“None of us are free if one of us is chained…”
(Songwriters: Billy Mann, Brenda Russell, Cynthia Weil, performed by Solomon Burke, amongst others.)
My role as Ecumenical Social Responsibility Officer for Churches Together in Cumbria (CTiC) is funded through contributions from different denominations in the region. We help the church in Cumbria respond to issues such as the environment, mental health, poverty, domestic abuse, refugees, asylum seekers and modern slavery.
Cumbria has a certain set of challenges and opportunities, its large size, a difficult transportation network, its industries, and the implications of all that on statutory bodies that may be funded per capita.
It didn’t take long for me to realise that modern slavery was one of the areas I would prioritise in my work. As well as the usual car washes, nail bars, cannabis farms and sex workers, we need to think of agriculture and the hospitality industry. Businesses can struggle to recruit workers and may unknowingly rely on illegal employment agencies that promise to source employees but actually exploit people. Cumbria also faces significant poverty and deprivation in places. The current political climate on issues such as migration is unhelpful, and we’re all dealing with a cost-of-living crisis and the problems Covid-19 brought.
CTiC were quick to recognise the value and importance of what we were doing and supported by offering extra funding for a couple of years. I’m so grateful for this, and the work could not have been done without it.
We are developing a regional multi-agency and community network. The Clewer Initiative, the national work of the Church of England to combat modern slavery, have bent over backwards to help us in Cumbria, with advisory meetings, introductions to useful experts in their national network, speaking at events, digital and facilitative support. The national Salvation Army Anti Trafficking & Modern Slavery Unit offered first responder training, the Medaille Trust offered support for police operations, and the Pan Lancashire Anti-Slavery Partnership has been helpful and supportive. We never work alone.
To tackle such a pernicious issue strong networks and partnerships are essential. So, we gathered contacts in all the relevant places, and invited them to our first event in May at Women’s Community Matters in Barrow-in-Furness to discuss how to ‘get to work on modern slavery in Cumbria’.
This is definitely more of a marathon than a sprint, but it is a race well worth the effort and we do not run it alone. The thought of being able to bring help and support to those exploited and enslaved, to bring light, freedom and hope to those who feel forgotten and uncared for, hidden in plain sight – that thought spurs us on.
Watch a video produced by The Clewer Initiative from the May event: