On tour at the Royal Lancashire Agricultural Show

21st July 2023 | Rural

The Clewer Initiative

The Royal Lancashire Agricultural Show provided a unique opportunity for The Clewer Initiative and its partners to raise awareness of the issue of modern slavery in rural communities.

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From 21st-23rd July, more than 25,000 visitors came to the showground and many of them visited the Church Tent which was organised by Churches Together in Lancashire. Inside the Church Tent, Churches Together in Lancashire hosted a café, with free refreshments, and a resource centre with a special focus on modern slavery in rural communities. The Clewer Initiative worked closely with Churches Together in Lancashire to pool the best range of resources, both for children and young people, and rural communities and farmers specifically. In particular, the Show provided The Clewer Initiative with a strategic location to launch its new rural toolkit.

Anton Muller, County Ecumenical Officer for Churches Together in Lancashire, explains: “At Churches Together in Lancashire, we are passionate about thinking about what we can do as churches to support and care for the farming community in Lancashire. Many farmers are under huge financial strain because of the increased cost in living, the pressure on profit margins and because it is hard to find enough workers to pick produce. The fear is that vast quantities of produce will end up rotting in the fields unpicked. It is heart-breaking and not surprising that we see high suicide rates and poor mental health amongst the community.

“Each year at the Royal Lancashire Agricultural Show, we aim to be a Christian presence at the Show and to offer a place of rest, refuge and hospitality. We try to highlight the local needs in our rural communities, signpost support and offer pastoral care. We also like to have a special focus such as Climate Justice or Mental Health. This year, because we know it is a real issue in Lancashire, we wanted to think further about recognising modern slavery in rural communities. We know that as farmers find it increasingly challenging to find workers in a post-Brexit era, they are at risk of falling prey to criminal gangs, masquerading as employment agencies, who offer to find workers but are in fact exploiting people.

“It was brilliant to see so many people from our community engaging with the modern slavery resources that we had on display and learning more about the issue. We hope that as a result of coming into the Church Tent many farmers will now know how to identify scams and illegal workforces and how to report their suspicions.”

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On Sunday 23rd July, the team led an Anti-Slavery Day service in the Church Tent, using liturgy, resources and suggestions from The Clewer Initiative. Many people attended the service and it was an opportunity to reflect on the issue of modern slavery and consider how to respond practically.

Caroline Virgo, director of The Clewer Initiative, comments: “We were delighted to attend the Royal Lancashire Show and talk to so many different people about the presence and prevalence of modern slavery. We received great feedback for our new resource and poster set which has been specifically designed to raise awareness about modern slavery in rural areas. We are keen to keep engaging rural communities and help them identify and act upon exploitation.”

The Royal Lancashire Agricultural Show is just the beginning. Anton and his team are keen to continue raising awareness of modern slavery in rural communities and the issue is now high on the agenda of Churches Together in Lancashire’s Enabling Group for Social Justice which is working closely with the Pan Lancashire Anti-Slavery Partnership (PLASP).

Anton concludes: “We are so grateful for the support and input provided by The Clewer Initiative. They have introduced us to lots of others working within the sector and shared resources and best practice from other counties. They attended the Show and helped us answer questions and connect with local farmers. It has been an extremely effective partnership and we look forward to working together over the coming year to combat modern slavery in the North West.”

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