Bridgwater Initiative to Expose Modern Slavery

Sian Owen with her information booklet about ‘Modern Slavery’

In 1785 Bridgwater was the first town in the country to petition against the Slave Trade, one of the greatest organised crimes against a section of humanity on an industrial scale for vast profits. Today, modern slavery continues to exist in many forms from Labour exploitation to Domestic Servitude to Sexual exploitation and even organ harvesting. In 2017 an initiative was set up by the Church of England known as the Clewer Initiative. Their website is here. However, now in Bridgwater local people are taking up the cause to raise awareness. At ‘Raging Grace’, an event at St Mary’s Church 7pm on Sunday 19th May, there will be a presence of both national and local representatives from Hidden Voices.  On  3rd September the Town Development Forum will devote an entire meeting to this subject and raise the issues with the many partner groups and agencies in town to develop a local policy on the subject.

St Mary's Church
St Mary’s Church

Bridgwater residents Sian Owen and Peter Slee are part of a campaign involving local churches called Hidden Voice -Bridgwater. Sian says “Modern slavery is an umbrella term for all forms of slavery, trafficking and exploitation. At the core of this crime is deception. Survivors of modern slavery tell stories of being sold a better life. They are often vulnerable, coming from areas where there is little possibility of work. They are offered a job, a chance to make money and to build a new life for themselves. Those who offer these opportunities may even organise their travel to a different country, controlling every aspect of their trip. The job they are offered turns out to be a lie and instead they are forced to work in difficult and degrading conditions, with little or no pay. The threat of violence, to themselves or their families, hangs over them and traps them in their situation. Even if their trafficker does not physically control them, a mistrust of authority may stop them from going to the police.”

40 Million Around the World

This could be the reality for 136,000 men, women and children in the UK. Modern slavery knows no borders, and people of all ages and races can be victims. The 6,993 potential victims referred to the National Crime Agency in 2018 came from 130 different countries, the most common of which were the UK, Albania, and Vietnam.

There is a particular vulnerability amongst certain groups, notably the Homeless, illegal immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, young adults, people with mental health issues and children. The belief is that some 40 million people are held in modern slavery around the world.

If you would like to find out more, or contribute to the discussion you can either contact Sian and Peter directly on or meet them at the St Marys event on Sunday evening or come along to the Town Development Forum meeting on 3rd September.

You can find the website of the Clewer initiative here

You can find the story of Bridgwater’s historic battle against Slave Trade here.

The Modern Slavery helpline is 08000 121 700