The Ely story

Ely Cathedral poineering new approaches to address modern slavery

Key Contact: Rev'd Jenny Gage


Key Contact: Rev'd Canon Jessica Martin


In the Diocese of Ely, Ely Cathedral is working to find innovative and highly-contextualised ways of spreading knowledge about modern slavery, with an aim to reach as wide an audience as possible.

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The diocese first began work on modern slavery during the Covid-19 lockdown in June 2020, when Ely Cathedral hosted a discussion on modern slavery and exploitative work locally, prompted by the increasing invisibility of exploited workers during the pandemic. The event was well-attended by representatives from local churches, the Diocesan Market Towns Initiative, G's Fresh and the Fresca Group, local businesses dealing in local produce, Link to Change, and the Wisbech 50 Backpacks. Since this initial online discussion, the Cathedral has hosted a range of high-profile events, as well as undertaking a pioneering education project in partnership with The Clewer Initiative.

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A ground-breaking modern slavery education project

In partnership with The Clewer Initiative, the Cathedral’s Education and Learning Centre is piloting a pioneering education project, led by Jessica Martin, Canon Residentiary, and Philippa Stevens, Director of Learning. The project is designed to teach children and young people about modern slavery by using Ely’s unique history as a jumping-off point to help students think about slavery and refugees in the modern world. The educational material centres around an engaging and high-quality historical film, ‘Sanctuary’, which explores the role of Ely as a place of refuge during the Norman Conquest.

Year 5 and 6 students from more than 20 schools took part in a structured online Schools Day on 18th October 2021, Anti-Slavery Day. The day included an assembly streamed from the Octagon at Ely Cathedral, a screening of ‘Sanctuary’, and three structured workshops. For Key Stage 3 students, a series of three fully structured and highly interactive humanities lessons have been prepared. Some Key Stage 3 students will also have the opportunity to develop their own exciting projects to support unseen members of their community, with winning teams receiving funding for their work. A series of five lessons, which can be run as part of the Religious Studies GCSE, has been created for Key Stage 4 students.

So far, the pilot has been a huge success, and the work does not stop here! Ely Cathedral will work with The Clewer Initiative to take the transferable elements of the project forward as a blueprint, with a view to developing the work in wider contexts, and hopefully making a difference to the way we teach children and young people about modern slavery.

Seeking to engage a wide variety of audiences

Ely Cathedral is striving to reach as many people as possible with their message, and are always looking for new ways to spread awareness of modern slavery. The cathedral has hosted a number of powerful and stimulating exhibitions and events. Some examples of the cathedral’s awareness raising activities include:

  • An exhibition of paintings by Sara Shamma, a London-based Syrian artist. Sara’s works powerfully showcase the vulnerability, violence, and resilience inherent to the experience of modern slavery from the survivors’ perspectives.
  • A workshop day for A Level Art students, linked to Sara Shamma’s art exhibition. Students spent the day at the Cathedral and talked to Sara about her motivation for the exhibition, as well as creating their own artistic responses.
  • Journalist, author, and broadcaster Louise Hulland spoke about her book Stolen Lives.
  • For the Ben Jupp Amnesty Lecture, Geraldine van Bueren QC, an international rights activist, delivered a lecture on children’s rights.
  • The Mothers’ Union’s widespread ‘Craftivism’ crochet chain campaign took place in Ely, and the chains were displayed in the cathedral.
  • Ely publicised the Farm Work Welfare App at the Eastern Region Cathedrals’ Sustainable Living conference.
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