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.
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 Assistant (Visitors and Internal Communications)
Venue Assistant (Visitors and Internal Communications)
Jon joined the Free Word team in January 2019, after working as a Library and Archive Coordinator at Tate Britain. 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 a co-organiser of Decolonise Fest since 2016, the first ever DIY punk festival by and for punx of colour in the UK. As a result, they became an associate programmer for Supernormal Festival in 2019. They’ve written for publications such as Daikon Zine, Queer Grief Zine, Authorrising Zine and Entitled Magazine. They also do manicures for their queer and trans friends and at events, and run a blog where they review the political and anthropological value of reality TV shows.
Clare has worked in arts programming, producing and communications since 2008.
Clare joined Free Word as a Season Producer in 2018, having previously worked at Tamasha, a theatre company foregrounding artists from culturally diverse backgrounds. During her time there, amongst other projects, she produced the company’s first film – Taxi Tales. She’s also worked for Future Shorts/Secret Cinema, Birds Eye View Film Festival, The UK Green Film Festival, Alpha-ville Digital Arts & Culture Festival, Kings Place Music Foundation, Underbelly and the Barbican.
In 2014, Clare completed an MA at Goldsmiths University on film and urban experience and has a degree in English Literature. She’s an occasional writer and consultant for Run Riot online magazine, dabbles in filmmaking/audio production and is passionate about equality.
Zain joined Free Word as a Season Producer in 2018.
He has a degree in Politics and History from SOAS and previously worked at the Bush Theatre. He’s run poetry workshops as a Sessional Youth Worker, worked as a Sabbatical Officer at SOAS Students’ Union, and was previously the recipient of an Aziz Foundation scholarship studying Creative Writing & Education at Goldsmiths.
Zain is also Co-Founder of Khidr Collective: a multi-disciplinary arts group which platforms the work of young Muslim artists, producing a bi-annual publication of essays, fiction, poetry, comics and illustrations from across the UK and internationally.
Digital Communications Assistant
Sara El Harrak
Digital Communications Assistant
Sara has worked in various communications roles across the arts sector. Previously assisting communications for race equality think tank Runnymede Trust, Sara has also assisted in digital communications for various radio stations. Outside of Free Word, she volunteers her time too curate online content and events with Bass Culture Research, an academic research project exploring the history of Jamaican sound system culture in Britain.
Passionate about poetry, Sara occasionally performs spoken word and has performed in front of The Last Poets and Floacist, one half of spoken word neo-soul duo Floetry. She also presents her own music radio show, holding down a monthly residency on Netil radio.
Head of Venue
Head of Venue
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.
Bene started off in theatre, learning the ropes at touring theatre company Paines Plough. After studying Scriptwriting at Bournemouth University, she won the alumni project award and co-founded a theatre company to raise awareness of global issues and campaign against violence against women. She has worked with grassroots groups and organised political festivals for young people to mobilise around issues of education, mental health, housing, employment, identity and remains vocal and active on issues of gender, race and social inequality.
Bene’s favourite phrase is ‘radical change’ and she fully intends to wear it out until it comes into existence.
Cath grew up in Southport, Rugby, Stockport and Exeter, and spent most of her childhood singing. After a music and drama degree at Birmingham University and a year in northern Italy teaching English and learning Italian, she produced small-scale fringe shows for a decade, while working as a theatre Administrator, Producer and General Manager for the likes of Hampstead Theatre, Hoipolloi and the Gate Theatre.
Cath then trained as a chartered accountant with Baker Tilly (now RSM UK), spent several years as Finance Manager at Crafts Council, and provided freelance finance support for Free Word and other small charities and arts organisations. She was delighted to take on the role of Resources Director in autumn 2017.
Cath is also a Trustee and Treasurer of You Make It and former Trustee of Birth Companions and Hoipolloi.
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.
Programming and Events Coordinator
Programming and Events Coordinator
Alex joined Free Word in 2015. He has produced events across both London and Manchester since 2008, worked as a Scenic Artist at the Dukes Theatre in Lancaster, a self-employed decorator, cooked food in Jamaican and French restaurants, made music for adverts, and oversaw words and riffs for the 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 night ‘Babalonia’.
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.
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.
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.
Paul Field is CEO Europe of TouchCast, a New York-based start-up working with major broadcasters, publishers and brands to produce interactive video. TouchCast has put all the key features of a broadcast TV studio inside an app – and enables the web to be experienced inside HD video.
Paul is also a Director of Higgaboom, a boutique content strategy and digital publishing consultancy, which also invests in and works with early stage start-ups focused on technologies disrupting traditional media.
Until December 2013 Paul was Publisher and Editor of Mail Plus, a premium, paid-for digital brand for the Daily Mail, where he was also Associate Editor. He was previously Editor-in-Chief of the Irish Daily Mail and Irish Mail on Sunday, and Executive Editor of the Mail on Sunday.
Paul divides his time between London and his family home on the Suffolk coast.
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).
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.
Razia Iqbal is a presenter for BBC News; she is one of the main presenters of Newshour, the flagship news and current affairs programme on BBC World Service radio, and she also regularly presents The World Tonight on Radio 4.
She was the BBC’s arts correspondent for a decade. Razia has worked as a political reporter and as a foreign correspondent in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
She was born in Uganda, Kampala and came to London as a child.
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.
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.
VISION, MISSION, VALUES
A world in which all kinds of people can express themselves openly and influence society.
To champion powerful, experimental, writing and conversation, which highlights underheard voices and ideas of our times, and influences the range of perspectives shaping society.
- 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.
Free Word is looking for an inspiring leader to play a key role in our next phase of development.
We are an arts venue that explores the power and politics of words and a home for other organisations who care about who gets to speak and be heard in society.
Working closely with the CEO / Artistic Director, the Executive Director will be responsible for developing the culture and sustainability of Free Word, using existing resources imaginatively and finding new ones to support our work.
We are a people-focused organisation and collaborative work-space as well as a public arts venue. If you care deeply about Free Word’s vision, and are skilled at developing organisations in ways that create productive, enjoyable working environments, we would love to hear from you.
You can view the application pack for more information here.
Residents and Associates
There are currently no vacancies with our Residents and Associates.
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.