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Plugging the gap between freelance income and regular nursery costs

Film programmer Gaia Meucci Astley explains how the uncertainty of freelance work and the logistics of juggling availability for work with childcare was eased with support from the Family Support Fund from The Film & Television Charity.

Over to Gaia…

Since moving away from Italy, I have been carving a career in the film industry in the UK, exploring and gaining experience in different aspects of it, to finally identifying film programming as my main passion and calling. In 2009 I had my first breakthrough working as a paid Short Film Programmer for a high profile festival, the Edinburgh International Film Festival and, since then, short films have become my main area of expertise and knowledge as a programmer. I absolutely love this role as it gives me the privilege to watch loads of brand new and exciting work by emerging filmmakers and discover talent.

I have always found it challenging to work freelance in the film industry, due to the ups and downs which being self-employed entails, but also due to the crippling funding cuts that arts organisations have endured in the last few years and the resulting added insecurity which has ensued. Making the decision to start a family is often something that professionals working in the creative industry are bound to embark on with great trepidation. My husband, Tom, is a freelance artist and sculptor and an experienced model-maker, also relying on the whims of an industry often forced to cut down budgets and workforce and never really knowing what work is going to come next and how long the gap is going to be this time, even after years and years of experience.

Will there be enough work to support us? How will we manage the times when work isn’t there? Will we able to get by with the small maternity allowance self-employed people are entitled to get? What if my festival job, whose existence is relying on securing funding is not there for me anymore at the end of my maternity leave? These questions were very present in our minds when we decided to start a family of our own.

Since we had Iris in 2015, our lives have been transformed in many more ways that we can dare to mention, I’m sure all you parents out there know what I’m talking about! She’s brought such joy, love and excitement to our lives as well as a whole new set of challenges about how to keep pursuing our careers while at the same time accommodating the needs of our new, small family. When Iris turned one, I was lucky enough to be able to go back to my part-time role as Short Film Programmer at Encounters, which meant I had to put Iris in nursery four mornings a week.

Being on low incomes and with neither of us able to rely on secure employment, we really struggle with the truly expensive costs of childcare. In the gaps between paid-work, we still have to cover nursery costs as in those gaps we have to make the most of our time to generate new work and do research and development. At the same time, taking our daughter out of childcare when we don’t have paid work is unfeasible as it would be highly disruptive for her and it would put us in a very difficult situation when we have to be available for work again.

The Family Support fund created by Raising Films and The Film and Television Charity has allowed us to cover childcare costs for about three months, which has been a true life saver especially as it helped us at one of those times in which only one of us was earning money and was able to meet living costs for our family. We are so grateful for it and we really hope that the fund will be open to submissions again as it can truly help families in the creative industries getting the childcare they need to ensure they keep their careers on track.

About Gaia Meucci Astley

Since 2012 Gaia has been the Short Film Programmer of Encounters Festival, the UK’s leading short film and animation festival based in Bristol. Prior to this, she worked in the UK and France in different capacities, including animation production, short film distribution, film festivals operations and programming. In 2009 and 2010 Gaia was Short Film Programmer for Edinburgh International Film Festival. Her festival positions also include the London Film Festival and the Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival. Alongside my role for Encounters, I regularly collaborate as an assessor for emerging talent schemes for organisations including Creative England, the Lighthouse and, more recently, the BFI Network.

Gaia’s partner Tom Astley is a Sculptor and Modelmaker. After completing a Fine Art BA in Bath the lure of the big city and the hope of working as a sculptor and model maker prompted Tom to move to Bristol, stopping in Dorset and London on the way. Here he has carved out a career for himself doing what he loves over the last 15 years for clients including, Aardman Animations, Saatchi & Saatchi, BBC Bristol, The Conran Shop and the Guardian Media Group. Tom and Gaia have made a home in the vibrant city of Bristol where he combines working from home, or at various studios, on commercial work with his own artistic practice of making sculpture and drawing. Tom likes to combine his passion for creative expression with a commitment to making beautiful objects of consistently high quality on every project, whether huge or tiny.