Alex Pumfrey of the Film & Television Charity on supporting the people who keep the industry moving

4 Jul 2019

Alex Pumfrey, CEO of the Film & Television Charity, talks to us about the important work the organisation does to support film and television professionals when they need it the most, offers insight into the different ways the charity can help - and also how you can help the charity by taking The Looking Glass survey.

Hello Alex, thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. Can you please tell us about your role at the Film & Television Charity and how the organisation started?

I’m the CEO of the Film & Television Charity, I joined the team in October 2017. Established in 1924 as the Cinema & Television Benevolent Fund, the organisation has been providing financial and emotional support for people working in film, cinema and TV for nearly 100 years. In 2018 we updated our name and relaunched with a revitalised mission to help even more people than before throughout their careers.

 

Can you tell us a bit about the services the charity provides and how it can help film and television professionals?

We’re there for anyone working in this sector, providing support and advice, for free, 365 days a year. A year ago we launched the Film & TV Support Line, a free, impartial and confidential service providing 24/7 advice on issues big or small including around anxiety, debt, and harassment. The service has already helped over 1,000 people.  

 

In terms of our financial assistance, providing you have 2 years’ worth of credits you can access our welfare and talent development programmes.

 

Can you give an example of those services at work?

As an example of someone asking for help, a script editor came to us recently in some distress, feeling overwhelmed trying to cope at the end of a contract, coinciding with a relationship breakdown and managing rent arrears and historic debts. He had a limited support network to call on for help and no savings.

 

As well as telephone counselling he was offered an immediate financial assistance to give him some breathing space and the option of a more intensive means-tested assessment and assistance with financial planning.

 

So with the help of the charity, this person was able to explore his options and also talk to someone.

What changes in the industry and its working practices have you seen in recent years that has made the work of the charity all the more relevant?

Production is booming and new studios are being built across the UK.

 

At the same time cinema visits are at their highest levels in decades. Driving this growth we have an exceptional and internationally respected workforce and this success is also creating many opportunities for new entrants. This is all great news but as an industry we need to think about the needs that growth entails for workers of all experience levels so that workers are valued and supported.

 

One thing we need to address in particular are the challenges faced by an increasingly freelance workforce. Most people who work in the screen industries love their jobs, and clearly careers are greatly sought after. But we know that especially for freelancers constant professional and financial insecurity can take its toll. That’s why we set up our Support Line, to provide a free, confidential and 24/7 point of access for everyone in the industry.

You’ve just launched the new The Looking Glass initiative, can you tell us about this?

The first of its kind, The Looking Glass is the UK’s first ever industry-wide study to get a snapshot of the well-being of those working in this sector and understand how people could be better supported.

 

To mark the launch of the study, the charity created a thought-provoking 90 second film ‘Smashed?’ directed by award-winning Tim Pope, who is best known for directing alt music videos for groups such as The Cure and Soft Cell. The first part of the study is a seminal evidence-gathering survey. We’re urging everyone working in film and TV, whether you’re behind the cameras, in the office or in sales, to complete the survey before midnight on 7th July. This is a chance for everyone in the industry to have their say.

 

The well-being of those working in the industry is clearly at the forefront of the charity’s mission. As a charity, what’s one of the most rewarding experiences you’ve had of helping someone in need?

We’re here to help people with issues big or small, so I suppose from my perspective it’s great that, given we’re independent, we are best-placed to help people with a wide variety of problems, ranging from a moment or crisis to just helping someone try to pick their way through a problem.

 

People have told me personally all kinds of examples of instances they have encountered ranging from the impact of a 40-hour shift without sleep, worrying about the travel costs for the first job you’ve landed, of having to choose between child-care and going after a job and all the while no-one stopping to ask ‘but how are you?’. Currently we can be the one place they can go to for help and support. 

 

What level of support does the charity receive from the industry it looks to support?

We are funded via individual donations and the Support Line was launched with funding from the BFI. As we continue to readjust the services we deliver we are always happy to collaborate with industry.

What advice would you give to any film/TV professional who is perhaps struggling with the stresses of the job, and that toll that can take on their personal life?

Call our Support Line and see if we can help. The service is the front door to our financial awards. It can also just offer a listening ear if you feel like you’re struggling and, if it comes to it, refer you to fast-track counselling or point you in the right direction for further advice.

 

What can people do to help support the charity?

Please complete the survey and share it with your friends and colleagues in the industry! It’s vital that we can deliver a robust evidence base in order to build a picture of what is really going on and work with the industry to develop new ways of supporting people.

 

The survey will close at midnight on 7th July.

 

Watch the film and take the survey here.

 

You can follow the Film & Television Charity on Twitter: @FilmTVCharity

 

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