Suit & Pie met with the very lovely and very impressive founders of The Quarter Club, Saskia and Jo, who are re-shaping in what can only be described as a very millennial (read hipster – although I’m not sure my generation allows me to use that word) way what the quarter life crisis means for fiercely ambitious, freelance creative women of all ages through a host of Salons, Quarter Labs, Supper Clubs and Pitching Parlours. Now this is one crisis we definitely want to be part of!
When Saskia met Jo…
Jo: We met at university when we both had an audition for the same play and I may have nicked Saskia’s slot! We always had this inkling that we should be doing something together because we really click, we just couldn’t land on what it was.
Something had to change
Saskia: It all came to a head when I came back from a private teaching job in France, having graduated from drama school and toured constantly as an actor for 2 years after that. I got back from France feeling very unbalanced. I didn’t want to have to go back to picking up odd jobs that I wasn’t passionate about while trying to find work as an actor. I reached a point where something needed to change.
Jo: I had finally started to get work in an area that I love which is curating film festivals, but I was also finding that just the nature of being a freelancer meant that I had to say yes to everything because I was so scared I wouldn’t have enough work. I was taking on multiple things, burning myself out and feeling exhausted. Saskia and I realised that this represented something that was endemic for people of our situation – you had to either give up and pursue a career you didn’t want to pursue or take on everything in the fear that you won’t have enough work.
Saskia: We started talking about it and looking for solutions and support but found that what we were looking for was lacking.
Get your sh*t sorted!
Jo: There is a real sense of support for people coming out of university. There are lots of initiatives to get young people into particular careers.
Saskia: And lots of government support as well like with your overdraft.
Jo: But you have to have your sh*t sorted by the time you’re 25 because that’s when you lose all the support, like your young person’s railcard runs out! So we just got a bit pissed off that there was nothing there.
Saskia: And also the dialogue was so negative about it. The fact that if you didn’t have everything sorted by the time you’re 25 meant that you were suffering from a ‘crisis’. It was a sense of abandonment that society expected you to work through because it’s just part of life. That dialogue is quite poisonous. You feel like time is running out in your career and your personal life!
Freelancing is hard to do
Jo: What we noticed as freelancers is that there is no structure at all. Freelancing is hard enough – you’re battling with crazy hours that aren’t sociable, you have to take on contracts that don’t get honoured. There’s no rule book for it and no HR person you can speak to.
Saskia: That problem has existed for a long time in the freelance world. It is coupled with the positives of being a freelancer – the freedom to take on more work if you need money or to take a day off if your child is sick. But the fact that more and more of us have to freelance now and also balance a whole host of projects particularly in the arts is tough.
Let the suppers begin…
Jo: We ran some initial supper clubs with women from within our social network who didn’t necessarily know each other in December last year.
Saskia: Each supper club was different but they were all incredible in their own way because there’s something so unbelievably powerful about giving women the space to just sit and talk and share stories and experiences. Especially in the city we don’t give ourselves much time for that. It was also that kind of solidarity that lots of other people were feeling the same way.
Jo: That immediately makes you feel less isolated and stronger. It was also really humbling and grounding to think that the people you admire so much are also struggling with the same things you’re struggling with.
Saskia: We saw these connections starting to happen between people which carried on after the supper clubs. People started working together on projects. So we knew that we could potentially do something that coupled both of these things – the personal side of it, going through the struggle and needing support, but also the practical side of taking action and collaborating, connecting and creating. We wanted to recognise the importance of talking and sharing but also smashing this negative conversation about crisis and freelancer and turn it into something that was really exciting and positive.
Jo: From the supper clubs we realised that getting women together in a room with food and with prosecco was a really bloody great thing to do so we decided that we wanted to take it up a notch. The name Quarter Club is a hint to reclaiming that idea of the quarter life crisis.
The Plan for QC
Jo: The goal is to do it full time, but we can’t do that without either sacrificing the principle of having it affordable or pursuing sponsors so we’re working on funding.
Saskia: We also recognise that the need for this is not just based in London – we would love to be able to bring salons and labs to other parts of the country and also to other countries. We have big hopes!
Age is just a number
Saskia: I do think the way we’re feeling now is more prevalent in the mid-20s, mid to late 30s. However the feelings of a freelancer which can be typically of instability, transition, isolation and not knowing what the next step could or should be…
Jo: those aren’t age specific at all.
Saskia: My parents have been freelancers since I was born and they have struggled with these things for years. So it’s definitely not symptomatic of our time. But I think it’s gaining more heat in this generation.
Jo: We don’t want to pretend it’s only relevant to women of our age. The Quarter Club has a huge range of speakers from different backgrounds and ages.
Saskia: And also attendees. Lots of them are women below and above the 25 year threshold.
Can we use the word ‘network’?
Saskia: We could end up using a whole plethora of other words to basically say the same thing to avoid using the dirty ‘network’ word! That just makes sentences convoluted!
Jo: It is a network but it’s also so much more than that. It’s kind of a mix between professional networking but also personal networking and creating a community. It’s not a dirty thing!
Saskia: No, it’s very clean and lovely.
Impress me much
Jo: Everyone we’ve met has been impressive. That’s what it’s about. It’s about realising that the people around you are all amazing. It’s not just about putting people up on a pedestal. Everything is about levelling.
Saskia: And realising you’re all a-ok and not lagging behind or way up front.
Where are the men?
Saskia: Harriet Minter said being a woman in business is more difficult than being a man in business and that’s a fact. We shouldn’t shy away from the fact that that’s what we want to explore. But it is important that it isn’t just a female conversation.
Jo: It’s not just women that we want to talk to, but what we found was that putting women together is an incredibly empowering thing and we don’t want to take that away. But the conversations we’re having aren’t just for women – being a freelance male is hard as well, just we’ve chosen to focus on women because it’s important to us and it’s reality.
Saskia: It’s been a really amazing experience for Jo and I. It’s quite special when something has come out of the two of you, like your baby.
Jo: But realising it isn’t just yours – it’s everyone’s!
Saskia: Yes, everyone can hold your baby!
Follow @TheQuarterClub and visit the excellent Quarter Club website at thequarterclub.org to find out more about upcoming Salons, Quarter Labs, Supper Clubs and Pitching Parlours. The next Salon theme is Balance and will be held on 28 July at Bar Topolski (we will be there with bells on! – not literally).