Fundraising December update

It’s been a few weeks since we launched our Big Rebuild campaign and laid out a plan to stop Freedom from slowly dissolving in the rain, making nine campaigning and support service groups homeless. So it’s high time for a roundup!

In short we’ve made at least some progress and there’s been some good news in the form of donations and pledges, but there’s also some worries and shortfalls.

The good news

There’s been some income, and many thanks to everyone who’s donated! So far we’ve had:

  • Cheques and donations worth £1,014
  • Pledges worth £3,000
  • £153 pledged online

Total: £4,167

Which makes our year one targets look something like this:

Freedom-Fund-2911.jpg

One thing keen-eyed building project types will note about this list is that the repointing (fixing up the bricks and mortar so that they’re protecting against leakage and damp) is a big chunk of the money, but isn’t a massively skilled job — there’s even people in the building who already have some experience of doing it. And this is true. In theory, we could save a big whack of the necessary money by getting in volunteers to do the work.

However, as anyone who’s run a volunteer-led rebuilding project will tell you, what people will promise to do and what actually happens is not always one and the same. If we spend £2,500 on scaffolding for a month but no-one shows up to work it’s just a massive waste of funds. So we’re playing this one safe. We need enough money to make sure that when the scaff goes up, the job gets done regardless. If people then show up to make the job cheaper that’s all good  — we have another £30,000-worth of works to be done which isn’t so immediately pressing like fixing the windows, the stairs, the inside walls etc. This is a multi-year project and all the money will get spent on things that are needed.

What we’re doing next

Various kind people have helped put together graphics and print runs for other bits and pieces, some of which you may have seen at this year’s anarchist bookfair, including a range of tote bags, T-shirts and stickers which can be picked up either from the Freedom shop, or bought online.

Following on from this, we’re looking at setting up a gofundme campaign with some interesting tweaks on what you can get hold of. Author-signed merch, that sort of stuff. When we have more details on that we’ll pass ’em straight on.

There’s also been a couple of very welcome offers to put on gigs, which if they come off will help both to raise funds and get the campaign noticed — as we also have a year two and year three to sort out at some point that’ll be no bad thing!

And of course along with running this blog soliciting people like you for cash we will be needing to send off funding applications to various grants organisations, and good old begging letters to people who we think might be able to  get our totals looking a bit less daunting.

The worries

Essentially our main worries at the moment revolve around the very ordinary problems of long-term volunteer organising. The Freedom Building user group has nine member organisations (more on them another time), but all are typically quite stretched doing useful stuff like investigating corporate malpractice, or helping people to not lose their homes, or sending books to prisoners.

So while we have various people seconded to the fundraising group it’s quite difficult to, for example, be volunteering at a group in a core capacity, working to keep heads above water and running quite time-intensive fundraising campaigns.

So we could very much do with a hand if there’s anyone out there who is enthusiastic and/or skilled at:

  • Letters asking folks for a bit of money
  • Writing grant applications
  • Organising fundraising events
  • Coming up with good ideas (and acting on them!)

You can get in touch via freedombuildingcollective@gmail.com or via the shop.

How you can pay in

This is the bit where we ask you to put in a few quid to get rid of all the red on our building graphic (hmm maybe we should reverse the colour scheme so you can add red…) Any donation no matter how small helps us get to our target. A handy paypal button is at the top of this page, or you can send a cheque payable to “Freedom Press” to 84b Whitechapel High st, London E1 QX, or call the shop to get details for a direct transfer on (07952) 157-742.

We’ve got a unique resource in central London to bring back to its best, a building that has been in the hands of the anarchist movement for nearly 50 years providing space and support for innumerable libertarian projects and which today provides a home for many important organisations. We hope you can join u in making it ready for the next few decades!

Year One.

There are many buildings we would like to see topple and fall over, but we would also like to think you share our view that Freedom is one worth keeping. To make sure that this happens, and the building at 84b Angel Alley remains a resource for all of the great anarchist groups to come, we’re afraid to say that it’s in need of some pretty serious repairs.

A survey carried out at the end of 2015 highlighted that emergency repairs are needed to the roof and walls that will total around £13,000 — more details can be found of this work on page 12. Our aim is to raise this figure by August 2017 so that the building works can take place next summer.

As of the beginning of October 2016, we’ve raised over £3,000 to get us started. And the fun doesn’t stop there — over the coming three years we will need a lot more money to treat dampness in the walls, insulate the building, install a boiler and look into making the whole place more accessible.

In the long term, costs could be between £40,000-50,000 to bring the building back to its best, including things like fixing up the lovely (but old-style) sash windows.
We would really like to take this opportunity to not only do the emergency repairs to keep it from falling apart, but to also push to make the space the best resource it can be for the wider London anarchist scene.

How can you help?

  • You can donate via cheque, made payable to “Freedom Press,” online via PayPal at http://www.paypal.me/fbuildingcollective (though they take a 3% slice of donations) or via direct bank transfer (call the shop for details).
  • Or if you have skills/time you would like to donate, drop us an email.
  • Come along to one of our monthly socials held in the bookshop on the second Friday of every month, 7-9pm.
  • If you are organising benefit gigs you could consider adding us to your list of beneficiaries.
  • And you can help advertise the building and the fact we need money via social media — or even in real life.

2015: The Bug

In 2015 the Freedom Collective was treading water financially, dependent on book donations and in the longer run publishing new books of its own at low cost. This however marked an improving trend over previous years, as even before the death of former editor, proprietor and leading Collective figure Vernon Richards in 2001 a dependence on legacies from friends and fans of the press had made for an unsustainable long-term position.

