Posted 29 June 2023
Written by Frankie Faccion

How a grassroots community born of a WhatsApp group are building an essential toolkit for working-class creatives

In the summer of 2021, a report found that only 16% of people working in the creative industries full-time were from a working class background. Global head of strategy at Arcadia Jed Hallam discussed this with other working-class creatives – including Tom Armstrong, Mia Powell and others – in a WhatsApp group. Two years later, that group, naming itself Common People, has become a community of hundreds of creatives who share advice, job opportunities and stories. Upon discovering the many platforms aimed at making the industry fairer, the group’s co-founders began to put together a toolkit to help working-class creatives access the industry. Here, co-founder Tom Armstrong shares their intentions behind the toolkit, how their network came to be and how creatives can access it.

The origins of the Common People toolkit
Having started as a personal bank of helpful statistics and resources for working-class creatives, Tom eventually realised that publicising and crowdsourcing the collection meant they would be creating “a central bank of resources that anybody can access.”

“Career progression depends heavily on access to knowledge that tends to be fenced off from working-class people, so this is our solution to that,” says Tom. The members of Common People believe this set of resources will be essential for anyone from a low-income background trying to make it in the creative industries, no matter your discipline.

To that end, the toolkit features organisations running employment, mentorship, education and training schemes across different sectors – plus a list of free creative tools and essential reports about representation of working-class people in the industry.

“Career progression depends heavily on access to knowledge that tends to be fenced off from working-class people, so this [toolkit] is our solution to that.”

Building a community through a WhatsApp group
A “professional network for anybody in the creative industries with experience of being from a working class background,” the Common People community is comprised of members spanning different areas of the industry, from entry-level to senior figures.

The group’s growth happened quickly and organically. Beginning with 10 people in a WhatsApp chat, “everybody invited a friend, then they invited a friend” – and before they knew it, the number of people within the group snowballed to 250 by the end of the week. Two years later, they are “a few hundred strong,” says Tom.

Common People have a “core crew” that raises awareness within the industry through talks, consultancy and connecting working-class people and groups. If you’re a creative from a working-class background, you can sign up to their Substack newsletter to join the group and keep updated with the work they do and the articles members have been reading.

An essential network to find new opportunities
Though everything discussed within the group is confidential, one member, TK (not their real name), has given their permission to share a story about just how essential the Common People community has been to them.

TK turned to the group for advice after their request for flexible working was denied by their employer as they returned from maternity leave. “The group very quickly rallied round to offer support, and even found TK new [work] opportunities,” says Tom. “Within a month, they were in a new child-friendly role.”

This is just one example of the many opportunities the community has – and continues – to provide working-class creatives. “Every time something like that happens and people offer advice and encouragement, I think it makes us all proud to be a part of Common People,” says Tom.

The future
So what’s next for Common People? Looking to the future, they’re hoping to grow their community, find and connect with new members and continue raising awareness and putting positive pressure on companies to begin addressing the lack of working-class creatives in the industry: in effect, to “help as many Common People as possible.”

The team are in the process of building a framework so that Common People can be useful to everybody who connects with them – whether you’re a company, individual, social enterprise or something else. Most of their growth has come from word of mouth and LinkedIn so far, but Tom is keen to get the word out even further – “so give us a follow and tell yer mates,” he says. If you have any suggestions for organisations, tools and resources to add to the toolkit, drop Common People a message on Instagram.

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Written by Frankie Faccion