Currently in its pilot year, Redeye, the Photography Network’s ‘Fourth Year’ initiative offers a series of professional development sessions primarily for recent graduates, as well as current students and others at a similar career stage, and aims to support a successful transition from university to professional work. Founded in 1999, Redeye has been offering professional development sessions to photographers at every level ever since, however the Fourth Year initiative has been developed as a direct response to an increase in graduates attending sessions and seeking help.

Redeye was finding that out of all photography students who start a photography degree, relatively few continue into the profession and that only 25% of those who start trading as such continue to do so on a long term basis. One graduate who attended an early Redeye session reported that advice was being directly withheld from them because of the high level of competition in the field. Initially, Redeye began responding to these sorts of numbers and reports by expanding their programme to include sessions on topics such as fees, marketing, copyright, business models, and funding. They also began visiting higher education institutions with the aim of introducing photography students to the support Redeye could offer them. However, student attendance at the external sessions was relatively poor, and those who had already graduated didn’t necessarily connect with Redeye’s programme once they had left higher education.

Gavin Parry at Manchester Metropolitan University began discussions with Redeye in these early stages, later handing on to other staff, who were instrumental in helping Redeye develop and formalise these initial sessions into the Fourth Year initiative. Rather than deliver sessions themselves, it was decided that Redeye’s role in Fourth Year would be to facilitate instead, to organise, market and unify the events and institutions involved. The institution would be responsible for providing a member of staff and a room for the session to take place in. It was also decided that attending these sessions should require a Redeye membership. Membership costs are kept low to stop income becoming an access barrier and students and graduates can join for £2.50 a month. Requiring membership both produces a small income for Redeye and builds a community – meeting one of their requirements as a Community Benefit Society.

Once the idea for Fourth Year was finalised, Redeye put out an open call to the higher education institutions it already worked with. Focusing on the North and North West of England, they contacted course leaders from 12-15 institutions. So far 5 have agreed to participate in the pilot program – Manchester School of Art, the University of Salford, Hugh Baird University Centre, the University of Cumbria and Blackpool and The Fylde College. Of leaders who were approached but didn’t participate, some cited a need to get approval from senior management, one was approached too late to organise, and two more have signed up since. Some institutions had queries about how much time and energy they would have to commit to the sessions and had to be reassured of the informal nature of the sessions. On a practical level, dates and venues had to be organised far in advance by means of a survey with available dates and suggestions for content for the sessions sent out nearly six months in advance. Half the institutions that were sent a survey completed them, and out of those who filled the survey in, all but one finalised a date with Redeye.

Redeye’s Fourth Year sessions try to reach not only the graduates and students of one specific host university, but also those from other institutions in similar positions. The impact of the initiative is hard to measure, but feedback from the first 3 sessions have shown that those who attend are not always from the host institutions, and that those who are enthusiastic travel to where the help is. Testimonials have shown that keeping the workshops informal has been important for the participants. They’ve reported that they feel it is ‘good to meet people in similar situations as themselves’ rather than ‘big speakers’, and it is felt that this has also helped build confidence amongst those who might suffer from neurodiversity barriers such as anxiety or dyslexia. A collective, peer-to-peer approach is also more likely to generate new, self-sustaining collaborative networks between Redeye attendees.

The Fourth Year initiative’s relationship with higher education institutions has also increased Redeye’s membership in a number of ways. The University of Salford applied for funding for all of their students to be given a free Redeye membership. Though not all of the 25 students signed up, the money left over is being re-invested into the next academic year group, and into a new Conference. One course leader has made a Redeye event in January 2018 mandatory for their students, and other institutions have asked their students to become free subscribers to Redeye. With the Arts Council keen on organisations to diversity their income extra membership is a very positive outcome, and there is potential for those numbers to grow as more institutions sign up.

Halfway through the pilot year, the Initiative has been a relative success. Feedback from tutors has suggested attendance has been better than expected, and attendance from students outside of photography courses has left Redeye’s Director Paul Herrmann and its program coordinator Charlie Booth wondering if the Fourth Year model could be exported across other disciplines. Whilst some higher education institutions have their own graduate schemes and may not wish to be involved, those that are supportive are keen to continue, and some who were hesitant about the pilot scheme are now keen to be involved in 2018-19.

For more information on Redeye’s Fourth Year initiative please contact Paul Herrmann at Paul@redeye.org.uk.

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