IW Series featuring Rachel Drury

IW Series featuring Rachel Drury

We’re passionate about promoting female entrepreneurship and encouraging more women to step forward to become leaders in their organisations and communities. Which is why we launched our ‘Inspirational Women’ series, to celebrate and share the stories of many of our female entrepreneurs and leaders, and the networks or organisations that they run. 

Rachel is a creative producer, fundraiser and strategist who leads on Collusion’s forward strategy, fundraising and partnership development. For 15 years, Rachel worked at a senior level for Arts Council England contributing to strategic developments such as the shared prospectus with EEDA, as well as national programmes including The Space. Since leaving in 2013, she’s raised in excess of £2.5 million for a range of arts projects.

Who are you and what’s your business/or what is your job? 

I’m Rachel Drury, the Co-Creator and Director of Collusion, a not for profit arts organisation based in Cambridge. We create work that explores the impact of technology on society. Collusion was set up in 2014 in response to what I saw as a latent opportunity for Cambridge to become a national leader in this kind of work, collaborating with artists/ creatives, academics and technologists to generate new work that could only have happened here.

Why are you passionate about the job you do currently? 

Because we get to work on amazing projects with amazing people. There’s nothing routine or predictable about our work; the variety is endless, making it constantly interesting with surprising outcomes. We help artists and creatives to work in new ways with new technologies and support them to create exciting new work, frequently resulting in them changing their practice or business focus. We engage academics and technologists in projects where often they don’t quite fully appreciate what they’re getting into at first(!) but quickly become engaged in ways that bring new insights to their own work. We work in places to create an original new place-making activity that helps to build momentum around cultural and creative capacity, contributing to a tipping point that really makes a difference in the quality of life within those towns. Collusion really is a great company to be involved with.

What’s your background?

The arts have always been my passion from a very early age, involving music lessons, dance, as many creative opportunities as I could find at school and trips to the theatre. Later, I arrived in Cambridge to study European Philosophy and Literature, a great course for learning about thought and communication, and then an MA in Arts Management, which is essentially a business degree for working in the arts. Before setting up Collusion, I worked at Arts Council England (the national development and funding agency for the arts) for 15 years as Head of Regional Partnerships working on, amongst other things, an £110million partnership with the East of England Development Agency and local authorities to develop the unique cultural offer of the region’s cities. It was in this role that I noticed the lack of leading arts and tech work being developed in Cambridge and decided to do something about it, beginning with a sabbatical at the University of Cambridge Computer lab where I researched the opportunity, including looking at other cities who were producing great work in this field. I also produced the Sonic Pi: Live & Coding; Coding project. 

What is the biggest challenge you have had to overcome as you scale the business or what is the biggest challenge that you have in your job because you are a woman?

As a small, not for profit company that exists on project funding it can be very hard to sustain momentum between large projects. Luckily, we have a strong core and a great network of associates we can work with, making our size flexible to our workflow. Recently we’ve also been successful in attracting a small grant to look at our business model and see if there are new ways to generate earned income without distracting us from our mission. I would also add that returning to work just over a year ago after having a baby has definitely been challenging. It’s not the same as going back to a job, as running your own company often means that it will only thrive if you give a lot more time and energy than standard hours dictate, particularly with events in both the arts and tech sectors often happening in the evening, making it really hard to attend and therefore keep up with the latest projects and partners. When returning, I made the decision to go down to four days a week while my daughter is young. I don’t regret it, but it’s definitely tough to keep on top of everything and maintain a work/ life balance. It will get easier as she gets older, but for now, as with all working mums, I aim to be as efficient as possible to survive!

What advice would you give yourself 5 years ago?

I’m not really someone who looks backwards and I view most things as a learning opportunity, so even perceived failure isn’t something I regret... Maybe the one thing I’d say is to trust my instincts more and believe in myself.

Who inspires you? And why? 

I always find this a hard question to answer. I am inspired by people who are creative, who try things, who are positive, honest and open, and who refuse to be contained. That’s how great things happen.

What else can we do to help women entrepreneurs and leaders?

The number one issue for me? As a workplace, it would be wonderful if you had flexible, affordable childcare on site. I’m not alone in having to leave work extra early to get to the nursery on time (and avoid a fine) because traffic in Cambridge is so congested.

As a venue for events, I would insist that panels for events held at the Centre are at least 50% women, to increase diversity and promote women’s voices. Encourage all events/ event runners to plan their events with an audience in mind that moves beyond the stereotypical white, single male.

As an incubator, you could run/ promote business advice sessions specifically for women, as a way to encourage more female-led start-ups and to support growth. And to encourage networks for women to provide peer to peer support as leaders.

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