My previous post on UK Knit Camp ended with this image of wildflowers and barbed wire:
This follow-up post is a hard one to write. It's about that barbed wire in more detail. My writing of these sentences means that my optimism about the honoring of my contract has vanished. I had set the date in my mind for coming to this conclusion as October 1, which is today. UK Knit Camp ended on August 15.
Although I believe that the reasons for the defaults relating to Knit Camp reflect a mismatch between the organizer's skills and the jobs that needed to be done, not malicious intent on her part, the repercussions of her behavior within the knitting community, including the hard hits taken by the delicately balanced financial situations of many of the tutors, have been profoundly negative. For the tutors, the organizational failures of the event have been like a tidal wave blasting across low-lying islands made of sand, rather than a mild storm dusting snow on granite mountain peaks.
I'm using similes and metaphors again in thinking about what has happened because they help me deal with the situation. Symbolic language creates a slight distance from the events that makes them bearable. When I think about the financial blow-up without metaphoric intervention, I feel like I've plugged into a socket that's draining every scrap of energy out of me—and I need all the energy I can muster to keep on keeping on.
So I'm not going to attempt to be thorough in my statements here, because I need to spend my time dealing with the debris, of which there's a whole lot. I will say that both Lucy Neatby's and Sarah Jane Humke-Mengel's posts correlate with my experience of the organizational side of the event. Some of the details of my days differ (unlike Lucy, I was promptly picked up at the airport, for example, and before the event officially started I experienced a number of kindnesses), but their words speak clearly and truly of what happened during Knit Camp itself.
My own account here is not as concise as I would like it to be, because the saga has been drawn out, frustrating, and confusing. I have spent way too much time dealing with fallout, trying to make sense of it, and, now, working on keeping my little ship sailing instead of capsizing.
I am writing now in the hope of adding my perspective to the situation and in the interest of preventing anything like this from affecting instructors and/or participants on any future occasions.
I am endeavoring not to say what anyone "should" have done, and instead I am attempting to focus on what might be helpful in the future. I will, for the most part, limit my statements to what I experienced or heard firsthand.
The post will be long, because I need to do it in one go and be done with it. My observations are broken into sections.
Contract and terms of payment
After more than a year of communication by e-mail, post, and phone, with many reasons expressed by the organizer for the sluggish progress, I still did not have a final contract three weeks before my departure, when I finally booked my flights out of concern for a number of people who were coming from a distance to take my classes. When I got on the plane, I did have a contract in hand. I had written in and initialed two changes that the organizer and I had agreed on by e-mail, but they were not counter-initialed by her. I carried both signed copies with me on the flight and delivered one to the organizer on site.
The terms of the contract call for reimbursement of travel expenses (airfare and shuttle to/from home airport, with no luggage allowance other than that provided by the airline) and payment for specified hours of teaching. Payment was to occur within 15 days after completion of the event, in US funds drawn on a US bank.
The hours indicated in the contract changed, apparently randomly, between contract versions during negotiations (at one point I learned that the hours for some days had been changed, by mistake, to the hours intended for another tutor with a similar, though not the same, first name), and the payment rate on the contracts as received was lower than I had communicated when I was asked for my requirements, although I had had earlier warning (oblique, not direct) that this would be the case. The contracts that I was offered were not sufficiently clear. Many of my e-mails about the agreement pushed for clarification about hours, responsibilities, reimbursement, and pay rates. Very late in the game, the payment rate on the contract dropped by an additional 30 percent.
I have prepared something of a chronology of communications, for my own clarity of understanding, and it's a study in requesting information and being told it was coming.
Following the event, very little communication has occurred. By 15 days after its completion, I had received nothing. The same was true 30 days out.
On September 23, my bank notified me that some money had been transferred into my business account on September 22 (38 days after the completion of the event). I'd received no notification from the event sponsors that money was coming, and have heard nothing since. At this point, I have to assume that this is all that is available to me. After the conversion fee from British pounds to US dollars (relatively small, but not part of what I should have needed to pay), the money amounted to 22% of the total owed (59% of travel expenses paid; 0% of teaching income received).
That's where the payment situation stands now: I have not received a cent for teaching, and I am still out of pocket for 40% of the travel. Most of the other instructors have also not been paid.
It feels inappropriate to say that I feel grateful to have this portion of what is owed, although I am. I accepted the work on the understanding that I would be paid. In addition to having taken responsibility for a trip to and from the U.K., I have bills to pay. Every dollar (or pound) helps.
One reason it feels inappropriate to be grateful for partial payment is that in our family a trip to Denver (60 miles / 96km away) requires a thoughtful decision because of the expense. I am responsible for the support of the household. I choose to do work in the world that I believe is critically important and that I do not see anyone else stepping forward to do. This means that finances are always a challenge. A trip to the U.K., however appealing, doesn't fit anywhere in our budget. It's inappropriate because there is no way on earth that I could have financed a transatlantic teaching vacation, which is what I've now been required by Knit Camp to do (although Knit Camp determined what I would do on that "vacation"). (I'd like to say here that the other instructors and the participants in my workshops were wonderful, and meeting these fine people felt like a vacation. Still. Taking a "vacation" wasn't a responsible thing for me to do, either financially or in terms of my other commitments that I set aside to accommodate this event.)
