A new workplace chaplaincy service in Derbyshire is helping churches reach out to people in their community.
Revd Karen Bradley became the Team Vicar for East Scarsdale just over two years ago. The Team’s parishes include Shirebrook where the Sports Direct head office and distribution centre is located. At the time Karen arrived, Sports Direct, which employs over 4,000 people, had been accused of not paying their staff the minimum wage.
Karen was looking for a way to serve those who worked at Sports Direct and wondering about how to engage. Should they join the protests against the employer? Or look for an alternative way? Along with colleagues from the local Catholic and Methodist churches, Karen came up with a different way to serve: a weekly chaplaincy service in the distribution centre. Sports Direct welcomed the idea from the start.
Karen says the chaplaincy service is ‘giving people a space to be heard’. The staff can talk about anything, from their faith to their home or work life. This a particularly good opportunity for the international staff who can feel isolated living away from home, and are often vulnerable to exploitation. The chaplaincy provides a place for them to ask questions and share their experiences.
Unfortunately, their vulnerability to exploitation was highlighted recently. In January this year, two men were convicted of exploiting eighteen Sports Direct’s staff members. The men had acted as their agent and arranged jobs for them at the centre. They then took the majority of their wages as ‘payment’ for substandard accommodation. They also threatened them and beat them up when they tried to leave.
By talking to staff on a regular basis Karen and the team have been given a unique view on how Sports Direct have responded to the shocking news. How can a big organisation like Sports Direct make sure none of their staff are being exploited outside of work?
Awareness has been a big factor. Karen says Sports Direct are now more aware of the risk of modern slavery in their workforce and what it looks like. For example ‘recognising the issues around houses of multiple occupancy, where maybe people aren’t having the living conditions that they should because they don’t know what to expect… they don’t know what their rights are. They are doing their best to identify those premises and pass on the information.’
Although spotting modern slavery wasn’t their original intention, the chaplaincy team know what signs to look for. If they talk to a staff member and have concerns, they know how and who to report them to.
The team are also working on creating a workplace where there is space for prayer. After the London Bridge attack in June, they took in a tree and ribbons, and left a note encouraging people to say a prayer, and leave a ribbon on the tree. When they went in the next week, the tree was full of ribbons.
The chaplaincy is going from strength to strength, with the possibility of an extra session each week at the request of the workforce. Soon they will have two new team members joining them from the local Salvation Army and Assembly of God churches.
Hopefully no one in the Sports Direct centre will be exploited again, but the regular presence of church communities will give everyone who works there the space to speak out, whatever is on their mind.
If you have a story of how your church or community are spotting the signs of modern slavery, we would love to hear them. Get in touch here.