Free Word is an arts organisation focused on the power and politics of words. We are also a home for organisations interested in who gets to speak and be heard in society.
In our distinctive building in London’s Clerkenwell, we host dynamic cultural events that address urgent contemporary issues.
We place an emphasis on fresh perspectives from voices that are often underrepresented, and bring together a rich variety of exciting writers, artists and activists to spark critical conversations about society, culture and politics.
Artistic Director / CEO
Artistic Director / CEO
Roma has led Free Word since September 2016.
She has worked across the arts and social sectors since 2000. Her programming ranges from candlelit poetry in hidden architectural spaces to contemporary dance in the Great Court of the British Museum, world music stages in London parks to large-scale participatory projects with primary schools and community groups.
She is the founder of the Bloomsbury Festival, for which she developed a network of over 100 venues and partners including Wellcome Collection, The Foundling Museum, The Place, RADA, UCL, Bedford Estates, Camden Council, and Holborn Community Association. She has worked as a consultant and advisor for organisations including the BBC and Visit England.
She has degrees in English Literature and Language from the University of Oxford, and Modern Literature and Culture from the University of York, and completed a Clore Fellowship in 2013.
Venue and Programme Coordinator
Venue and Programme Coordinator (They/Them)
Jon joined the Free Word team in January 2019. They grew up in Italy and moved to London in 2013 to do a BA in Social Anthropology and Southeast Asian Studies. This heightened their interest in changing and challenging Western societal structures, which is what led them to Free Word’s work. They’ve been involved in queer community organising for over five years – from running a hardship fund for queer people of colour, to carving spaces for bereaved young queer people to discuss their grief. They’ve also written for gal-dem, Wear Your Voice, daikon*, and more – with a focus on trans Southeast Asian identities.
Natasha has a background in arts administration and cultural leadership. She has worked with a range of organisations, including the Almeida Theatre, National Theatre Studio and Talawa Theatre Company. Natasha has an MA in Cultural Leadership from City University and in 2019 she received an MBE for services to theatre.
Natasha continues to mentor emerging and mid-career administrators and general managers working in the arts, and she recently joined the Board of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.
Communications Coordinator they/them
Sasha joined Free Word in 2021 and has been working in the not for profit sector for a few years. They have previously worked for art galleries, community centres, a social enterprise and a membership organisation.
In 2016 Sasha graduated from a Fine Art degree at Chelsea College of Art and Design. After this, they volunteered at DIY Space for London for 2 years and started a hardcore punk band, playing shows all over the UK and releasing a debut EP. Although the band is on a hiatus, Sasha still enjoys listening to and writing music. Sasha’s passionate about DIY punk, sobriety and radical compassion.
Communications Manager (She/Her)
Jade has worked in communications, programming and production across the arts and cultural space for over ten years.
Following a Media and Communications degree from Goldsmiths University, Jade went on to study for a Masters in Cultural and Creative Industries at King’s College London. Since then, Jade has spent much of her time working within the film industry, most recently at the British Film Institute and British Independent Film Awards.
Outside of Free Word, Jade sits on the board of Altogether Different, an organisation focused on improving inclusion within workplaces, and is also currently producing her first short film.
Head of Venue
Head of Venue (He/Him)
Before joining the Free Word team in 2012 and becoming our longest serving member of staff, Tim worked as Operations Manager at Jacksons Lane. Previous to that, he worked with Trestle Theatre Company at their Arts Base in St Albans, and has a degree in English Literature with Drama from the University of Hertfordshire.
When Tim’s not overseeing the smooth running of our venue, a good book, theatre, music and copious amounts of tea are his main ways to unwind.
Mana joined Free Word as our part-time Finance Assistant in 2017.
Alongside her role at Free Word, she also works as a Bookkeeper for a charity supporting families in Camden, and has previously worked as an Accounts Assistant for a large hotel.
Mana lives in North London with her husband and young daughter, and enjoys baking and vintage cinema.
Chris joined the Free Word team in 2013 and is an experienced Sound Engineer and Live Events Technician. He works at a range of venues and arts institutions across London including Tate Galleries, Whitechapel Gallery, Kings Place Music Foundation, Union Chapel and Omeara.
Away from Free Word, Chris regularly works on films as a Sound Designer and Composer. As a filmmaker, his first short film ‘Canal’ was included in the Official Selection at Sheffield Doc Fest 2019 and has been inducted into the BFI National Film Archive.
Season Producer (He/Him)
Alex joined Free Word in 2015. Beginning his career at the Dukes Theatre in Lancaster, he has produced events across both London and Manchester since 2008, from club nights to film screenings and literature festivals.
