“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say that you did not know.”
The Snowdrop Project Founder and CEO Lara Bundock shares her story about the beginning of the Snowdrop Project.
I guess you could say that I had my own William Wilberforce moment. When I walked through the doors of the safe house for my first day of work in 2011, I had no idea what a learning curve I was about to experience. I knew trafficking and modern slavery existed but working with people who had endured it, opened my eyes.
Very quickly I learnt that we can barely imagine some of the atrocious acts that one person can do to another, and when you hear it first-hand you have a choice; you can either choose to look the other way, or you can move closer.
Initially this took the form of my job in the safe house – greeting people as they came through the door, creating a place of safety, starting a support plan, and helping them to come to terms with being out. However, I soon realised that this was not the end of the story and what I was witnessing made me angry.
During the short period in the safe house, people would start to grow in confidence and independence and start to smile and laugh again. Then the time in safe house would come to an end 6 or 8 weeks after moving in and our support would have to end. Within days or weeks I would receive calls from people I’d supported begging for help because they had no income or had got in to debt, felt lonely and isolated, had letters that they couldn’t read. I would take phone calls from professionals telling me that people had gone missing, developed an alcohol problem or experiencing extreme mental health problems. People that had suffered extreme abuse and come through so much, were being abandoned on the other side and left vulnerable again to further harm.
I could not look the other way. I could not ignore the problem.
I began to speak to clients in the safe house about what they felt like they would need after they left and what they wanted. Everyone told me that they would want a chance to stand on their own two feet and have someone there to help them achieve it.
Surely, this was possible.
Equipped with a passion to see change, my social work knowledge and training and a faith that spurred me on, I began to work with a couple of others I knew to design a programme of support. Rachel Medina had previously worked in the community with refugees, Tim Elverson had created support programmes for those with PTSD and Kelley Bruce was a social worker for traumatised children and together we created the first stage of Snowdrop.
The first 3 years were run entirely with trained volunteers providing ongoing support in the community. There was no income, there was no official office but every single person made it worthwhile. People that we supported in the first few years went from being bought to the UK in a metal box to now living safely in a home with her new family; from being kept in sexual exploitation for years to studying at university; from fear of leaving the house to working as care worker.
Although it started as a small spark, it is incredible to see it become a vision that is owned and championed by many.
Choose today to join the fight and the vision of the many.