With domestic violence soaring during the COVID pandemic, Sheffield headquartered anti-trafficking charity City Hearts are raising awareness of the desperate plight of victims of modern slavery during lockdown.

Kirsty Allan, development manager at City Hearts, explains: “Most victims already have restricted access to health care. Experience shows their traffickers are unlikely to allow them to engage with health services and during lockdown may dump them on the streets when they become very ill. We have supported many women in this situation over the years – one survivor I will never forget helping to support had been rescued from the side of the M1 heavily pregnant and abandoned. After a lot of years of support, she went on to become a great mum and now lives her life in freedom.

“Traffickers will also be losing significant income generated from exploitation, meaning they may not provide basic necessities such as food and shelter to victims. For many of our rescued clients, whose freedom was taken from them during their time in exploitation, being isolated from their loved ones, feeling alone, controlled and helpless is sadly an all-too familiar story.

“We offer immediate and long-term support, including medical, educational and employment assistance, which all helps survivors to build independence and find lasting freedom. Now, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, some of City Hearts’ safe houses across the UK are self-isolating (on lockdown), meaning many clients are in an extremely challenging situation. Because of the similarities to their time in exploitation, we are concerned they are facing traumatic flashbacks and other symptoms which have a negative impact on their mental health. However we are doing everything we can to help alleviate the negative impact.”

Ed Newton, chief executive officer at City Hearts, said: “We are doing everything we can to support our clients’ mental health and wellbeing at this time, including telephone support where face-to-face is not possible and online counselling. The team have organised a virtual skill share in which they film tutorials for clients on everything from exercise to sculpting and embroidery.

“We are proud of our staff, who have come up with many creative solutions, such as wellbeing packs for clients, which are full of exercises, mindfulness techniques, apps to download, games and activities for kids, ideas for home projects and health guidance.

“City Hearts have recognised this is a difficult time for staff members too, who we know are passionate about supporting their clients and providing them with the best care possible. We have therefore taken the crucial decision not to furlough any employees, which offers peace of mind during this time, securing their jobs and income to provide financial stability.

“Staff members have also introduced their own initiatives such as Isolation Station, which uses music, art, photography, baking and exercise to bring fun and community spirit to employees while in lockdown.”

City Hearts human resources manager, Alison Connolly, adds: “Even in this time of National Emergency, our staff’s main priority has been to ensure our clients receive the support they need, and they have certainly risen to the challenge.

It can be disheartening for staff members if a client cannot access certain services that are essential to their recovery, or are feeling isolated or lonely, as our staff are dedicated to their recovery and restoration.

Despite restrictions on movement and travel, our caseworkers continue to be in regular communication with our clients, helping them to navigate this difficult situation and providing them with wellbeing packs to ensure they know that City Hearts are here to support them no matter what.

“As a management team, it has been our duty to ensure the wellbeing of our workforce, so they can continue to deliver life-changing support.

“Our aim is to keep staff up to date with decisions that are being made in relation to the crisis, so there is no uncertainty. We are ensuring peer-to-peer support is available just as it would be on a normal day, via phone or video calls. We continue to provide professional supervisions for staff as well as weekly team meetings, to ensure we keep the team spirit alive under lockdown.”

City Hearts always welcomes volunteers, who can be trained to share skills and a smile with clients, or donations of any new items from bedding to toiletries.

To support City Hearts, visit https://cityhearts.global/ or email info@cityhearts.co.uk