Recent work includes an artist residency and soundscape production for Cretan mountain festival Giortes Rokkas (2019), a collaboration with UCL neuroscientists on ‘The Science of Sleep and Sleeplessness’ (2017) using a live DJ mix to recreate stages of a sleep cycle , and overseeing words and riffs for Shaking Chains’ generative video project ‘Midnight Oil’ (2017).
Alex has an MA from UCL (Issues in Modern Culture), and a BA from MMU (English Literature). He enjoys writing, reading and looking after his club-and-culture platform Babalonia : a night bringing together vinyl DJs with poetry and ‘underground dancefloor sounds from around the world’.
Paul Aggett has worked in the financial services industry in the UK for over 20 years. Paul has been a finance director of a life and pensions group, a director of a financial services outsourcing supplier, a director of a general insurance broker, a director of a global asset management business and a chief executive of a European-wide property asset management business.
He is currently finance director of World Media Rights, a television media production company and finance director of Peters Fraser and Dunlop a literary agency.
His other interests include the theatre and assisting charities. He is a non-executive director to a financial services charitable trust and was formerly a director of a theatre company.
Nafisa Bakkar is the CEO of Amaliah, media company, amplifying the voices of Muslim women, with a digital footprint reaching 4 million each month. Amaliah’s insight agency works with brands to meaningfully understand and reach Muslim audiences. Through Amaliah’s insight agency, Amaliah has worked with global brands and agencies to create cultural change, their clients include LUSH, Universal, Spotify, eBay, M&S, AMVBBDO, Mediacom, WGSN and Pinterest.
In 2019 Amaliah acquired Halal Gems, halal food discovery platform and street food festival which has seen over 150,000 attendees in London.
Nafisa has written for titles like Ad Age, Campaign Magazine, the Independent and Forbes. In Feb 2019, her essay on the representation of Muslim women in media and advertising has been published in “It’s Not About The Burqa”, an Amazon bestseller in 4 categories. Nafisa is also on the Forbes 30 under 30 list for Media and Marketing, also awarded Ad Age’s Women to Watch award and recognised in the Evening Standards Progress 1000 as one of London’s most influential people in media.
Tim Duffy is Chairman of M&C Saatchi (UK) Ltd.
He has worked in advertising for over 25 years, joining Saatchi and Saatchi in 1986. In 1995 he was one of the founders of M&C Saatchi which now operates in 19 countries, and has specialist expertise in public relations, direct marketing, digital and mobile marketing.
He has a particular interest in communications strategy and has advised a range of blue chip companies, including British Airways, Procter and Gamble, GlaxoSmithKline, the National Lottery, Royal Bank of Scotland, Transport for London, and London 2012. He has worked extensively with government, most recently advising the Department of Health on its anti-obesity and cancer strategies.
His personal interests include political history and literature, and he is a judge for the 2014 Josephine Hart Poetry Awards. Tim is Chair of the General Media Panel, part of the Advertising Standards Authority.
Ekow Eshun is a writer and broadcaster. The former director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, he is Chair of the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group, overseeing London’s most significant public art project. He appears frequently on TV and radio shows including the Today programme, Saturday Review and Channel 4 and his writing appears in publications including the Financial Times, the Guardian, the Independent, the Observer, the New Statesman, Vogue and Wired. His book, Black Gold of the Sun, was nominated for the Orwell prize for political writing.
Sasha Havlicek is Co-founder and CEO of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD).
As founding CEO of this global ‘think and action tank,’ Sasha has led ISD’s pioneering programmes and campaigns, advising governments at the highest levels and working with the private and civil society sectors to deliver real-world solutions to inter-communal conflict, extremism and terrorism.
She has spearheaded the largest global network of former extremists, Against Violent Extremism (AVE), in partnership with Google’s Jigsaw; the Strong Cities Network, the first global counter-extremism cities network; and the Innovation Hub, a partnership with Facebook, Google and Twitter to counter extremists’ online efforts. Most recently, she launched the Online Civil Courage Initiative designed to amplify efforts to counter hate speech online, with Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg.
Sasha chairs the 11-country Policy Planners’ Network on Countering Radicalisation and she co-chaired the EU’s Internet Radicalisation working group from 2012-2015. Sasha previously served as Senior Director at the EastWest Institute (EWI) where she led conflict resolution programming.
She is a member of the European Council on Foreign Relations, has testified before US Congress and is a regular commentator in the media (CNN, BBC, Channel 4 News and other networks).
Philip Tranter is a solicitor and Legal Director of the Square Health group, a healthcare services and health technology provider.
