Way back in the day when we could freely meet indoors, in a leafy Surrey café, we sat across the table from one another. Chris Elliott was due to retire as lay chair of Reigate Deanery and had the idea to start a group that would focus on gaining justice and speaking up for those most in need in our community. The idea was to join with the other deaneries in the south of our Diocese and to link with Guildford Diocese to get a cross Surrey approach.

After several more conversations like that and some email exchanges around what we might be called, Reigate Archdeaconry Social Justice Focus (RASJF) was born and the original committee met in September 2019 to think about what, why, how etc. We are a Social Justice ‘Focus’ group because when we focus we see more clearly those in need. All of us can do something, once we are clear what is really out there, among us every day.

We have just run our third event, the first being in person, to raise awareness of what we were doing, the second in the autumn of 2020 was an online webinar, regarding County Lines drug dealing. This one on Modern Slavery drew more attention than the others with over 160 registering. On the day half of those attended live, with more watching the recording.

Speakers from Reigate and Banstead Council, and Surrey Police joined us, sharing stats and stories of the way that things are, and what happens to those who are caught and brought to justice. Around 2500 Modern Slavery cases were recorded in London in the last year and importantly many areas of Surrey are part of the London Boroughs. This highlighted just how important it was for local people to know what to look out for.

We heard moving stories from current team members Jenny and Jennifer of why they got involved and real life scenarios from clients of Their Voice, the charity we chose to support during the event. Founder, Carolyn Thom was really grateful for the donations and offers of help received on the day.

Archdeacon of Reigate, Ven. Moira Astin, shared with us a personal experience of being a first responder; working with those living in the margins, using skills of knowing the community to respond appropriately. She suggested we have to care more for those who are at risk of falling into the trap of thinking what is on offer is better than the life they have.

Bishop of Croydon, Rt. Revd. Jonathan Clark, closed our event by reminding us that this is what the faith is about, it’s at the heart of what it means. We care for others. This was the way things were in the Roman Empire, built on slavery. But Jesus taught us to see people differently and whilst it took some time we have a better view of what’s right for all. ‘We are working through the flowering of the seed that was planted in Jesus’ ministry.’

The RASJF team has ebbed and flowed and we have been grateful for all those who have done their bit to raise awareness of these important issues. Now there are just two of us as the original members and we would welcome anyone who might like to join us to do so, to come along and do their bit.

My first experience of being drawn to consider social justice started back in 2006 at Spring Harvest, when I heard about the launch of Stop the Traffik. A passionate speech about human trafficking stirred something in me and I remember the tiny gesture of buying a small key fob – adding it to my keys it focused my thoughts about those that have been duped by others. With this new awareness my heart started to enlarge and a desire to do something for those who were trapped began. I needed to do my bit.

Years later during my Youth Work training I ran small events and initiatives to raise awareness of human trafficking. An opportunity to travel to Romania for a mission trip meant we could take 20 young people who were to run a holiday club for children, some of who were the children of the orphans we saw back in the 90’s. At the aptly named ‘Centre of Hope’ where families come for food and shelter, we sang and played games. We were all able to travel to see families that had very little more than a ramshackle garden shed many without a roof and it was heart wrenching. But among the tragedy, one of the issues that stood out to me most was of young children telling us why they could not wait to get to the UK. Their older siblings were sending them stories of freedom and money and the best jeans they could wear, saying ‘what I’m wearing was sent back to me from the brother who lives in a caravan and washes cars’. A little while later a car wash was set up not so far from my house and it always pains me to think of these children back in Romania who would make their way to the UK to escape a better life, yet not really understanding that they may in fact end up under the heavy hand of an organised gang. Albeit they felt they were going to have a better life than the one they had left, were they really? I needed to do my bit.

Whilst attending an event for the Clewer Initiative and thinking through the issues of their ‘we see you’ campaign, a telephone call came from the Lay chair of Reigate Deanery, and of course I knew whom this was. When Chris and I chatted and he asked whether I would be involved, I of course said yes, it was time for me and it made sense. Since undertaking Ordination Training I mainly work on the event organisation and communication. Though in this event I deputised for Chris as host. We are a varied group of people and are entirely better for it. You can find out more and do your bit, join us to think about how you can help those who need us to be a voice for them. You can get involved now by emailing us or perhaps sign up to receive our newsletter.

Kerry Evans is an Ordinand at St Augustine’s College of Theology and works for Bible Society, leading Open the Book Training and Development.

Find out more about how The Diocese of Southwark can support your church and its social justice initiatives at southwark.anglican.org/jpic.