell of a lot of power in solidarity. 

Milly Summer 

A Letter on ‘Starting’

Photo by Luke Brugger on Unsplash

“Every thing must have a beginning … and that beginning
must be linked to something that went before.” 

– Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein

“Don’t look back, I want to break free
If you’ll never see ’em coming
You’ll never have to hide
Take my hand, take my everything
If we only got a moment
Give it to me now”

– Perfume Genius, Slip Away


Before we get going, can we just say; starting is straight-up hard yo. 

It’s sitting, staring at a blank page, with no idea where to begin.
It’s seeing your running shoes in the hallway and not being able to remember the last time you put them on.
It’s being passed the microphone, and feeling your throat close up.
It’s looking down the barrel of a job application – or an Arts Council application – or a mortgage application – or a Visa application – and wondering whether you should just save yourself the hassle. 

And maybe this is partly a new problem. Maybe a few months ago– before the world went into lockdown– things seemed a little easier to set in motion. Processes which were previously effortless, second-nature, now take a bit more energy– and a lot more faith. And if we’re honest, we’re running pretty low on both of those things right now. 

Starting something takes
courage. Global pandemic aside, it takes guts to put yourself out there– even if it’s something you’ve done before. New starts require a kind of faith in the future– a hope that things can be different, that our actions have impact. We’ve found enormous courage in all of the people we’ve spoken to this month, and we can’t wait to pass on their inspiring stories to you. 

To kick us off, we chatted to the hugely driven
Beth Botham, whose first steps into the world of entrepreneurship– at the age of 22– will seriously motivate you. Our own Casimira Hayward-Peel is making the case for a long-term shift in attitudes towards the climate crisis, with our Monthly Sustainability Plan. Later on in the month, we’ll be introducing you to Kate McKeown, one of the women behind Quarantine FM, currently the fastest-growing digital radio station in Ireland. And we’ve been particularly inspired by our activist theatre-maker friends this month, like The Uncultured, who are starting their own producing company while continuing their advocacy work on the Freelance Task Force; as well as the wonderful Penny Babakhani, who has some amazing ideas about a new ethics for creative producing and climate activism in a post-Covid world. We also chatted with Megan Rose Bill Designs about starting her online printed textile business, and how she’s developing confidence as a new small business owner. And we’ve got plenty more conversations in the pipeline, so stay tuned for more new collaborators each week. 

We’ve chosen
Starting as the theme for our first month– not only for the obvious reason that FreeBird is our attempt at a new start, but because there are 7.7 billion of us starting something new right now. Our lives are all starting out on a new course– and it’s our hope, with FreeBird, that we’ll be able to encourage you to make this new timeline a good one. We don’t assume it’ll be easy– and for some of us, making the decision to start something new, right now, is incredibly fraught. But we hope you’ll join with us in seeing the potential in this moment. We’ve got that ‘first day of school feeling’, and we can’t wait to share it with you. 

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