How the Diocese of Rochester has maintained anti-slavery momentum despite the pandemic

6th May 2021 | Diocese

Since the Pandemic kicked in, the team in Rochester has had to constantly pivot – sometimes changing focus, other times evolving initiatives to meet emerging needs and Government guidelines.

The Clewer Initiative

Caroline Clarke is the Community Engagement Social Action Team Lead for the Diocese of Rochester.

Over the last seven years, she has worked tirelessly to link churches, communities, agencies, local authorities, and volunteers together to meet local needs for the common good and enable communities to flourish.

Since the Pandemic kicked in, the team in Rochester has had to constantly pivot – sometimes changing focus, other times evolving initiatives to meet emerging needs and Government guidelines. We interviewed her about her experience over the last year.

What does your role entail?

It is mainly about working in partnership with church volunteers, agencies, and local authorities to enable the church to be Jesus’ hands and feet in our communities. We aim to support churches as they share their love, concern and skills in a way that helps communities to thrive. The church is great in bringing people together. My role is also about helping volunteers provide support for the most disadvantaged in our communities and seeking to bring change in society. I work closely with The Clewer Initiative and GLAA to enable our Anti-Slavery Teams to provide training on how to spot signs of modern slavery and get involved in supporting victims.

How did the Covid Pandemic affect your work?

Initially, lots of the work we were involved with had to adapt or stop but quite quickly we began to spot new opportunities. At the start of 2020, we had two teams who were in the process of completing training with The Clewer Initiative and GLAA. They were really engaged and committed to the cause so when Covid hit, we simply moved the training on to zoom.

During the first lockdown, the team of volunteers liaised with the Police and helped to connect known victims and vulnerable people with local food banks. Some of our night shelters became hostels and others made cooked meals for homeless people who had been provided accommodation by the local authority. We also kept writing our regular newsletters to inform our network about activity taking place and prioritised our volunteer training. One of our modern slavery champions even started a new blog -

During the lockdowns, as the Government guidelines were published, some of our community hubs were able to become ‘closed support groups’ and provide support for the most vulnerable, in a Covid-secure way. This required lots of flexibility and a willingness to change and adapt.

I try to look for the blessed silver linings in a situation and believe the opportunity to upskill our volunteers has been a real positive in 2020/2021. As health professionals began talking about the mental health tsunami that was brewing because of the lockdown, we decided to act and provide bespoke training for our volunteers. We established a partnership with MIND and offered our volunteers access to the England Mental Health First Aid Certificate course. Since November 2020, 113 clergy and volunteers have qualified as Mental Health First Aiders and we think this extra support and training will be vital when more of our face-to-face work can resume. Our volunteers are the backbone of everything we do, and they need to be able to support people with poor mental health and signpost them to the right support.

In the last few months, we have developed this further by offering bereavement training to our volunteers. We want to equip them to support the many people who have recently experienced loss. So far, 36 people have attended the bereavement training. While none of these courses focus explicitly on modern slavery, we know that many victims struggle with poor mental health and feelings of loss, and we believe that the training will prove invaluable as projects reopen.

What would you say to someone who is feel daunted about re-engaging volunteers and getting action established again?

We have focused on finding and training up people in our Diocese who are passionate about eradicating modern slavery and empowering them to pioneer action. To formalise this and show what a priority it is, we commissioned 22 modern slavery champions at a special service at the Cathedral in 2018.

There are other small things you can do that can create momentum. For example, get a bundle of The Clewer Initiative’s leaflets and posters delivered to every church. Alternatively, you can invite the GLAA to give a talk on labour exploitation and what to do if you suspect someone is being exploited. Working with other organisations to put on an event is a brilliant way to kickstart an awareness raising campaign.

Over the last year, many people have come forward to volunteer on projects but as some of those opportunities close, they might be looking for new roles. It is a great time to get in touch with your network and find out who has capacity.

What has been difficult about sustaining things this year?

Understandably, many people’s thoughts have turned inwards and focused on their own survival. Many volunteers have been shielding or became heavily involved in the massive move of the local church onto zoom, which has been very successful in supporting hundreds of people.

Despite all that we have faced this year, we have got through it together. We have prayed lots and our volunteers have been amazing.

I think once you know the facts about modern slavery, it is hard to turn a blind eye. The suffering of victims is so extreme that you feel compelled to do something as your actions could save a life. That is why we are passionate about passing on the facts about modern slavery. We trust that as we do so people will naturally be horrified and want to know what they can do to join the fight.

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