They hope to work alongside the police forces of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire to train clergy and congregations to spot the signs of modern slavery and report their suspicions. Core to the project is their desire to be ecumenical, drawing in people from across different church networks.
Like a few of our other project leads, Revd Kelvin is a member of the clergy, with a parish in Bedford, in the Diocese of St Albans.
Now he is helping to fight modern slavery in the area through the local church, but Revd Kelvin used to fight crime in a different way, as a policeman with Metropolitan Police. We spoke to him about the different roles he has played in his life so far, and how modern slavery was often closer than he thought.
So how long have you been in the Diocese of St Albans?
A year! Before that I was in the Diocese of Chelmsford for 15 years, and before that I was a policeman for 30 years in the Met, living in Romford.
When did you join the Church of England?
I was ordained as a self-supporting minister in 2001, and priested in 2002. For the last four years of my service with the police, I was the chaplain to Tower Hamlets police. Let me tell you how that happened – on the day of the 9/11 attack, I was sitting in my office with my team and we were watching it on the news. Everyone thought that Canary Wharf was the next target and we were sitting in the police station in the actual shade of Canary Wharf. The Chief Superintendent said to me ‘Is that right that you’re a priest?’ When I said yes, he said ‘Right, you’re the Borough chaplain’.
Have you had experience of modern slavery in your work?
Well yes but I didn’t know it at the time. In 2006 we won the Olympics in London, so I went to Stratford in East London, to run a church and to be the senior chaplain for the London Olympics’ construction workforce.
That’s when we started noticing Eastern Europeans pitching up at the gates looking for jobs, the construction companies at the Olympics had their own regular employees so they wouldn’t employ them. But these guys had spent all their money to get here, and they couldn’t afford to go home so they ended up standing on street corners, waiting for someone to turn up, like a ganger, who wants half a dozen people to lay concrete. He would take the first six and then give them £20 for the day. There was one place of the Leyton High Road where there were 30 of them living in a three bedroom flat. The smell was horrendous.
I would see them when I went to the church for morning prayer. At the time I didn’t know what was going on, I just thought bad luck mate.
Then one day I walked out of the front door and the whole street was cordoned off, and there were a load of my old colleagues. They said do you know what was going on at number 55? Sex trafficking. And I had missed all the signs because I wasn’t aware of it.
Do you think awareness is better now?
It’s difficult to say really. I think we’re scratching the surface. I seem to have come at a time when the awareness is starting to blossom. The question for me is how do you raise people’s awareness? It’s very much like safeguarding, people weren’t aware of safeguarding issues 20 years ago, and now it’s very different.
We need to get enough people trained up to inform the general public. Because most people will just accept the fact that they can get their car washed for a fiver. They go, well that’s cheap, I’ll go back and do that again. But is it cheap at the cost of this person’s dignity, is this person basically a slave? Slavery for a lot of people is someone in chains locked in a room, who is made to work on the fields. People say ‘well he could walk away from that couldn’t he’? Well it’s easy for you to say but probably impossible for him to do.
What do you think the role of the church is in this work?
What we’re talking about is the dignity of individuals and the church is about the freedom of people to live and worship as they please. We respect and love our neighbour as ourselves and these people are our neighbours.
The role of the church is as a major caring organisation - we say that we care about people, these are people we should care about. Seriously, we have the opportunity to roll this out across the church, I don’t know what the church figures are now, but if we can get this to everybody and they share it with one person… imagine how many people we could make aware of it.