Another reason it feels inappropriate to say that I'm grateful for partial payment, even though I am, is that I cannot afford to spend massive amounts of time in any effort, however interesting and pleasant, that does not produce income. As a freelancer, I need to balance jobs that produce present income (as this was intended to do) against those that are intended to produce future income (as the book project that I have been working on should). I have been putting in long hours, weeks, days, months, years on a major effort that is not paying "in real time" (the book). It was not possible for me to take on another large project, like Knit Camp, that would not provide needed short-term income.
For Knit Camp, I spent a number of weeks, over a period of months, developing workshops specific to the event and its audience, in addition to the contact hours of teaching. My agreement to teach was predicated on a need for some present income to offset some of the time spent on the book project.
Without the help of family, friends, and credit cards, I would not be weathering the aftermath of Knit Camp at all.
Even with help from all these sources, the future of my household, of my publishing efforts at Nomad Press, and of my own personal research and writing are at risk because of the Knit Camp defaults.
The visa situation for the US tutors
This was the first opportunity I have had to visit the U.K. Knowing my financial constraints, relatives and a few friends generously offered me a few gifts that would allow me to experience something of Scotland and England other than the inside of a classroom. Other friends invited me for short visits or suggested special contacts I could set up to, for example, interview people for an article I will write (thus increasing my potential income by at least pocket change).
Before the event, I wrote frequently to the Knit Camp organizer requesting information on visa status, but did not receive an answer to my questions on that topic. (Answers to my questions on other topics came so slowly that it was difficult to maintain the momentum of any clarifying conversation on any topic.) I also reviewed the UK Border Agency Visa Services pages, and from what I could tell the U.S. tutors did not need visas (since we were in the sporting and creative category and were staying less than 3 months) but would need paperwork applied for by the sponsoring organization.
As a result of the other activities I had set up for my trip, I was able to honestly state on entering the country that I was there to visit friends; to do research for writing projects; and to do some tourist-y things.
The SNAFU with the visas was not, according to everything I perceived and experienced, due to omissions on the part of UK Knit Camp, although I am still not clear on the connections between visas and work permits. What we ended up having added to our passports were "residence" permits. I definitely got lost in the bureaucratic maze. As I understand the hang-up, a proof-of-insurance form was submitted by the insurer with an electronic signature; the government offices require this form to be submitted with an ink signature; it appears that the government did not inform Knit Camp of this requirement; the visas (or work permits or residence permits, as required) were not issued; and the mess ensued. (We did learn that the government is slow on processing this type of paperwork, which also is issued for musicians coming to perform concerts, and the official forms often have to be faxed to the airport as the person affected awaits permission to enter.)
It would have been helpful, and might have prevented the problems, if the organizer had begun checking with immigration a week or two before the event to make sure the necessary paperwork was being processed in a timely fashion.
As it was, the organizer's husband did an amazing job of dealing with the bureaucratic problems to get the official stamps and permissions in place as quickly as possible. This despite the special fees that were not, then were, to be charged—which were horrendous. My understanding is that those fees were ultimately not charged, and it's definitely true that we did not have to fly out of the country and re-enter. However, both of those possibilities loomed large and would have added amazing amounts to the expense of presenting the event; yet at that point the admirable goal of everyone involved was to get the classes happening, legally, as swiftly as possible. The entire contingent of U.S. tutors did have to make a wasted, two-car trip into Glasgow because of mixed communications from immigration, and there were many anxious moments.
One tutor was denied entry (not "deported," as many are saying, which is a different matter and much more serious) and had to fly back to the U.S. the day after she flew to the U.K. She was unable to teach. Other tutors who were en route diverted their itineraries to non-U.K. destinations while the bureaucratic gauntlet was run. One was able to halt her trip before she left North America.
To say the visa situation was stressful and chaotic is an understatement. Those of us who were in the country could not, and would not, begin to teach without the appropriate paperwork. The penalty for doing so would have been, we were told, being unable to visit the U.K. again for ten years. I haven't looked that up. It doesn't matter. If the necessary papers weren't in place, we weren't okay to teach, no matter what else was going on.
As a point about the poor communication channels during the event, during all these uncertainties, most people—tutors as well as participants; those on site and those wondering whether to travel or not—were reading the Ravelry boards and depending primarily on rumors to determine what might be going on. We got very few updates from the organizers. There simply weren't enough people managing the event to handle these extra requirements and provide clear communication. That was a huge problem.
What a blessing and a relief it was to be given permission to begin teaching on Wednesday morning.
Participants in the workshops
Tutors and participants alike pulled together to make Knit Camp successful as an international educational event in spite of massive failures in the infrastructure.
