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The Freedom Bus hits the road!

9th August 2021 | Awareness raising ideas

We spoke to Sion Hall, chair of PLASP, about how the Freedom Bus has enabled them to spread the word across the county.

The Clewer Initiative

The Pan Lancashire Anti-Slavery Partnership (PLASP) has been working across Lancashire to raise awareness, provide training and encourage victim identification and support for the last four years.

One of its most innovative initiatives is the creation of ‘The Freedom Bus.’

We spoke to Sion Hall, chair of PLASP, about how the Freedom Bus has enabled them to spread the word across the county.

In 2017, Sion Hall, a senior detective with the Lancashire Police, was asked by the Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office to use his imminent retirement to establish an Anti-Slavery Partnership. Having worked for 30 years for the police and set up the Human Trafficking Team for the county, Sion felt it was a perfect way to put his skills and experience to good use and work on something he was passionate about.

Freedom bus

Sion became the chair of the newly formed Pan Lancashire Anti-Slavery Partnership (PLASP) and quickly began drawing in other statutory agencies, NGOs, charities and faith groups to work together. As a committed Catholic, he felt strongly about the importance of the church being closely involved with the Partnership.

PLASP meets monthly and focuses on raising awareness amongst frontline agencies, churches and community groups and the wider public, providing training and encouraging victim identification and support.

As part of a wider strategy, the PLASP was keen to look at ensuring that training was free, consistent and to a National standard across all agencies and groups. In the early days, Sion found that many of those who expressed interest had already received some sort of training on modern slavery but this varied in content, length and style. As a result, PLASP designed a number of awareness and training packages, utilising resources from the Police, GLAA and The Clewer Initiative.

One of the most exciting elements of the Partnership’s work is its roadshows. It approached a local bus company and asked if it could rebrand one of its buses with Anti-Slavery signs and the Modern Slavery Helpline number. Renamed ‘The Freedom Bus’, it continues to be a school bus during the week and then PLASP hires it for events and roadshows at the weekends. Sion explains: “A brilliant spin-off is that The Freedom Bus is used every week by local schools and we find that, as a result, the children who take the bus to school are often talking about slavery. The bus travels all over the county and all sorts of people notice it and observe the signage.”

At weekends, PLASP organises roadshows in different towns across Lancashire. It usually parks The Freedom Bus in a town centre location in the morning, handing out information to the public. In the afternoon, it drives through potential modern slavery hot spots, in the hope that victims of modern slavery or members of the public who suspect something untoward, see the bus and are prompted to call the Modern Slavery Helpline. PLASP has also organised for the bus to attend business events and recently worked in collaboration with Morrisons to host an event in its car park.

This summer, The Freedom Bus is hitting the roads once more. In May, it travelled to the Anglican Cathedral and the Slavery Museum on Albert Docks in Liverpool – an event organised in collaboration with the Merseyside Anti-Slavery Partnership. The volunteers found that because of its situation by the Slavery Museum in particular, people were really engaged with the issue and they had lots of meaningful conversations about modern slavery. In July, it went to Burnley, in August it is due in Cheshire (in collaboration with the Cheshire Anti-Slavery Partnership) and in September, it is heading to Manchester with the Greater Manchester Anti-Slavery Partnership.


Sion concludes: “The Freedom Bus has been a great asset. Even last summer amid tough COVID restrictions, we were able to park it in different locations to raise local awareness. I am excited about the roadshows that are coming up this summer and marking Anti-Slavery Day in October. It is great being able to share The Freedom Bus with other local Anti-Slavery Partnerships and regions. We try to maximise the presence of The Freedom Bus in a town by hosting other events nearby at the same time. Sometimes, we organise a church service to coincide with the bus roadshow. Other times, we have been supported by the local Soroptimists who have worn Anti-Slavery banners and placards and marched up a local high street like the Suffragettes did.

“Partnership working is at the heart of everything we attempt. It is critical to involve as many local organisations as possible. I feel very strongly about the place of faith-based groups and for me, it is important that I can link my faith and work together through PLASP.”

To find out more about PLASP, check out its Twitter account @Plaspsupport

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