Case Study: Barrowland Ballet

Barrowland Ballet's Radical Care project was to test the implementation of Care Riders to support those with caring responsibilities to identify and articulate their needs.

Images courtesy of Barrowland Ballet 

Barrowland Ballet is a contemporary dance company built around the artistic work of choreographer Natasha Gilmore. The company produces high quality, accessible dance theatre performance, installation and film which are presented nationally and internationally. Barrowland Ballet’s work has gained critical international acclaim performing in festivals and venues across the world.

Barrowland Ballet has been recognised for its developing practice in contemporary dance work with and for neurodiverse audiences and children with complex needs. Alongside the company’s professional work, it produces high quality participatory performance projects; the two are inter-dependent with one inspiring the other. The company also runs Wolf Pack, a free, intergenerational company in Glasgow with participants aged 7-80 years old.


The Radical Care project

The project was to test the implementation of Care Riders to support those with caring responsibilities to identify and articulate their needs. The project covered both freelance staff working on specific projects/productions and permanent staff. The idea was to build on the model of a rider and access rider which are both understood within the sector and to test the extent to which this model can be used to empower those with caring responsibilities to identify, communicate and receive the provision they require to work (and care) effectively.

The project was designed to take an expansive and holistic approach to provision and structures of support, with bespoke riders built from a menu of potential provision which may include adjustments to working roles (e.g. flexible schedules, or job sharing), and childcare support (e.g. provision for another carer, or transport costs to bring children to rehearsals). The project also aimed to actively explore the impact of domestic support (e.g. a laundry service or meal delivery).

Eight participants benefited financially from the Radical Care project, and four in non-financial ways. This represented 17% of the people working with BB during the period. Four were core staff and four freelancers. The main budget items related to childcare and touring with children. Other spend was made for peak-time travel, meal and laundry service and wellness massage.

The project ran from June 2022 to September 2023. During the period covered by the Radical Care project Barrowland Ballet was developing new work and touring work in Scotland, the UK and Internationally. Productions included Family PortraitThe Gift and Poggle and Me. Overall, there were 3 works in development and 8 tours including 5 international tours. The first stage of the project was to devise the framework; this included a statement of principle, a menu of support, a care rider form and a policy/process including decision making process. At the start of each project, alongside their contract, job description and schedule; all team members would be provided with the care rider form detailing the menu of support on offer and encouraged at this point to submit (or update) their rider.

Impact of care prior to Radical Care

Freelance staff reflected how having care responsibilities had impacted their career decisions with the cost of childcare impacting what work was sustainable. The lack of proactive flexibility also meant that job offers would be turned down:

“Other organisations have not asked what I need, I haven’t had the confidence to ask and because I can’t imagine how it would work, I just have to say no instead.

Prior to Radical Care, Barrowland Ballet had provided informal support for people with caring responsibilities. This was described as being ad hoc and responsive rather than proactive. Barrowland Ballet would support people where it was seen that there was an issue, or where the person identified a challenge but the principle of support did not ‘fuel’ Barrowland Ballet processes and was not consistently applied.

“There might well be people that would have been amazing had we worked with them, but they weren’t aware that we were a family friendly organisation or could make adaptation.

There was a perception that people working with Barrowland Ballet were put under pressure due to caring responsibilities which would impact on their ability to do their best work. For example, international touring is a core part of Barrowland Ballet’s activity, however the artistic director reflected:

“I had got to the point of not wanting to tour internationally anymore, despite this being central to the company because I felt it was not good for the kids.

While the artistic director was financially supported to take her children on tour (prior to Radical Care) she was responsible for making international childcare arrangements and this was both a logistic challenge as well as impacting the ability to work at the highest level:

“She should have been prepping for a talk or workshop, but instead she was running around because we hadn’t properly put childcare in place for her.

Barrowland Ballet did support the artistic director to take her children on tour but she reflects that this was a battle that had to be fought. The board (in performing due diligence) questioned whether the spend was a legitimate use of public funds. The process of resolving this was described as being exhausting and left the artistic director feeling unsupported. Another participant had the perception that they were being ‘judged’ in requiring greater flexibility which in turn impacted the effectiveness of their work. There was also a question about whether the accommodations put in place to support the artistic director could also be applied to other people working with Barrowland Ballet.

Impact of Radical Care for participants and Barrowland Ballet

The biggest change was that a universal policy and practice was created which covered the whole organisation and which was consistent.

“Potentially the most significant impact is that Radical Care has taken what was already happening in an ad hoc and specific way and made it core to the organisation, available to all members of staff and something which BB can celebrate as a core value and working practice.

This changed the perspective for both the organisation and the staff:

“Understanding of caring needs became part of the framework enabling me to grow as an artist and not be held back or feel like I had to fight my corner as an artist.

The majority of people who worked with Barrowland Ballet during this period had previous experience of working with the company, however this new approach created standardisation and created a process that was accessible for everyone:

“I felt really awkward and uncomfortable asking for those adaptations pre Radical Care and I feel a lot more confident now. It’s something that’s accepted for everyone

“Because I know this can be done and I know this isn’t a big deal and this is what I need

“It made me feel like it’s not outrageous to ask…I’d only ever really asked for the absolute bare minimum before.

