Working in partnership to end modern slavery in Wolverhampton

When we launched The Clewer Initiative, one of our first tasks was to find out what the local Church was already doing to tackle modern slavery across the country.

James (second on the left) with The Clewer Initiative team

James (second on the left) with The Clewer Initiative team

We were excited to meet James Henderson early on and hear all about how, as a Development Worker for the Diocese of Lichfield’s joint project with Church Urban Fund (CUF), he has been working on fighting modern slavery for several years. A few weeks ago we caught up with him to see where their work started and where it’s going in the future. 

So where did you first hear about modern slavery?

It was actually at the launch of Hope for Justice. I worked for a church in Nottingham and a few of the congregation had been talking about modern slavery. Then we got invited to the launch, and that really opened my eyes to it, that was probably 10 years ago now.

How long have you been working in the Diocese of Lichfield now?

I’ve lived in the West Midlands for three years now. I don’t actually live in Lichfield! Our Modern Slavery work is mainly focusing on Wolverhampton and we are deputy-chair of the Wolverhampton Anti-Slavery Partnership. We’ve just got a new chair, so we’re helping them settle in. We work quite a lot in Walsall, so we’ve been having some early conversations with people in the council and the police about the benefits that an anti-slavery partnership could bring to Walsall. We’re also quite interested in the idea of slavery-free cities, and we’re thinking about whether that might be something suitable for Wolverhampton. 

How did you get involved in the Anti-Slavery Partnership? 

Working with CUF we’re all about helping the communities we work in to thrive and flourish. Obviously if people are victims of modern slavery they’re not flourishing at all, so when the police got in touch about setting up the Anti-Slavery group we were really keen to do that. They were quite visionary in knowing the role faith and community groups could play, the core group really thought that [in the community] was where we would identify the victims and be able to support them. I think I went to the first meeting saying I’m really interested in this but I’m not sure how I can help and they were all saying ‘No no you can really help, you’ve got what we want!’

How does your Anti-Slavery Partnership work?

James leads the prayers at our Commissioning Service alongside Sr Anne from the Clewer sisters.

James leads the prayers at our Commissioning Service alongside Sr Anne from the Clewer sisters.

Our Anti-Slavery Partnership is about three things: about raising awareness, about the pathways to report concerns and working to increase intelligence about Modern Slavery. There’s an intelligence sharing document which partners can have, so they can put in lower level intelligence that might help to piece everything together. It’s at quite an interesting stage really, we’ve been going for just over two years but it feels like we’re going through a bit of a transition and there’s lots of new fresh energy.

How have you seen attitudes towards modern slavery change in that time?

Certainly awareness has improved, when we first started talking about it I think people either thought it was something that had happened hundreds of years ago and had hopefully died out, or that if it was happening then maybe it was abroad, but it’s not happening right here on our doorstep. I think we’ve still got a way to go to convince people it’s happening here in the UK and that there are things that we can all do about it.

How have churches and parishes reacted to the idea that they can help?

Local churches have really rallied. They’ve been interested in coming to the training, and they’ve been very good about being on standby when the police are doing intelligence-led visits. In order to get a warrant the police have to show how they would support any victims they found. We were able to contact our church networks and say, ‘this is happening on this day, would you have a building or some space free in case there were any victims?’ and I think 12 churches got back to us and said yes we would be really up for that, which was amazing really.

We often get told by churches, ‘please don’t bring us more initiatives’, but I think if you can help people to understand how it fits into what they’re already doing, how it could be in their street, it could be happening at their food bank, at their drop in, their place of welcome or something like that, then I think it makes it much more relevant to people. I think there is a real desire to make a difference, and I think the injustice of it is just so plain to see, that really speaks to people.

quick fire questions

Coffee or tea? Nice coffee.

Cat or dog? Dog

What did you want to be when you grew up? Funnily enough I always wanted to be a police officer, when I was little, and then I wanted to be a doctor.

Dream holiday destination? Hawaii

Favourite meal? Chinese takeaway – sweet and sour chicken.

We will be hearing more from James over the next few months as work develops, but for now you can see which dioceses are involved in our work by going to our Dioceses page.