Prior to taking up his present role he was Group Company Secretary with Guardian Media Group plc (publisher of the Guardian) and its parent, The Scott Trust Limited and, prior to that, a solicitor in private practice where he had over 25 years’ experience as a partner in law firms in London and the Thames Valley. He has particular experience working with businesses from the media, technology and marketing services sectors and in addition to his role as a trustee of Free Word has been a trustee of a smaller, grant-making charity since its inception in 1997.
Outside professional life, his interests include political biography and literature, music and the arts generally. Noisy therapy comes in the form of motorbiking and occasional gigs wielding a bass guitar.
Isabel Hilton is a writer and broadcaster based in London. She is founding editor of chinadialogue.net, an innovative, fully bilingual Chinese-English website devoted to building a shared approach on climate change and environmental issues with China. She has reported extensively from South and East Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.
In addition to her writing career, she has made several radio and television documentaries and has presented for BBC Radio Three and Four.
A founding trustee of Free Word, she is also a trustee of the British American Project. She has served as a member of the Editorial Board of International Affairs, the Advisory Boards of the Latin America Bureau and the European Movement. She is a member of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, the British Association of China Scholars, the Society of Authors and the advisory board of the Asia Society’s Arthur Ross Centre. She is a fellow of the Asia Society in New York, the Royal Society of Arts, and the British American Project.
Ursula Owen has been an influential figure in the worlds of literature and free expression since the 1970s. She was a founder director of Virago Press, for two years cultural policy advisor to the Labour Party, and, as editor and chief executive, revitalised Index on Censorship.
From 2003 to 2009 Ursula was project director for the Free Word Centre, taking it through from an idea to a concrete reality with premises in London. She is now founder trustee of Free Word. She is on the board of the Southbank Centre and a trustee of English Touring Opera and World Film Collective.
She was awarded an OBE in 2003 and lives in London.
VISION, MISSION, VALUES
A world in which all kinds of people can express themselves openly and influence society.
To influence the range of perspectives shaping society, by championing powerful, experimental, writing and conversation, which highlights underheard voices and ideas of our times.
- Inspiration: the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially something creative; a sudden brilliant or timely idea
- Bravery: courageous behaviour or character
- Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another
At Free Word we have strong connections to Norway through the freedom of expression charity Fritt Ord, and Norwegian values of Welcome, Equality and Freedom sit alongside our own values at 60 Farringdon Road.
Free Word was conceived as a venue and home for the literature and freedom of expression sectors by Ursula Owen, co-founder of Virago Press. We opened in September 2009 supported by the Norwegian freedom of expression charity, Fritt Ord, and Arts Council England.
Apples & Snakes, Article 19, Arvon, Book Trust, English PEN, Index on Censorship, The Literary Consultancy and The Reading Agency became founding residents and collaborators at a time when they felt words had never been more important ‘for identity, for imagination, for communication, for combating censorship, and for negotiating power in a globalized world’. All remain part of the Free Word community today. Reporters Without Borders joined as a resident organisation in 2018.
Free Word was previously led by Shreela Ghosh (2009 – 2011) and Rose Fenton (2011 – 2016).
Roma Backhouse became Director in September 2016.
We regularly post vacancies for roles at Free Word and with our community of Residents and Associates.
At Free Word, it’s really important to us that a diverse range of ideas, opinions and perspectives influence and shape our work. We do all we can to promote equality of opportunity, encourage representation, and eliminate discrimination.
We’re keen to encourage applications from people of colour, people across the gender spectrum and people who self-identify as disabled, who are underrepresented in our sector.
60 Farringdon Road has been through many creative transformations since it was built as a wheelwright’s workshop in 1875. It has been a music education and film-making studios and The Guardian’s archive, education and exhibition centre before the Norwegian freedom of expression charity Fritt Ord bought the building and it became Free Word’s home in 2009.
Our location in central Clerkenwell is brimming with a history rich in literature, dissent and social progress. Writers and activists including Dickens and Marx have long been associated with the area, bookstalls lined Farringdon Road from the 1870s to the 1990s, the first social housing was located nearby, and local basements still hold the remnants of printing presses.
Today, our spaces are flexible and welcoming, with capacity for up to 200 people, creating a wonderful environment for intimate events and performances. We take pride in running our venue sustainably.
All our spaces are available to hire.
We pride ourselves on running environmentally friendly events, and are one of Arts Council England’s sector leaders in environmental sustainability.
- We use 100% renewable energy from Good Energy.
- We monitor our energy usage, CO2 emissions, business travel and recycling rates to measure our progress and improve on these figures.
- Around 70% of our waste is recycled; we use zero-to-landfill contractors.
- We use suppliers with an environmental accreditation of ISO 14001 or higher where possible.
- Most of our event space furniture is made from recycled materials.
- We encourage visitors and those who work here to walk, cycle, or take public transport to reach us.