One participant had not worked with BB before and reported that the approach from BB was straightforward and proactive. They benefited from working with a new company and widening their professional network.

“It was very straightforward and understood. I didn’t really have to ask for the support, it was offered to me when I flagged up a potential issue.

Participants were able to identify the benefits that Radical Care has had on their work for Barrowland Ballet. This covers a range of roles and activities but reflects a shift in openness to opportunities because there was less conflict with caring responsibilities. Examples include being able to make business decisions about which meetings or events to attend because it was possible to access peak time travel (and be able to get back for childcare) or have children accompany them to international events (which would otherwise not be possible to attend).

The benefit for Barrowland Ballet was that, for example, the International Producer could attend industry events (because she could travel with her children). This allowed her to represent BB and make deeper connections with potential partners.

“Talking about BB’s work; understanding the partner’s programming, listening to them talk about what their ambitions are or how they are changing - all of that is super important. And they remember you.

There is a benefit of the artistic director touring with the company, in the quality of the work being staged, particularly where it requires specialist knowledge for example with work for neurodivergent audiences. Being present on tour also helps build relationships and allows cross promotion of other BB work. This benefit is evidenced by the level of repeated engagement by international partners and continued levels of demand. International touring provides employment for the dancers and supports the international reputation for Scotland in dance for young people.

While the artistic director had toured with her children prior to Radical Care, the change was a shift towards BB taking on more responsibility for organisation of the logistics of touring as a family. Radical Care also allowed BB to test taking an additional adult to provide childcare. Both of these solutions put the focus on the experience of the children, which was a holistic improvement and allowed the artistic director to continue to tour.

“I was able to ensure quality in my work. I was able to tour internationally where I had previously felt jaded and struggling to continue due to the experience for my children. I feel my career can continue to grow if my care responsibilities are considered by Barrowland Ballet. Without this my artistic practice will deteriorate and I will be less ambitious.

The change in practice as a result of Radical Care allowed the artistic director to re-establish leadership of the Wolf Pack intergenerational company. This meets on a weekday evening and logistically it had ‘felt impossible’ for the artistic director to organise childcare for this period. Barrowland Ballet took on the responsibility to secure childcare which supported her children to continue with their after school activities. The benefit of this for Barrowland Ballet is that it re-integrates the Wolf Pack with BB and allows the cross fertilisation between the professional productions and the Wolf Pack and maintains intergenerational practice as core.

There were also wider impacts, with improved work life balance came improved mental health:

“I wasn’t feeling the mum guilt. So it meant work was a bit more comfortable too. There’s a mental health aspect as well as a better caring responsibilities.

Another participant expressed that Radical Care had increased their perception of the possibility of their career:

“Taking part in this project has given me confidence in continuing as a freelance dance artist even as a new parent. It gave me an opportunity to see what might be possible with working flexibly/non typical ways.

What made a positive difference?

The existence of Radical Care as a formal project was an important signifier:

“Even knowing Radical Care is in place increases my confidence that my needs would be met and I would be supported.

A key factor was the ‘legitimacy’ that accompanies a Creative Scotland funded project. The previous informal approach had included a concern about ‘extra’ spending (for example a peak time train ticket) related to due diligence in spending public funding despite being able to identify business benefits.

“What made a big difference with this was that it felt like it legitimised it and made it become someone else’s opinion that you should be able to support people with caring responsibilities.

As a female led company, with members of the core team potentially benefiting from the initiative, the feeling of legitimacy and being part of a robust project was also important in the shift from care being a personal issue to become a company wide value.

“This is part of a legitimate, robust project because of Creative Scotland. It’s not something that we’ve just done as an ad hoc project. It’s something that’s been demonstrated in quite a robust way and that gives confidence.

Flexibility and understanding were identified as important qualities when working with Barrowland Ballet and making work compatible with caring responsibilities. This was identified by some as being unusual within the sector.

Trust was another core factor. In the process BB understood that not all expenditure would be a direct cost. Examples were given of being able to provide a thank-you gift for childcare provided by a friend or recompensing a self-employed partner. This also applied to the allowance for wellness services such as a massage. It was recognised that these were relatively small budget items and trust was important in this context. This also relates to not creating more administrative requirements or restrictions for participants.

One of the shifts in Barrowland Ballet’s practice as a result of Radical Care was to put children at the centre of the focus. This had a positive benefit with participants reflecting that their children were well considered and therefore had a positive experience. This makes travelling with children (as an essential part of the job) more sustainable.

Radical Care formalised the approach that Barrowland Ballet was taking. One aspect of this was including care as an integral part of planning a project. This included being ‘more bold’ in talking to partners about aspects of childcare. Mainstreaming this was compared to how the company would approach ensuring a ramp was available for a wheelchair user. This approach has been received positively by partners.

