Last year we signed up to partner with Mothers’ Union, a global organisation with a local focus. Recently we spoke to Christine Sharp, Mothers’ Union President in the Diocese of Manchester, about a party that she held for a local safehouse run by the Medaille Trust.
The impetus for the party came from a meeting held at the Diocese of Manchester, about how the church is addressing modern slavery in the diocese. There, Christine met Alan, who works for the Medaille Trust and is also a Church Warden at St Chrysostoms. We have written previously about Alan and his work running English classes for survivors of modern slavery. You can catch up on that here.
They discussed together how Mothers’ Union (MU) could link in. The idea of holding a social event came up, a party where everyone could get to know each other and have some fun. Government support for survivors of modern slavery provides them with accommodation and access to necessary services like legal aid or immigration advice, but it doesn’t provide any provision for social activities, and the amount they are given per week to cover their living expenses doesn’t leave room for anything outside the necessities.
Christine decided to run with the idea of the party, and it proved to be simple and effective. They held it at the church, and she roped in her daughter, who is a singer, to provide some music. “A little social like that, you only need a small area. It’s just funding a small amount of food and drinks. I got my entertainment for nothing, but there are a lot of people who would do it for free for a good cause. But you can do something yourself, something as simple as buying modelling balloons works a treat.”
Christine had decided to keep it fairly low key, with low numbers of new volunteers coming along so as not to overwhelm the group. In the end 30 people came, a mix of staff from the safehouse, survivors, and volunteers from the English classes. The atmosphere was a bit awkward at first. “To begin with they all just sat round a table and looked at each other. So we put the music on, and we said you can help yourself to food. And they all just looked at each other as if to say well who’s going first?... But they gradually got into it.”
I ask Christine why she thinks parties and social events like this one are important. “It helps them get a bit of self-esteem back, the fact that somebody cares for them. Somebody’s treating them just as an equal, another human being. Considering what some of them have been through they must be at the lowest ebb possible, so I’m sure it really does them a lot of good.”
Sometimes even the simplest gestures can have a big impact. “The youngest one won the prize for the best balloon shape. I gave him a box of chocolates and he didn’t want to take it to begin with. Two of three times before the end he came back over to me and said ‘For me? For me?’. He couldn’t believe it was for him.”
The event lasted just over an hour, and Christine thinks it likely they will do it again, and it may be the start of more work supporting those who have been trafficked, as it seems to be crossing over with some of the group’s other work in Manchester. “Particularly in the last few years, almost everywhere we go we seem to be touching on this issue. It doesn’t seem to matter what new project you’re going into, there could be something to do with this.” In their work with those who are less fortunate, marginalised or suffering abuse, as well as with various other organisations, trafficking has come up. And now they know that the safe house is there, they will be able to help.
“I think there are lots of Mothers’ Union groups who are happy to help, as long as they know what the need is. Because if they don’t know what the need is, they can’t do anything about it. This is what we’re doing in MU, ‘Listening, Observing, Acting’.”
If you are member of a local Mothers’ Union group and you would like to get involved in action against modern slavery, get in touch with your Diocesan President to find out more, or email us.