My workshops were filled with delightful people. Teaching was a joy, with one exception: the need to exchange classrooms with another tutor on Friday, the day on which I was rescheduled to teach two classes simultaneously because of the visa-induced changes. There was no way that my previous classroom, where I would have preferred to have taught, could fit two classes' worth of participants (it was very full with a regular-sized class). To accommodate the shift, the other tutor had to move heavy equipment that had already been set up, and I don't think she had much warning or help. The items I had to move were bulky, but they were lightweight. My belated apologies to the other tutor for the inconvenience!
I was honored and pleased to have met so many fantastic individuals in my classes. If you were in one of my classes and our paths cross again, I may need to be reminded you were there; please do let me know! Having my attention divided by the behind-the-scenes concerns affected my ability to put faces and names together. The lack of nametags also was a problem for me. If I'd known we wouldn't have nametags, I would have brought them with me, and I wish I'd thought of them on site! (You'll all have noted that I brought about a third-of-a-suitcase full of handouts and record-keeping cards across the Atlantic because I suspected that having those supplies available was something I'd better take care of myself.)
Also if I had known that the starting time of the Saturday morning workshop was concurrent with the starting time of breakfast for people staying in the dorms (and there was quite a distance between the dining hall and the Pathfoot Building), I would have done something about that. If there'd been an all-camp communication channel, we could have started class a half-hour later. Even without a way to get messages to people, we could have come up with some food for you, from somewhere. Having to skip breakfast to come to the class was above and beyond. As we noted halfway through the morning when you mentioned this to me, the lack of fuel did affect the learning process.
The participants in the classes paid for the events and I am proud to be among the collection of tutors who all did our best to be sure they got their money's worth, despite the changed schedules and the background uncertainties.
The source of the problems?
These are my opinions based on my observation.
I do not think that there was malicious intent in the mismanagement of UK Knit Camp.
I think the organizer has gifts of a good heart, a generous nature, and ambitious vision.
I think she had difficulty determining which details were important to attend to and which were not; underestimated the work involved in presenting a complicated event; did not clearly understand the number of support staff she would need and the roles they would need to be playing; did not have the stamina needed to successfully stage such an event; did not devote attention to clear and prompt communication; and was unable to understand the types of consequences her actions might have on her own life and the lives of the people around her—family, instructors, participants, and others.
When difficulties began surfacing and I saw the organizer giving refunds from whatever cash was available without making any receipts or other notes (date, amount, to whom, and for what), I knew that the financial reckoning at the end of the event was going to be impossible. Even small amounts of money unaccounted for create bookkeeping nightmares. While I may have been alarmed at that point about whether we as tutors would be paid promptly, I envisioned separate funds allocated to the sponsoring company's different responsibilities and did not imagine that almost all of us had just turned into volunteers (who would, like the actual volunteers, have our efforts accepted without acknowledgment or thanks).
I have a great deal of concern for the organizer as a person.
I wish her—and all of the tutors and participants of UK Knit Camp—satisfying, creative, stable, and rewarding lives. To achieve this requires that we know our talents and our limitations, and that we learn as much as we can from our mistakes.
Reality check 1: The organizer wrote her "Reflections" blog post, linked above and here, on August 31. That was the day after I should have received reimbursement and payment, according to the contract we had signed (15 days after the conclusion of the event). During those two weeks, she said she had been enjoying her children's end-of-summer, knitting and spinning, and doing some housework. At the time she wrote, at the end of August, the tutors who had fulfilled their portion of their contracts were facing another month's bills and another month's interest on the plane tickets that had been charged to their credit cards.
Reality check 2: The same post said, "We legally have to deal with 'stuff' within 28 days of the end of the event, and we will do that." Twenty-eight days post-event was September 12. "Stuff" had not been dealt with and still has not.
I hope I have learned enough from the experiences that I have gathered over the past year and a half (since my first contact with the organizer about UK Knit Camp) that I will not repeat them. The instructive mistakes to make are new ones.
The real tragedy here is that one of the charming things about the knitting community has been people's ability to organize small, independent events. In the future, many instructors may be extremely cautious about the so-far-standard practice of having presenters front the money for transportation and other expenses. This will penalize responsible entrepreneurial types who could stage events effectively and may limit event sponsorship to large organizations with deep enough pockets to pay expenses up front.
Now I need to get back to work. I have commitments to meet and bills to pay. I don't know how I'm going to manage to meet my responsibilities, or when, and yes, I am experiencing anger, sadness, and fear as a result of the organizer's shortcomings and irresponsibility, but it's my job to stay on task and figure those things out, despite the aftershocks of UK Knit Camp.
I can help myself do this by moving my attention, whenever I think about the event, to the faces of the people in my workshops; to the cooperation and dedication shared by the instructors; to my memories of the Scottish landscape; and to the other pleasant sights, sounds, smells, and thoughts that I accumulated during the trip.
Those things help me develop the strength to deal with, one day at a time, whatever comes next.
Which appears to be figuring out how to file papers as an unpaid creditor of a business in the U.K.