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  • Writer's pictureThe Arts VA

Client Stories: Meet… Jon Wakeman, Artistic Director

It’s been a while since we introduced you to one of our fantastic clients. This week, charity co-founder, Jon, explains what a difference working with a VA has made to his life.

Artist using pencil to draw

Jon Wakeman is passionate about supporting artists and encouraging them to use their art to incite change. He co-founded East Street Arts in Leeds in 1993, where he still works as artistic director alongside his wife Karen. Both of them have been awarded MBEs this year in recognition of their services to the arts.

The charity helps secure better livelihoods for artists, addressing issues of economic and commercial decline in towns and cities. The Arts VA supports Jon and his work by handling administrative duties, such as email and diary management. Here, he explains more about why he chose to work with a virtual assistant.

Jon Wakeman

Please can you start by telling us a bit about you and the work that you do:

We set up East Street Arts to support artists and their work by providing space to make and work, mentoring and professional development, and through commissions and residences. A key aim is to engage and collaborate with our neighbours, supporting artists to take their practice into the public realm as part of that process. That is the tip of the iceberg, but I will stop there for now!

How did you come to work with The Arts VA?

A couple of things brought me to think about working with a VA; firstly, in 2021, I had begun to investigate getting an ADHD diagnosis, and secondly, my founding partner of East Street Arts, and wife, had started to plan how she would step back from the company. This perfect storm of change created a moment of realisation - I had long been bogged down and struggling with the demands of communications (emails) of running a charity, which had grown from a staff team of two to 26!

Have you worked with a VA previously?

No, I had never even considered getting support as we had always done our admin.

What kind of tasks were you struggling with?

It has always been about emails. My inbox was brimming over with an eye-watering 6000+ unread emails. So yes, it was emails!

Have these tasks changed over time?

Yes, and once Charlie tackled the email iceberg, we began to work on programming my diary and chasing up meeting attendees, etc. We have also moved to task management through Asana, which we use in the company.

Do you have set hours each month or ad-hoc?

Charlie has set hours of approx two hours a day or the equivalent. I think we had started with one hour a day, but then with my ADHD diagnosis, I was lucky enough to get Access to Work support, which funds the 2 hours per day. This has worked well, and as the Access to Work allocation belongs to me, I can take the support with me if I leave the company.

What difference has working with a VA made?

The change in me has been enormous, both practically and psychologically. I would often miss important emails in the past and would continually find myself on the back foot with people, and one of the problems ADHD brings with it is procrastination; this was being doubly compounded. And when you walk around with several thousand emails on your mind, you reach a point where you never even want to open your Gmail in the morning… or ever!

What do you like about having a VA?

I think it’s having someone there to talk to when needed but also knowing Charlie has my back and that when severe distraction sets in, which it does, someone is just making sure I don’t get overwhelmed when I am ‘back in the room’.

Would you recommend The Arts VA?

Yes, I would. Charlie has been flexible in working with my needs, and I think it has been vital that she doesn’t ‘mop’ everything up, and ultimately, I still have to say which direction I would like to try and take the methods we are employing to help support me.

The Arts News

  • New musical theatre development scheme, Overture, has been launched to nurture writers from under-represented backgrounds. It is calling for applications from musical theatre creators, including writers, composers, directors and producers, for the pilot scheme.

  • Casting has been revealed for The Sound of Music revival at Chichester Festival Theatre. Set to lead the production as Maria is Gina Beck, joining her will be Edward Harrison and opera singer Janis Kelly. You can see the full cast here.

Get in touch!

Do you have any questions about how The Arts VA could support you or your business? Head to the contact page to arrange a chat with Charlie. If you want to read more about the type of clients we support, check out these blogs:


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