At a regular monthly meeting held by The UK Screen Alliance at Framestore on Friday 21st April 2017, The Mill’s Group Head of Learning & Development, Simon Devereux shared the studios work on diversity and inclusion that had included a range of awareness-raising talks, panels and workshops that took place during National Inclusion Week the previous year. Simon also shared some of the follow up events that built on the success of the week that included the subsequent action-oriented ‘Be Bold For Change’ International Women's Day panel held the following March at the Mill in partnership with Animated Women UK.
During his presentation Simon looked around the room full of his peers and various HR and talent teams from across a range of post-production and VFX facilities and saw an opportunity to bring the visual effects and animation industry together to deliver National Inclusion Week 2017 collectively.
Following Simon’s ‘call to action’, on Tuesday 9th May 2017 an industry working group to plan National Inclusion Week came together at the Mill’s Fitzrovia studio. At that time studio attendance represented volunteers from The Mill, Cinesite, MPC Advertising, Framestore, Industrial Light & Magic, Blue Zoo, Jellyfish Pictures and The UK Screen Alliance. By the second working group meeting on Thursday 8th June membership had increased with Escape Studios, NextGen Skills Academy, and DNEG joining the team, and by the third gathering on Tuesday 20th June numbers grew that included the Greater London Authority and Westminster City Council
As the working party continued to meet and curate a schedule of events for National Inclusion Week, the team realised that they were onto something. This was a group of competitors, all ‘playing nice’ working together in true collaboration towards a shared goal, and discussions began around ‘what happens next’ following the successful delivery of the event. The group decided that they needed to work under a brand name and among a range of ideas and suggestions thrown into the hat, the team unanimously settled on ‘ACCESS: VFX’. By August, ACCESS: VFX had a strong presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and the first incarnation of the A:VFX website was being built to house the interactive National Inclusion Week schedule.
The National Inclusion Week schedule became the official launch of ACCESS: VFX and ran between Monday 25th and Friday 29th September 2017. Across the week ACCESS: VFX ran 28 separate events, screening and workshops spanning across venues that included The Mill and Framestore’s London Fitzrovia studios, Soho venues at MPC and 01 Zero One, and The BFI Southbank.
The heart of the week and a key part of the launch was (what Simon still describes as) an ‘old school’ careers fair that was kindly hosted at Westminster Kingsway College, London where schools with high BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) populations, high proportions of special needs pupils, schools in areas of low home ownership, and with 'needs improvement' Ofsted ratings were targeted. Working with new A:VFX members at Into Film, schools that met our strict criteria attended in their droves, and based on industry peer feedback, not only did we connect students to industry and offer hands-on software tutorials provided by Escape Technology and FX Digital, but we launched our e-mentoring platform with new partner Prospela which continues to run as the foundation of ACCESS: VFX to this day. The e-mentoring platform represented the only condition of any future A:VFX event, in that whatever the team delivered there had to be an action based output or call-to-action for anyone that attends, either through mentoring, skills sharing, training or any meaningful encounter. ACCESS: VFX like to call this G-S-D, or ‘Get Stuff Done’. There is an alternative version of G-S-D that you can work it out for yourselves.
Other highlights across the week were a mental health awareness panel ‘You Don’t Have To Be Mad To Work Here, But It Helps’ chaired by comedian Johnny Ryan, the debut of the now hugely successful ‘Know Your Bias’ workshop delivered by Leyya Sattar and Roshni Goyate of The Other Box and the Badass Women in VFX panel hosted by Talk Radio’s Badass Women’s Hour.
Among the talks and panels, were disability awareness and mental health first aid training, a ‘Power & Privilege’ workshop and a range of evening screenings and Q&As with, among others, a showcase with Belsize Park based youth production initiative Fully Focused Productions, and a screening of Notes on Blindness.
Talks and workshops were offered across our member studios and to aspiring talent via our social channels. Our event surpassed expectations in terms of social impact and raising awareness of the creative and commercial case for a more inclusive and diverse VFX and animation industry.
As intended, after the week was delivered ACCESS: VFX assembled again to attend ‘World Skills LIVE’, the UK’s largest schools’ careers event held annually at the NEC. This was the first time that ‘industry’ had attended the event rather than just individual studios and the impact was huge.
The rest is history, and as you know ACCESS: VFX have since gone on to grow global chapters in Montreal, New York and Chicago, and run numerous action-based events that included ACCESS: VFX Month, a 5-week tour of the UK and Northern Ireland in 2018.