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Cumbria’s Partnership Journey

20th February 2024 | Diocese

The Clewer Initiative

The Clewer Initiative spoke to Jo Phillips, Modern Slavery Project Lead at Churches Together in Cumbria, about the progress they have made in forming a new Anti-Slavery Partnership.

  • Can you remind us what the situation was in May?

In May 2023, around 80 people from the Police, Fire Service, NHS, Local Government, Churches, Probation Services, Third Sector as well as regional partners from the Pan Lancashire Anti-Slavery Partnership, The Salvation Army, Medaille and The Clewer Initiative gathered in Barrow-in Furness to discuss how modern slavery can be tackled more effectively in Cumbria.

There are many factors that make the situation in Cumbria challenging – the county is vast in size but low in population. This means there is less money in Cumbria compared with counties with bigger populations as funding is often calculated per capita. Local authorities have faced budget pressures and many people working on the frontline seem weary and stretched. There is need for an improved multi-agency, community response.

We wanted to help establish an active modern slavery network in Cumbria, something that draws together the key stakeholders from across the county including public sector, frontline practitioners, volunteers and churches. At our first meeting in May, we were able to acknowledge the current difficulties and frustrations we face in supporting victims of modern slavery in Cumbria, discuss what is lacking, and consider what steps we could take in our own spheres of influence. There were many honest and frank conversations but also a strong desire to move forward and work together more effectively, for the sake of the modern slavery victims in our county.

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  • What has happened since?

We now have about 200 people on our network email list and we gathered again in October to keep the momentum going and discuss our next steps, including forming a formal partnership.

There was a noticeably different “tone” and atmosphere at the meeting. People really wanted to see progress and tangible action. We invited a number of “out of region” activists who The Clewer Initiative had introduced us to and they were able to share their stories of pioneering modern slavery partnerships and action. This really helped as it provided real-life inspiration, wisdom and encouragement. Sion Hall from PLASP kept challenging us and saying: “You can do this!”

The big advantage about setting up a partnership later than others is that we get to benefit from their experience!

We also heard from Elaine Pickersgill from our local Sexual Abuse Referral Centre. I love to keep accounts from those encountering victims on the frontline at the heart of everything we do. It really helps to keep the steps forward practical and effective.

The network meeting was attended by several organisations that hadn’t come in May and there were a number of “penny dropping” moments where they grasped the part they could play in tackling modern slavery in Cumbria.

Jo Phillips and Rachael Hoggarth share their hopes for the network

  • What are you doing to establish the formal Modern Slavery Partnership?

We have already met twice this year to kickstart the Modern Slavery Partnership and we intend to keep meeting monthly until we feel established. About 20 partners gathered at the first meeting and we immediately discussed “who else do we need at the table? Who is missing?” We want people of the right sort of seniority within their organisations to actually make progress. We also began the process of reviewing other Partnerships’ Terms of References and thinking about what sort of organisation we want to be.

I’m delighted that Allan Harder, a former Detective Superintendent from the North Yorkshire Constabulary who is also the independent chair of the Diocese of Carlisle’s Safeguarding Advisory Panel, has agreed to act as the chair of the new partnership. His arrival has been brilliant as he brings so much experience to the group and we really need someone who can drive things forward.

At the first partnership meeting, Allan asked everyone present: “What are you going to bring to the Partnership? What’s your offer?” It was so good to put everyone on the front foot from the very beginning.

  • What else do you need to formalise?

We need to look for external funding so we can cover the costs involved in this work such as running events / the hours it takes to pull things together (my part-time role) / expenses and so on. We have just secured our first grant from Westmorland and Furness Council so that is a great start! We also need to decide on a name for the Partnership.

  • On a personal note, what is it like pioneering a partnership?

Everything feels quite precarious. We are short of accurate data, money and people. There are so many genuine barriers to getting something up and running. However when I feel discouraged or overwhelmed, I remember the many victims of exploitation that are hidden in our community and I know we mustn’t give up!

I really believe that working together and forming networks is the only answer. The perpetrators are always evolving and we have to keep adapting and evolving too if we are going to make headway. We really need all of our different perspectives if we are going to make an impact in disrupting and preventing this. It is a complex issue but there are so many amazing people already doing important work - we need to keep gathering, stay focussed and work together.

I can see clearly that the years of networking, relationship building and anti-slavery action that has gone on in the past in the county has paved the way for our new partnership. The network meetings in May and October have created further momentum and a widespread appetite for progress. There is good reason to hope.

DCI Andrew Donnelly of Cumbria Constabulary explains why partnership working is vital

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