“The fact is that most partners are really understanding – it’s like you just had to ask!

What learnings are there for Barrowland Ballet and others considering this model?

One of the key learnings was that the documentation alone was not enough. It was required to have individual conversations which could be more nuanced. These conversations needed to be built into the period where BB was developing a project with a new team – especially as accommodations requested by one participant could have knock on implications for the wider team.

The conversations focused on talking through the contract and what might need to be in place/ change to support the person to deliver the contract rather than a standard set of terms for an individual. Talking through was quicker and allowed the person to think about what would be useful. This related to the fact that people have not been used to expressing their needs and did not necessarily know about the options available to them. The individual conversations both increased and decreased the impact on the organisation: they generated more demand as people were more aware of the options but at the same time allowed solutions to be identified that would be more effective (without being more costly).

“But if you’ve never been asked before, if you’ve never thought about it, if you’ve never given yourself permission…

“And I think it’s also about knowing what your needs are and how do you know what your needs are?

“We shifted from the idea of a rider to a conversation about supporting you to deliver your best work with us.

While it was identified that it was the conversation that made the process meaningful and that the form did not work on its own, it was important that there was a formal process and documentation. This supported the legitimacy and the process for decision making and accountability. It should be noted that there was never a point during the Radical Care project where BB was not able to meet the budget requests therefore the process of assessing and judging applications within a finite resource has not been tested.

“The documentation is important for legitimacy and the policy. We can make quicker and easier decisions. There’s a more robust process in place. So it takes out any individual error.

Having a menu of options was an important aspect of the process. This allowed people to see what could be possible. One participant reflected that the menu was useful because while some options might not be required at that time it was good to be aware of for the future and to have an open mind about what support might make the difference down the line. In this process of identifying needs, the BB project links to The Work Room resource.

The concept of the ‘rider’ proved to not be particularly meaningful in the process. The idea had been that a rider could be created once for each individual and used from that point without further administrative requirement (unless a participant wanted to review). This proved to not be a suitable model. BB found that the care needs were very specific to the project. For example, re-scheduling an event from school holidays to school term would change the support required.

There is also a recognition that the care needs will change along with children’s ages. This relates to the requirement for the process to be administratively light but individual and specific to each project. In mainstreaming the new approach, as a result of Radical Care, BB has shifted the language away from a rider towards a more embedded approach and value system which incorporates care responsibilities as an access need.

The addition of individual conversations into the process also links to the fundamental concept of not adding to the administrative burden for participants. This leads to BB taking on more responsibility for administration and logistics. While this creates more work, BB comments that there would be additional time required to find another solution where care responsibilities would prevent an action (e.g. to appoint a tour director). BB has found that by building the logistics of care into the project at the outset has reduced some of the previous work to find solutions for problems.

Another key learning was that not all solutions had a direct cost implication. Often the solutions related to adjusting schedules and identifying pressure points.

One of the aspects that the project had expected to test was providing domestic services (laundry, meal package services) at particular pressure points – however there was less demand for this. This may be because adjusting schedules alleviated some of these pressures. In addition, it was noted that by BB recompensing additional evening/weekend childcare (which would previously be paid from a fee/salary) increased the retained income and allowed individuals to pay for required domestic support.

Some of the administrative challenges relate to the individuality and bespoke nature of the budget requirements. These will change depending on the nature of the project and the team engaged. This makes it hard to make predictions about budget allocations. The solution that BB has identified is to create an access allowance within every project budget (as a proportion of the overall project budget) and to also have a central fund to support additional access requirements (including care) that cannot be met from project budgets.

Other aspects which remain to be further explored as the policy becomes established is how the support provided by BB relates to freelancers. This particularly relates to aspects such as wellness massages or domestic services. If BB is their sole employer at the time (and creating the pressure point) this is straightforward within the process created, however if the freelancer is undertaking multiple jobs which in combination create pressure and stress, the responsibility is less clear.

It was noted that there can be a conflict between different priorities. Making an international tour a single, longer tour has a lower environmental impact (than repeated shorter engagements) however this created the need to tour with children which increased the number of flights. Using a taxi (rather than public transport) may allow an artist to attend rehearsals around care provision but would work against net zero targets. BB highlights the importance of the policy framework and the assessment of options within the context of the benefit to Barrowland Ballet to help assess these conflicts. This again relates to the benefit of the formal documentation which includes the rationale for the request and decision.

The fact that the artistic director of BB had children was mentioned by participants frequently within the evaluation. This provided participants with a role model or ‘informal mentor’ for managing creative work and family responsibilities. The artistic director identifies a risk that this creates in causing artists to feel guilty if they want, or need, to take longer to come back to work.

“I get asked all the time, how do you do it? …I feel sometimes like I’m a really bad example for other people. It’s not easy and I am often exhausted. I don’t want to create this idea that you just need to be able to pay for a bit of childcare and carry on working no matter what. These are my needs, they might be the same as yours or totally different, I guess I want my needs to be just examples and like, there’s options and flexibility."