When she returned to England, she began to think about working in sustainability and fashion and so completed an online course on ‘How to Build a Sustainable Fashion Business.’ Through this, she learned about the terrible working conditions in garment factories and the issue of modern slavery began to take root in her heart. Michele enrolled on a course run by the University of Nottingham called “Ending Slavery: Strategies for Contemporary Global Abolition” and was horrified to learn that, despite slavery being illegal everywhere, it exists almost everywhere, including in the UK. Her entire outlook changed. She wanted to do something but she didn’t know what. She started getting in touch with local organisations to see if she could volunteer but no one was able to use her.
Instead in August 2017, she decided to walk 83 miles along The Wealdway with her then 3 year old son to raise awareness of modern slavery and funds for Sport for Freedom (an organisation that encourages people to undertake sporting challenges to raise awareness of slavery. It is now part of Justice and Care). She posted about her walk and modern slavery on her Instagram account, and began to meet people working in the modern slavery arena.
This led to a chance encounter with someone at the Diocese of Rochester who was just establishing the modern slavery work in the Diocese. As a former lawyer, Michele was encouraged to train to be a trainer for The Clewer Initiative so that she could run training courses and awareness raising seminars. The thought of this filled her with horror. Michele explains:
“Despite being a lawyer, I hate public speaking. However, I felt so strongly about the issue that I was willing to do whatever The Clewer Initiative needed me to do."
"Amazingly, the nerves aren’t there when I stand up to speak about modern slavery – God gives me the strength to face my fear of public speaking and do the work.”
Michele now co-leads the modern slavery work in the Diocese of Rochester. Her faith in God inspires her activism. She shares: “Every human is created in the image of God and deserves to be treated with dignity and care. When people are exploited, it is a crime against the individual and against God.”
When asked about how she keeps motivated, Michele says: “It is easy to feel overwhelmed and like little progress is being made. However, I have seen a change in attitudes and awareness. When I began campaigning, there was very little knowledge or media attention given to the subject. Even my own father was dismissive. Now, I see much more public awareness of modern slavery and my father sends me articles on the subject all the time and has become an advocate in his own right!”
In terms of time commitment, Michele’s involvement with The Clewer Initiative and modern slavery activism has gone in peaks and troughs. She says: “Now that my 3-year-old is at nursery a couple of days a week, I am able to work on local awareness raising campaigns during the day. Otherwise, I do the work in the evenings or during nap times. Sometimes I even take my daughter to meetings!”
To mark Anti-Slavery Day this year, Michele intends to walk 90 miles along the High Weald Landscape Trail with her 3-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son, uploading photos and articles about modern slavery as she covers the distance. She will be supporting two projects that help women come out of slavery – the Amies Freedom Choir and the Medaille Trust Moving on Project in Kent.
To read more about her campaigning, visit https://thekentishabolitionist.com/