Getting to work on Modern Slavery in Cumbria

22nd June 2023 | Diocese

The Clewer Initiative

In May 2023, around 80 people gathered in Barrow-in-Furness to discuss how modern slavery can be tackled more effectively in Cumbria.

The day was the brainchild of Jo Phillips of Churches Together in Cumbria and Rachael Hoggarth of Women’s Community Matters but The Clewer Initiative provided lots of support along the way. We caught up with Jo and Rachael to find out more:

How it all began

Jo Phillips is the Ecumenical Social Responsibility Officer at Churches Together in Cumbria and helps local churches think about their response to issues such as the environment, mental health, poverty, adoption, refugees and modern slavery. Rachael Hoggarth is the Specialist Development Lead at Women’s Community Matters in Barrow and works directly with victims of modern slavery as well as raising awareness of human trafficking and modern slavery, child sexual exploitation and child criminal exploitation.

Pioneering a modern slavery partnership is not part of Jo or Rachael’s official remits but once they met and got talking about the Cumbrian context, they felt compelled to act.

Rachael tells us about their incredible partnership and friendship: “Once I met Jo, we realised we could be a significant force for good. Jo is the “strategic one” and I am more the “practical / boots on the ground” person. We have been able to bring our different strengths and experiences to the mix.”

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The Cumbrian Context

Jo explains: “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 massive budget cuts and everyone seems to be under time and financial pressure as well as feeling weary and stretched. It is difficult for the statutory agencies to cover such a large area and therefore victims of modern slavery can go undetected.”

Rachael adds: “Modern slavery is often present in the agricultural and hospitality sector – two industries that are big in Cumbria. Businesses can struggle to recruit workers and may unknowingly rely on illegal employment agencies who promise to source employees but actually exploit people. The contract market also brings challenges with brothels popping up near to where contractors stay Monday to Friday. There is significant poverty and deprivation across the county and all of these things combine to make Cumbria a fertile ground for criminal gangs. We face unique challenges in our county and we need a unique response.”

Their vision

Jo and Rachael want to strengthen and support a partnership or network that helps to inform, resource and equip people to respond more effectively to modern slavery in Cumbria. “There is need for an improved multi-agency, community response. We want 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.”

However, before they could create a new network, they felt it was important to gather people to acknowledge the difficulties in supporting victims of modern slavery and scrutinise the county’s Modern Slavery Pathways and Guidance document.

Rachael says: “The existing Modern Slavery Pathways and Guidance document isn’t as effective as it should be. As in many parts of the country, referrals to the National Referral Mechanism can get lost along the way and people are not always clear on what they should do if they have concerns about someone. We want to improve the Guidance Document so that frontline workers have the tools they need to support potential victims. My aim is that as well as forming a long-term partnership of modern slavery champions, we will also create a practical document that maps out an effective response. I would also like to develop industry-specific packages of training so we can support businesses in the hospitality and agricultural industry, for example, so they know what to look out for.”

Why faith-based organisations should get involved in modern slavery activism

Launch event

On 12th May, 80 representatives 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.

There were three sessions: a presentation and discussion (led by Caroline Virgo of The Clewer Initiative) about Modern Slavery in the UK and Cumbria; a presentation and discussion (led by Rachael Hoggarth and Amanda le Noble of Medaille Trust) about how current victims of Modern Slavery are processed and some personal accounts and case studies of how victims of modern slavery can ‘fall through the net’ and finally, a facilitated discussion about Next Steps for Cumbria.

Jo continues: “It was incredibly powerful to get so many people in one room discussing the situation in Cumbria, the current pathways and sharing frustrations about some of the gaps in our victim care and support. I think everyone really appreciated the opportunity to brainstorm and discuss better ways of working together. We were delighted about the range of people who came to the day and it meant we could have an honest discussion about the status quo in Cumbria and the way forward. We gathered all of the feedback and action points and will pass them on to the relevant people. We have planted a seed but only time will tell whether it bears fruit.

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The way ahead

“We will meet again in early October to discuss next steps and see what action has already been taken. Meanwhile, we have more than 200 names on our email list and we will start regularly communicating with them and begin to shape the partnership. We have momentum now which is really exciting.”

As well as establishing the network, Jo is working to connect with key strategic leads in the county for this work so that she can keep the issue of tackling modern slavery high on the agenda of key stakeholders.

Interviews with delegates

How The Clewer Initiative walked alongside

Jo concludes: “The Clewer Initiative was amazing at connecting us with people from up and down the country who could share their experience of building a multi-agency partnership. We learnt a lot from others, in terms of what is needed as well as common pitfalls and barriers to effective partnership. The team at The Clewer Initiative gave us so much support as we attempted to get something off the ground.”

Caroline Virgo, the director of The Clewer Initiative, adds: “Jo and Rachael are a brilliant example of what is possible when people come together from faith-based and secular organisations to work for the good of their community. They have used a combination of strategic networking and pioneering grass roots activism to build their partnership and it has been energising to work with them. It is important to be realistic about the challenges we face in Cumbria and the current barriers to meeting victims’ needs. We are looking forward to meeting again in October and seeing how the network, Pathways Document and training packages in Cumbria evolve.”

Amanda le Noble, Sion Hall, Janine and Gordon share their experience of the day

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