It’s ten months since I launched The Flock – ten months and three weeks, to be accurate – and, to be quite honest, I’m really not sure how we got here.
Back in June 2020, as I pushed the button to send the site live, I honestly thought I’d just try this out for lockdown and see whether anyone was interested. Quite apart from anything else, I couldn’t afford to do more – my set up budget was literally the cost of two cancelled EasyJet flights to Europe!
I suspected then that there were probably more women around like my friends and I – women with a wide range of interests and a keen sense of fairness, who wanted access to all of the stories affecting us, without irrelevant ads or stale, pale, male columnists who just didn’t quite get it. Maybe it would be comforting, I thought, for a couple of months, until we could all get back out of the house. SO much naivety in those few sentences…
Now, 330 stories, 49 writers, a start-up award, 14.5k social media followers and 35k+ monthly reads later, I need to admit something. That over the last month, as more and more stories of misogyny and racism have dominated the agenda and more and more trolls have entered my inbox in response to our coverage, I’ve been struggling to keep things going.
The thing about doing a project like this is that people make assumptions quite quickly. About your motivations. About your funding (no, I don’t have a rich husband!). About where you’re going, why, and how much support you have. And when you’re working every day to build interest and attention, sadly you have to take the rough with the smooth – even if it’s upsetting, galling and, at times, downright frightening.
But amongst all of that, these recent weeks have also opened my eyes to just how many women want to share their stories, if they can find a safe and supportive place to do so. The hundreds of accounts of abuse and violence I’ve had sent to me since March have sometimes left me broken, but they’ve also proved to me just how incredibly brave and resilient women are. The equally numerous tales of life more generally – of raising children, of navigating the workplace, of simply existing as a woman in Britain in 2021 – so often raise my spirits, make me laugh, or simply leave me marvelling at how very brilliant women are. I hope the tales I’ve had the privilege of publishing make you feel the same way.
Clearly, we need a place to tell these stories. But if I’m honest, facilitating all of these discussions with the authenticity and sensitivity they deserve has become a bigger job than one person can handle – and I’ve lost many a night’s sleep to the tales I wanted to publish but simply didn’t have the space or budget for.
Which brings me to today, and the fork in the road I’ve been staring down. I’ve now worked on this unpaid for ten months, ploughing every penny of donation or grant funding into paying our writers and making up the shortfall with my own meagre savings. The truth is, I can’t afford to keep running The Flock for free. And while I am acutely aware that we now have the audience to seek money from advertisers, many of the stories we run would simply not be feasible, or right, on an advertising-based platform. Can you imagine tackling greenwashing beneath a pop-up for Primark, or taking cash from car firms while writing about climate change?
So, I’m going to swallow my fear of talking about money and I’m going to ask for your help in securing The Flock’s future. The challenge is that we need to value my own and our writers’ work, but paywalls exclude people who can’t afford to pay – and commodifying community and offering information based on income is not something I’m willing to do. So, the tentative solution I’ve come up with is something I’m calling the Pay It Forward Wall.
A new way forward
In short, once the wall goes up in early May, those who can afford to pay a small, set subscription fee to The Flock won’t just be paying for themselves – they’ll be paying for a second subscription for a woman who can’t afford one right now. There will be no questions asked, no proof required. Simply two options – pay a subscription forward, or claim one back until you can afford to do otherwise. If 200 people pay to subscribe, we’ll have 200 free subscriptions to play with. If 2,000 readers were to commit to £4.99 a month, we’d give 2,000 more away. If 12,000, or 20,000, or more sign up? Well, we’ll give away 12,000, or 20,000, or more away, and we’ll have the funding to vastly increase our writer pool and pursue a host of other dreams for The Flock too – it’s that simple.
From boosting the number of stories we can publish, to hosting live events and embarking on charity partnerships, there’s so much I want to do with The Flock. I believe its potential is boundless, and our growth so far would suggest I’m not alone in thinking there’s a place for it. I really, really, hope I’m not.
For ten months now, I’ve been trying to give a taster of what I believe The Flock could be. If we can move forward being funded sustainably by our own community, we can accomplish so much more – but that only works with your support.
Now, as terrified as I am to say it, the time is approaching to push my baby out of the nest and trust it can fly. Whether it does, ultimately, is up to all of you. But whatever happens, I am, as ever, so incredibly grateful for your support so far. Because my goodness, even if we don’t make it past June, what an adventure you’ve given me…