People were invited to act on their passions and start up activities in the community rather than come to church. Jackie Mouradian, a County Lines trainer for The Clewer Initiative, decided to gather a team to visit one of Wokingham’s new estates and provide activities that build community and at the same time, raise awareness of county lines.
Jackie explains: “We had been informed by the local police that nine county lines run into Wokingham and we know that recruitment of children happens everywhere – not just in the big cities. Children from more affluent households are drawn in as well as more vulnerable children from deprived households.
“The best way to protect children is to raise awareness of county lines and build community cohesiveness so that people know their neighbours and know what’s going on. With this culture of care and support, it is much easier to tune into potential threats, spot the signs that something is not right and stop county lines from getting embedded.”
A small team met to pray and plan and meet with Wokingham Council and the Police to share ideas and get insight. The team chose to focus on Mulberry Grove Estate as it had a contact who lived there who offered to do art activities with the children.
Jackie comments: “Faraj is a Lybian asylum seeker who we know at our church and lives on the estate. He is a human rights lawyer but also a very fine artist. On the estate there is a mix of social and luxury housing and we know from our association with Faraj and with the council that there has been a reluctance from those in the luxury housing to mix with the people from social housing. This meant that building community there was not going to be straight forward.
“We decided to buy a gazebo and provide refreshments as well as activities for children, including art activities and games. We agreed to meet on a Sunday morning, once a month, on the green in the middle of the estate. I had plenty of county lines materials which I had turned into flyers for parents and also for young people.”
A discouraging start
The team’s experience has been very slow-burn. In September, October and November, very few people came out to meet the team and participate in the activities. However, the team made contact with Joyce, a key person at the council who had a particular remit for community building in the new estates and knew of other organisations working on the estate. Together, they agreed to put on a Christmas event, with someone from the church dressed as Santa giving out goody bags for the kids, art activities and free food and drink as usual. More than 50 people came out of their houses to talk to the team and each other and they nearly ran out of refreshments.
Jackie remarks : “It reminded me of the story of Elisha and the widow’s oil as we had just enough hot water in the thermoses and all but one of the goody bags were given out.”