In an effort to find its feet and move beyond mere subsistence, the Collective undertook a major re-organisation, splitting the finances so different parts of the operation were semi-independent, and aiming to be self-sufficient, while reporting back to the collective at the monthly meetings. It also, working with other groups within the building, set up the Building Users Group (Bug) to bring about a consensus-led approach to running things, as it was felt an “anarchist landlord” scenario would be against libertarian principles.

The Bug set its own rates at the April AGM, with groups coming to a consensus on reasonable payments bringing in all cash needed for utilities and business rates, plus some extra for contingencies and small works to be done. All groups at Freedom are non-profit, and all work on a shoestring budget, so each group gives what it can afford — essentially practicing a “from each according to their means” approach.

Late in the year, a survey commissioned by members of the Friends of Freedom, a “dormant company” which holds the building in trust for the Collective, found a number of works that needed to be done to secure the building in the long term, which has since provided the focus for the founding of the fundraising group which runs this website.

2014: Stabilising

With much of 2013 given over to rebuilding the downstairs shop, 2014 saw Haven Press and the Anarchist Federation move into Freedom offices, while slow work went on fixing up bits and pieces which hadn’t been dealt with in the main surge of enthusiasm which saw so much of the damage cleaned up, walls repainted, electrics fixed and the like. But cash was tight, as both legacy money from years gone by had been used up, and donations used on things like the absurdly expensive custom windows required to replace the ones ruined in the fires.

Even with income from the new tenants, it was obvious that something would have to give, and in March the Collective was forced to announce the upcoming closure of the monthly newspaper, moving much of its content online while keeping a smaller freesheet going in its place. The statement read as follows:

Since Freedom: A Journal of Anarchist Socialism first appeared in 1886 it has been in the form of a newspaper to be sold. Now the Freedom Collective has decided that we shall move content online accompanied by a freesheet after publication of the upcoming second issue of 2014.

We have come to realise that a sold hardcopy newspaper is no longer a viable means of promoting the anarchist message. Despite a huge publicity boost to Freedom following the firebomb attack last year (shop sales rose 50%) there has not been a corresponding increase in distribution of thepaper. Only 29 shops, social centres and individuals now sell it and the number of paying subscribers has fallen to 225.

As a result annual losses now amount to £3,500, an unsustainable level for our shoestring budget.

Readers will have noticed that the paper has struggled to come out on time for some while. An underlying problem has been a lack of capacity to sustain it. We had hoped that Freedom would be adopted as THE paper of the anarchist movement. Despite a great deal of goodwill from anarchist groups and individuals over the years, sadly this has not been the case.

Although Freedom Press has changed from a political group with a particular point of view to a resource for anarchism as a whole, we have not managed to shake the legacy of the past and get different groups to back it as a collective project. We hope an online version and freesheet will make that possible.

Subscribers will be offered a refund or book in lieu but we are happy to accept donations towards the costs of the new project.

Charlotte Dingle will remain as editor and of course the shop, publishing and book distribution will continue as normal. As will the use of Angel Alley for meetings, events, offices, postal address and drop-in protest advice.

The print version could not have continues so long without the generosity of Aldgate Press, currently amounting to a subsidy of nearly £10,000 a year. They have very kindly agreed to print a regular freesheet/news compilation to enable us to keep in touch with our readers who don’t have the internet, and a special final edition, which will be released for the London Anarchist Bookfair in October.

Without that cost, and with extra income from Haven and the AF, Freedom was able to slow losses to a minimum, covering rates, fire safety improvement costs, utilities and the like. Major works or big projects however were unlikely. and the year saw the Press largely concentrating on balancing the books.

2013: Firebombs and new starts

On Friday February 1 2013, someone tried to burn Freedom down. Lifting up a shutter, they broke a window and poured a flammable liquid through before setting it on fire.

Although there were no injuries, hundreds of books were destroyed. Electrics were melted, the ceiling wrecked, the windows all but destroyed, shelving went up in smoke and firefighters arrived only minutes before the offices above would have caught fire, all but guaranteeing the destruction of the rest of the building. The Press archive, kept so historians could have an easily accessible resource, was singed and soaked and barely survived.

Freedom, which had run out of insurance only a week before, has been left with a bill running into the tens of thousands of pounds.

Theories abound as to who did it, with many blaming the far-right – the Press was attacked twice in the 1990s by grumpy skinheads – but with police taking away CCTV recordings and saying little since then supporters can do little more than speculate.

The real story isn’t the fire or the culprits, however, it’s the response.

The news broke on social networks at around midday. Within hours hundreds of people had pushed the news on and the phones of Freedom collective members began to ring off the hook. A callout for help was quickly prepared which also went viral and mainstream press sources began to pick up on the story, ensuring it would go well beyond anarchist circles.

The next day, Angel Alley filled with more people than it had ever seen before from across the left of the political spectrum. So many we could barely fit, hauling the books out, cleaning them, cleaning shelves, washing walls, sorting what could be saved, painting and getting in each others’ way. Then, each day afterwards, more people came to keep the work going. Collective members who knew what needed doing gave volunteers a steer and left everyone to organise themselves.

On Monday the bookshop reopened in a limited sort of way. By the following Friday it was repainted and the books had all been cleaned and sorted. And now a collection of skilled volunteers are going over what needs to be done to make the bookshop better than it was before.

Online, hundreds of solidarity messages came through from all over the world, alongside promises of donations, fundraising events and other gestures of support, including a book of poetry which has had over 350 submissions at the time of writing and two separate music albums from Scribbo and Iron Column Records.

In the end something like £13,000 was raised, allowing the Press not only to rebuild and re-open the bookshop on the ground floor but to fix up the windows, redo the electrics, and even keep the Freedom Press magazine in print throughout, though it sadly later closed as a regular paid-for publication in October 2014.