Crowdfunded #OpenJustice 2018-19

Last year, at the conclusion of the HSE prosecution of Southern Health I had a number of conversations with people about crowdfunding my open justice work longer term. It was suggested that some people might be prepared to pay an amount monthly to help out with my costs and to cover my time. As uncomfortable as I was with the idea, I channelled my inner Amanda Palmer, jumped and asked the internet for help.

I couldn’t believe what followed and I still pinch myself occasionally to check it’s true. I asked for help and my friends and supporters provided more than I could have imagined. 123 people put their hands in their pockets to provide financial assistance, and many more spread the word, discussed the issues raised and made me realise how important the work I’m doing is.

When I asked for help I promised people that I would share once a year what money I’d received and how it had been spent. This awesome infographic (with thanks to @FergusBisset) captures the headlines:

Prior to last year my costs for live tweeting inquests, court cases and tribunals had been crowdfunded on a case by case basis, with money leftover rolled over to the next occasion. That is a high risk strategy though, I have no awareness of what my income is likely to be, no way of predicting what I can afford to spend, and a grave concern over asking the same people for help time and time again. I also hadn’t always been explicit about covering my own time so in most instances hadn’t felt able to use funds for this, and this case by case approach doesn’t account for any of the other work that goes on before an inquest happens.

In the 2018-19 tax year I raised just over £10k to support my open justice work. This came from 123 people to whom I am truly indebted. The idea that I can forward plan, that I have some money coming in, that I can pay myself a living wage of £9 per hour to cover the time spent sat in court or meetings, and also for 2 days a month is a lifesaver. Two days a month has allowed me to do preparatory work, to cover the time spent emailing and chatting with families, the time spent searching and booking travel and accommodation, writing blog posts, speaking to journalists and contributing to funding bids or other related work. Almost £4.5k of the money raised I’ve claimed to cover my time.

The remaining £5.5k was spent on expenses and subsistence. That accounted for 36 overnights, I try to keep costs as low as possible and have stayed with families and friends, in AirBnBs and various hotel rooms, the cheapest of which cost £19.99 (Easy Hotel Sheffield for any fellow bargain hunters). I’ve spent hours of my life on trains and I’ve driven hundreds of miles. I allowed myself £25 to cover costs of food when away for more than 12 hours in a day (it’s a slight occupational hazard living in Devon but I love it and don’t intend moving any time soon) and this amounted to 47 days, or £1,175.

I was left with £174.33 unaccounted for which I’ll put towards my tax bill (I’m self employed and did manage to get some other work so will pay 20% tax on some of this money), or my national insurance contributions or my pension. I’m not exactly sure where it’ll go but I’m grateful for it.

In the 2018-19 financial year I live tweeted three inquests, Danny Tozer’s @TozerInquest, Colette McCulloch’s @JusticeforCol and Joe Ulleri’s @JoeInquest and one high court case where the brilliant Louise Tickle (with support from Melanie Newman and Sanchia Berg and her crowdfunders) brought an appeal against a reporting restriction order, search #RROAppeal on twitter for more, or you can see my tweets from the day here (Louise’s crowdfunders covered my travel costs, mine covered my time as it felt directly relevant to the Open Justice agenda). I’ve attended four pre-inquest reviews, one meeting with a CCG on behalf of a bereaved family, one campaign launch when Col’s parents thought they’d have to seek a high court injunction to remove their initial coroner, and also spoke at an advocacy conference and at Festable. I’ve spoken to numerous journalists providing background information and introductions to families when appropriate, I’ve written 11 blog posts related to my Open Justice work and contributed to a couple of funding bids.

One of those I was lucky enough to win, an Ideas and Pioneers grant from Paul Hamlyn Foundation that I’m currently working on. The grant is enabling me to explore the ongoing feasibility and value of my Open Justice work. If you’d like to know more you can watch my application video here:

If you’ve followed my work please complete a short survey here if you’ve not done so already here, it will literally take about 3 minutes to complete. My PHF grant also covered my costs to live tweet Sasha Forster’s inquest which took place over the last 4wks (the current financial year), but if you followed that and would like to feedback there’s a second survey here. This one is likely to take a little longer to complete because it asks about more issues as it was the first time I’ve live tweeted a case relating to someone who died in mental health care.

I was also named as a Nesta and Observer New Radical for my Open Justice work, a little awkward for someone as down on awards and accolades as I am, but the recognition meant a lot, and I hope that those who are supporting me were able to take some of the credit too.

There is so much more I’d like to do. I haven’t yet cracked how to digest what is covered and distill down key points on commentary for future use (but will explore this with people through my PHF grant too). I’ve also let the craftivism slip a little and despite great ambitions to have a Lord Justice Munby banner in front of every council for Human Rights Day in December, I left one in Sheffield, and a handful of other people tweeted theirs but we didn’t have them across the country as I let the ball drop and didn’t push it at all after the initial flurry. Maybe next year.

I’m not short on families asking for support and coverage of their loved one’s inquests and am always happy to speak to people who would like to know more. It doesn’t look like the neglect, and indeed the torture of learning disabled or autistic people is going to stop any time soon. Until it does I’ll keep shining a light in the dark spaces we so rarely see or hear about.

I’ve a few half written blog posts that will hopefully see the light of day in the next few weeks, one of which is about attempts to stop me live tweeting. I can’t finish this post without acknowledging the moral support I feel, and the power of the solidarity of my crowd when I sit in court and have to listen to discussions about my presence and whether it is appropriate that I should live tweet. The strength of having a crowd of supporters behind me means that I know I’m not alone, I know that there are others who want me to be there, I know what I’m doing is important and valued, and I know that if I’m silenced in real time, the financial costs for that don’t fall to me alone.

If you’d like to know more about how to support me financially on a monthly basis please DM me on twitter or add a comment here with an email address and I’ll contact you. Alternatively if you’d like to make a one-off donation you can do so here. If you can’t afford to donate please just help by spreading the word, your support is just as important.

Thank you to each and every one of you who has supported my work, who has shared the tweets, donated money or sent tweets and DMs of support. I genuinely could not do it without you. A special thank you to those families who have invited me in to their lives and agreed for very personal information to be shared widely. I honestly believe that we will make a difference.

Thank you.

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