There are many different roles that charities look to fill, requiring varying skills and levels of commitment.
The Salvation Army is one such organisation that is always looking for volunteers. Since 2011, The Salvation Army has won the government contract to provide specialist support to protect and care for all adult survivors of modern slavery in England and Wales. The most recent contract, that came into force in January 2021, entitles survivors of modern slavery to support at all stages of their recovery.
We spoke to John, a volunteer with The Salvation Army, about his experience of helping behind the scenes.
What volunteer role do you do?
I am a volunteer driver/chaperone for The Salvation Army's Modern Slavery team. We normally work in teams of two, though sometimes I work alone in appropriate circumstances. My wife, Jenny, is my regular chaperone but I have also worked with other volunteers.
What does it entail?
We are informed of journeys as they arise and we are invited to volunteer for all or part of the journey, depending on the distance involved. Typically, a journey involves collecting a client from a location where they have been recovered from their exploitation or trafficking situation and taking them to a safe house, far away from the area where they are at risk. Pick-ups can be from a variety of locations such as refuges, hospitals, police stations, prisons, immigration centres or residential addresses depending on the circumstances. The destination could be almost anywhere within England and Wales. If the distance is great, then we might share the journey with other volunteers and the hand-over can take place at a convenient location such as a motorway service area.
How many hours do you currently volunteer for The Salvation Army?
I am free to volunteer for as few or as many journeys as I wish, and they are usually allocated to the volunteers that are best located for the journey. Being retired, my availability is normally good. A typical journey could involve a round-trip of approximately 250 miles and take 5-8 hours, though this varies. When working with my wife, I am willing to go on longer journeys as we can share the driving. The demand is intermittent, but overall, I average about 1.5 journeys a week. Basic travel and subsistence costs are reimbursed.
What do you enjoy about it?
I signed up for this work for two main reasons. Firstly, having retired from full-time work I had time available to do something worthwhile. Secondly, I recognised that of all the humanitarian issues going on around the world, modern slavery and human trafficking is an issue happening right on our doorstep. Whilst I can’t do much to stop it, I can at least give some time to reducing its impact on individuals.
I enjoy driving and the fact that I am helping exploited people on the first step of their journey to a new life. Although we are told very little of the background of the individuals that we help, during the 2.5 years that I have been doing this work, I have met people that have very clearly suffered trauma and sometimes violence at the hands of their exploiters. My aim is to offer them respect and hospitality during the journey, so they feel cared-for and comfortable. If a client falls asleep in the car, that is a sign that they are comfortable and trust us to transport them safely. Many do not speak any English, which presents some challenges, though we manage with Google Translate and a telephone translation service.
Clients I have transported have been male and female, in ages ranging from 18 to 70 and of many nationalities. I have transported heavily expectant mothers, and mothers with children ranging from one week old to teenagers. Satisfaction comes from a safe arrival at the destination and a simple "thank you" from the client.
What have you learnt about modern slavery through your role?
The main thing I have learned is that modern slavery is indiscriminate and ruthless. It is not limited to specific types of people. Some clients may be uneducated or impoverished, but some are well-educated and affluent. They can be of any nationality, including British, but they all suffer the same misfortune of falling into a situation of exploitation that is difficult to escape. I am very pleased to be part of the system that helps them out of such situations and take the first steps towards a new life.
How well supported have been with training and support to perform this role?
The Salvation Army provided basic training and guidance for the role but there is much that can only be learned from experience. Some journeys can be described as "routine" but there are others where it becomes clear that the person has been subjected to some pretty horrendous treatment and needs very careful and sympathetic handling.
We also spoke to Daniel Weaver, Volunteer Programme Manager for The Salvation Army’s Anti Trafficking and Modern Slavery department to find out if John’s experience is typical:
“There are many ways people can help support survivors of modern slavery by volunteering with The Salvation Army, all of which come with the specialist training and support needed to undertake these roles in a safe and effective way. People can commit based on their own availability and there is a lot of flexibility. John’s experience over the past few months has been unusual as he has kindly stepped up to cover more journeys than would otherwise be the case if COVID had not required many other transport volunteers to shield.
“People can volunteer as a chaperone or driver, like John, to transport potential victims to a safe place. There are also opportunities to work with survivors through the CONNECT Support Service which complements Government services by offering additional practical and holistic support to people as they integrate into their local community, perhaps as a mentor or helping to run life skills classes and social gatherings. Finally, volunteers can be trained to interview potential victims to help put their experiences into writing so that they can be officially recognised as victims of modern slavery and get the support they are entitled to.”
For more information on volunteering, contact Daniel Weaver, Volunteer Programme Manager for The Salvation Army’s Anti Trafficking and Modern Slavery department on firstname.lastname@example.org or 07341571213 or visit https://www.salvationarmy.org.uk/volunteer/anti-trafficking-and-modern-slavery-volunteering