Project leader and Near Neighbours Trustee, Reverend Sarah Schofield, tells us more about her church’s Near Neighbours funded project which runs a drop-in session for sex workers in the local area at All Saints Church in Wolverhampton. The project, funded in 2015, focuses on recruiting local volunteers (pictured) from different faith backgrounds which act as befrienders and run an advice group. Reverend Sarah highlights a “Warm Welcome gives people the space and power to change if they want to.” The project has resulted in them partnering with the Terrence Higgins Trust and Changing Lives. Read on to find out more about the impact of this project.

Where were you born?

I was born in Rugby, Warwickshire but I barely remember life there. I have moved around a lot. I am currently in my twelfth home, having lived in Nottingham, Gateshead, Birmingham, Manchester, spent a few months living in London and Namibia and now living in Wolverhampton.

 

What was it like growing up there?

I don't really have a sense of place but I do have a strong sense of family and friendship. My friends are incredibly important to me, especially those I have known over almost three decades, they feel like family. I lived in Nottingham, close to a pit, during the miners’ strike, and Moss Side and Longsight in Manchester during some very troubled years in the 90’s.  I think the strength of my close relationships are what stopped those difficult social contexts becoming the defining feature of my time there. My abiding memory of Manchester is of life long friendships made rather the murders that were the regular feature of the estates where I lived.

 

Do you have any specific belief background?

I am Christian, a priest in the Church of England but from a family who had a number of people involved in politics on my dad’s side. My grandad was an active trade union member and a member of Clarion, a Socialist cycling group. Those non-Christian political beliefs are part of me.

My great grandma, who I never knew, was a political activist before women could vote. Older family members tell me I am carrying on her tradition in my work for women’s rights. In the Second World War and the 1950’s  my mum's family were closely linked with Coventry Cathedral. My grandma’s stories of blitz, anger and, decades later, reconciliation – all rooted in her strong Christian faith - have always been present as part of my faith journey.

 

Who inspires you?

 People who are able to change, to develop new skills, especially new confidence.

 

What brought about your project?

I arrived in All Saints in 2006 just as a number of women were murdered in Ipswich, and sex work was something they all had in common. The congregation and I were determined to set something up that provided a safe place for women, in particular those working as street based sex workers around the church. We lacked confidence and kept waiting for the experts to come along to tell us what to do.

 In the end, seven years later, we linked up with a non Christian charity who had some experience of supporting sex workers in other parts of the country but no knowledge of our area or relationships with the women we knew. Between us we made a start, drawing on the enthusiasm and skills of local residents of a range of faith backgrounds who had links with the church in one way or another. Three years on, thanks to our Near Neighbours grant, we have more people involved, some as professionals, some as residents or members of other congregations (Christian and non Christian) and some in more than one capacity. We have unlocked many talents and found new skills.

 

Why did you decide to focus on this specific issue?

Because the only focus on prostitution related to law and order and many people, local police included, wanted a different approach that was separate from concerns about anti-social behaviour.

 

What went well in your project?

The relationships between team members whatever faith or professional background they came from. The depth of our relationships with women using the drop in.

 

What were the challenges in your project?

Coordinating a large team who seldom all get together.

 

How did this project create an impact/make a difference?

Increased understanding between women who sell sex and those who do not. Many ‘working girls’ (the way women describe themselves), are able to make links with services that can help them. This can be through providing housing, dentistry, contraception and clean clothes.

 

What was your favourite memory of your project?

A woman described the church as the only place she went where she wasn't judged.  

 

If you had to give a message to anyone who wanted to do a project, what would it be?

Make sure you plan and find sufficient team members but don't let lack of professional expertise put you off. Cast your net widely, you might be surprised. A volunteer from The Wolverhampton Universal Divine Temple Ek Niwas found us a link with a dentist via a conversation at her slimming group!