At The Clewer Initiative we love working in partnership. We know we can never solve the problem of modern slavery alone. That’s why we are delighted to share with you a guest blog from Revd Dr Dan Pratt, founder of Together Free - an anti-slavery response rooted in the Baptist Church.
Modern slavery first came onto my radar while pioneering 57 West, a church rooted among the homeless community in Southend-on-Sea. I met people who had been exploited, sometimes for decades. John, for example, had been offered work, accommodation and food with a travelling family. He found himself working for 14-16 hours each day. Money was deducted from his wages for the food (sometimes only a sandwich a day) and accommodation (a dirty caravan, sometimes shared with the boss’s dog). When John tried to leave he was threatened. He worked for this family for 20 years and only escaped his captors when arrested and sent to jail for crimes he was forced to commit. Upon his release John found himself homeless on the streets of Southend, and came to 57 West to our community meal.
Other stories of exploitation emerged. It became clear that traffickers and exploiters were targeting Southend and other towns to recruit the vulnerable and homeless community. Providing pastoral care to survivors of modern slavery gave us greater insight into their stories and experiences. This provoked us to think how we could respond locally.
Watch Dan talking about his experience’s working with the homeless community as part of our Modern Slavery and Homelessness resource.
Through working with the police, 57 West obtained funding from the Essex Police and Crime Commissioner to develop the Southend Against Modern Slavery (SAMS) Partnership. There are now twenty organisations - including faith groups, charities, police, and statutory organisations - partnering towards a slavery-free Southend-on-Sea and trying to find local solutions to local problems of exploitation.
Simultaneously, we began to realise that it wasn’t just 57 West who were regularly encountering survivors of modern slavery. We conducted a survey of the churches in the Eastern Baptist Association (EBA). 19% had knowingly encountered victims or survivors of modern slavery. There will be many more churches who have unknowingly served victims through their church services, food banks, creches, night-shelters and other community activities. This development in thinking led to the EBA taking me on as their Anti-Slavery Co-ordinator to help resource our churches.
In partnership with The Clewer Initiative in early 2018 we battled through the snow to run three summits in Chelmsford, Norwich and Cambridge. This led to increased awareness raising among churches as well as some ongoing partnership work.
This work is now expanding within the wider Baptist family and our 2000 churches through Together Free. Together Free is an emerging Baptist-led initiative partnering with churches and communities seeking to end modern slavery and exploitation. In June Together Free and Baptists Together held two national conferences in Manchester and Oxford in order to explore how our Churches’ response can develop.
I am thankful for the ongoing partnership between Together Free and The Clewer Initiative as we partner in resourcing churches to respond to modern slavery. This partnership has been a source of encouragement and inspiration as we seek to join in Jesus mission of ‘setting the captives free’.
Dan Pratt is founder of Together Free and the Eastern Baptist Associations Anti-Slavery Co-ordinator.