However there are different levels of ‘right‘. The truth is that some events won’t get out of the starting blocks without volunteers but we’re talking first or second year events here, right?

This is following on from our announcement that we are paying crew at Island Con in 2018. We are also already paying crew at Fort Con 2018 in September!

crew apply

All of our events since 2015 have previously been run by a ‘volunteer team’ and sometimes to kick start an annual event, that is the best way to go about it. That team included everything you would find in a paid team – event director, producer, stewards, guest liasons – the full monty but none of us were getting paid. Is that fair? Probably not but then an event might not ever come to fruition.

In the years that follow there should be more budgetary provisions for a paid crew at the event. Sounds like a good idea but what about the practicalities of it?

Why not employ agency staff?

We could do but we have one overriding factor when taking someone on for temporary or casual employment – passion for the event in which they wish to crew! As good as agency staff may be, we could be sent over a group of people who couldn’t tell the difference between a comic and a magazine. Ealing Post Office I’m looking at you here:

"What's in the parcel, sir?"

"A comic book."

"Okay, a magazine."

"No, it's a comic book."

"Oh so it's like a magazine?" (!)

Why so many rules with regarding crew?

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The requirements to become crew are quite obvious. 16yrs and above fall in to minimum wage categories, at the present time, employing someone under 16yrs falls under child employment law and as much as we love paperwork, we’re not going down the route. It does not mean that under 16’s can’t help, they can but they couldn’t be financially compensated by the event.

It is also right that we get to pick the crew based on their location in distance to the event venue. Costs involved can be cheaper and allow people to be paid for their work.

But surely people volunteer for fun?

Damn right they do and such help is needed to get an event off the ground but these unsung heroes need to be shown more respect than a t-shirt, a thank you and a possible guest interaction. They need to be paid for their time and when people get paid doing what they love an employer tends to get more passion out of them.

Fort Con Crew
Fort Con Crew and venue team. September 2017

What if someone is already employed or claiming benefits?

Tesco, for example, require to be informed of a secondary job and some businesses might not allow their workers to work for another company whilst employed by them. We understand that and being paid to crew an event won’t work for everyone. It is rare though that an employer will decline a casual secondary job, especially if only for 2 or 3 days.

It will have a small affect and adjustment to your tax code in that month but will be negligible and down to the company to inform HMRC of your temporary employment, the red tape for the paid worker is very small. The same applies to those claiming some form of benefit, there are simple ways to make sure everything is worked through in the right way. At the end of the day it is a personal circumstance that will decide whether to become paid crew at an event.

There’s no hardship and no harm in doing things the right way.

“But we have concerns!”

When we announced paid crew members for The Highlands Comic Con (Fort Con) we had a barrage of messages and emails with mostly worried feedback. You would think that paying a crew would be met with a little bit more positivity but fans of the event had genuine concerns:

  • It’s hard work.
  • Too much paperwork.
  • Financially crippling.
  • Dealing with tax rates and accountants.
  • Crew become ‘Napoleonites’!

Let’s answer that…

It’s hard work – no company or individual would have chosen the convention event game without expecting anything to be easy. It doesn’t get easier but we rise to the challenges that come and enjoy facing them head. A problem is never a problem until becomes one. This is merely another element to the event.

Too much paperwork – there is paperwork undoubtedly but not as much as you might think. If you have the right payroll system in place and ANY company should then that’s hurdle number one. We make agreements and contracts with other ‘elements’ within each event all the time and on a fundamental level this is no different.

Financially crippling – in no way does employing people in any capacity for a convention become a financial error. The employment of crew should be immediately worked in to the overall budget of the event.

Dealing with tax rates and accountants – if everything is above board and if there is no reason for a company or event to fear the tax man or an accountant then dealing with tax rates and accountants are part and parcel of running a business.

Crew become ‘Napoleonites’! – there should be no space or tolerance for anybody within any crew who see themselves as being superior to others. One part of our motto is ‘BE EQUAL’ and paying all crew says that in strides. Sure, we have senior crew, we have directors and producers but we’re part of the crew.

Dare I say – Apes together, stronger!

Doesn’t that mean a rise in ticket prices?

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Fort Con 2016 Crew

Paying crew should not ever mean a rise in ticket prices. We see ticket prices based on what we give the ticket holder. What experience do you get that qualifies the entry price to a show?

It’s all comparative. Some shows will put their volunteer crew in hotels for the weekend, that’s sometimes more than a wage in itself. Outside of company staff, if an event can draw on a local crew then there is no need for hotel outlay and no need to cover large travel expenses to get the volunteers to the event.

Having one less international guest at an event could cover costs to pay for a few extra crew. Do we really need that extra prop that costs a few hundred pounds? How about dropping that and getting another couple of crew members who in their own way might add more to an event than another prop.

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Isle of Wight Comic Con 2017 crew

If a comic con style of event cannot be run without a volunteer work force then we must assume that the event NEEDS a volunteer crew in order to run. Right? Without people giving their free time to the show, the event doesn’t happen. It’s the reliability on volunteers to run the entire event that we questioned.

I personally still maintain that to get a show off the ground, an event might need to use a volunteer crew but that should be from the top down, no one should be paid. When the next show comes around and certainly by the third year, the crew should be rewarded more than a few bits of merchandise and a slap on the back.

Future proofing an event.

It pays sometimes to have foresight in the event business and focus more on what is coming soon rather than that which has drifted in to the past.

We know that we’re about to hit the VAT threshold for income in 2018 but we’ve been working that in to our accounts since day one so that when it happens, we’re ready for it.

In 2018 and beyond we expect many changes in the convention world which are wide-reaching and impactful. That might include having to pay crew, it might not. Either way, we’re future proofing our events from September 2018 so that we’re ready for anything!

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Although Island Con is paying crew members from its October 2018 show, it is Fort Con who are paying their crew first at the September 2018 event!

Written by Ben E Belton

The Barbarian! Lover of Drew Barrymore, hater of penguins. Sometimes an event producer & creative director. "Living and dying, we feed the fire."

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