Role of church initiatives highlighted at Modern Slavery Summit

On Friday 31st March 2017, Stephen Barclay, MP for North East Cambridgeshire, convened a Modern Slavery Summit in Wisbech. Chaired by the Bishop of Ely, Bishop Stephen Conway, the summit brought together over ten organisations tackling modern slavery in Cambridgeshire.

Participants included Sarah Newton MP, Minister for Vulnerability, Safeguarding, and Countering Extremism; Major Anne Read of The Salvation Army; and Anthony Steen CBE of the Human Trafficking Foundation. Also present were representatives from local organisations such as the regional office of the Crown Prosecution Service, the County Council, and two faith-based initiatives: Ferry Project and the Rosmini Centre.

The Salvation Army, the national provider of safe houses for victims, voiced their concern about the support that survivors of modern slavery have access to. Given the debate about whether the 45 days of reflection and recovery currently given to victims is enough, Anne Read cautioned against putting too much stock in numbers and spoke instead about the concept of ‘sustainable freedom’. She commented that each survivor will have had a different experience and therefore will have different needs. Rather than thinking about timescales, instead she suggested concentrating on the support each survivor needs to move on and be free sustainably. 

Keith Smith, director of local initiative Ferry Project, added that ‘sustainable freedom’ for many of the victims they encounter, means finding work. For them, facilitating legitimate employment, rather than long periods of counselling or being moved to new accommodation, was the main intervention they needed.

Ferry Project and the Rosmini Centre, two faith-based initiatives represented at the summit, both grew out of a community need and were not originally designed to help the victims of modern slavery. They discovered through the course of their work with vulnerable communities that it is a much bigger issue than they thought. 

The Rosmini Centre started their work when 50 Polish people were left in the car park of the local Catholic Church. Having been bussed from Poland on the promise of jobs on a farm, they were dumped and left to fend for themselves. Staff at the centre have come into contact with many other migrant workers who were also given a job, however not the job they were promised. Instead they were exploited and abused. The centre runs community activities such as a café and children’s clubs, but also provides vital care and support for victims of modern slavery including access to healthcare, and English classes for those who want to stay in the UK.

Ferry Project was initially set up for homeless migrants in the area. Through speaking with their clients, they discovered that these migrants had often been in situations of modern slavery, even if they wouldn’t have called themselves victims. Now they are concerned that the issue not be forgotten by statutory agencies.

As part of the conference, The Clewer Initiative had the opportunity to introduce its plans to help dioceses across England to engage with modern slavery. Emphasising the role of partnership in tackling the problem, it was fantastic to outline how The Clewer Initiative can help to ensure local priorities are supported.