One Year Ago Today…

One year on from the launch of our COVID-19 Hardship Fund, RPT Director Clothilde Redfern reflects on the impact of the pandemic and why the Trust’s work is more essential than ever.

Exactly a year ago today, we launched RPT’s COVID-19 Hardship Fund – just two weeks after the UK went into lockdown for the first time. Our Journalist Assistance Manager had only been in post for one month when the government made it mandatory for anyone who could work from home to do so. About ¾ of the Trust’s critical core funding for the year was still to be confirmed and we were short of two staff members – but with all the uncertainty, we’d been forced to put a hiring freeze in place. Then on top of all that, my local outdoor swimming pool, where I swim twice a week to keep me sane, closed indefinitely.

It was tough. I wasn’t so worried about catching the virus itself (more fool me), but terrified of the impact it would have on the economy – and therefore the Trust’s viability. The lack of financial clarity and the associated stress was crippling. We knew that many freelance journalists all over the world must be feeling the same, and focused on what we could do to help, as soon as possible. We asked the freelance journalists in our network about their primary concerns and challenges – and they confirmed that financial assistance to make up for lost work was crucial, as well as guidance on how to find commissions during the pandemic.

The RPT team shares a common sense of purpose and despite all the challenges, we pulled together. We agreed to drop any initiatives involving travel for trainers and participants and focus exclusively on emergency financial assistance to get freelancers through the pandemic. We set aside some of our existing assistance funding for a COVID-19 Hardship Fund dedicated specifically to freelance journalists whose livelihoods had been directly affected by the pandemic. We received 350 applications within the first week! Needless to say, extraordinary demand quickly used up our funds. Luckily, our friends at the Committee to Protect Journalists kindly offered us a grant to supplement our Hardship Fund so we could continue helping journalists in crisis.

To date, the COVID-19 Hardship Fund has supported over 130 journalists around the world and we continue to look at ways we can help the most vulnerable journalists and how to protect those going out to report on the multiple frontlines of conflict, civil unrest and the pandemic. Most recently we’ve been planning how to best support journalists in Myanmar with our partners in the JID (Journalists In Distress) Network, which RPT co-chairs, and have developed ways of facilitating applications from journalists without access to the internet – most of whom want to continue reporting despite the fact that many media platforms have been raided or forced to close. 

This year we have also focused on practical ways in which we could support freelancers no matter where they are – and launched our online events programme last autumn with sessions on how to protect your mental health and wellbeing as well as advice from experienced journalists on getting commissions. As we move into spring, we’ve turned our efforts towards the aim of establishing a Psychological Wellbeing Fund, which would be there to support freelancers struggling with the impacts of trauma and work stress on mental health. One year on, as we begin to see a very slow return to normality, we’re still going strong, and are more hopeful, and grateful, than ever that our work will continue to make a very real difference to the lives of freelancers when they need it the most.

Clothilde Redfern, Director of the Rory Peck Trust