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The CSJ awards show what’s going right in Britain

8 November 2013

2:41 PM

8 November 2013

2:41 PM

The (other) big awards ceremony yesterday was that held by the Centre for Social Justice. CoffeeHousers will be familiar with the problem: if you want to donate to a charity, which ones are actually helping society rather and which wasting their money on tedious political campaigns? Name recognition tends to drive donations, and the CSJ awards (which I had the honour of being involved in) are aimed at giving more profile to small charities. And cash awards for each. It was a brilliant evening. God knows there’s plenty going wrong with this country, but this was an evening dedicated to what’s going right. Here were a few of the winners.

JAN Trust is run by a few staff and 25 volunteers who help women (especially BAME women) who arrive in Britain without much knowledge of the country. Some may think it’s their bad, they should get out more. But woman – especially Muslim women – can find themselves emigrating to Britain and holed up in a pretty enclosed (ie, ghettoized) community. Some can arrive here due to forced marriage, which they campaign against with a website. They help explain to Muslims why this abomination is inimical not just to natural justice but Koranic teaching. One of the women JAN Trust helped was widowed and lost, as she’d never learned English and had no idea how to cope on her own. JAN Trust now helps about 150 women a week. Since it was set up by Rafaat Mughal twenty years ago, JAN Trust has helped about 50,000 women.

Rotherfield St Martin was one of my favourites in the CSJ shortlist. It offers support to that category of people identified by Jeremy Hunt recently: the lonely elderly. They offer a range of daily services and activities held at the Rotherfield St Martin Centre. They even charge: £10 a year. Membership has grown from 6 to 355 from just eight years. It’s origins are from within a church, and it was striking to hear the woman thank God (‘to Him we give our special gratitude’).

Exaireo Trust gives Leicestershire’s homeless somewhere to live and helps them get back in to work. The staff of seven – aided by up to 15 volunteers – helps around 100 people a year set goals for themselves and work towards them as part of their ‘Ethos’ project. The trust have moved half of the residents who’ve lived in their nine shared houses have moved on to independent living.

It all started with the work of one woman – Dettie Wallington, who you can see in the video below. She started by taking food to rough sleepers, then set up the trust when she found that while other shelters in the area offered a safe place to sleep they didn’t help people make the changes to their lives that could move them out of homelessness permanently.

Unseen is aimed at helping the victims of modern slavery (or human trafficking, as it is euphemistically known). It started five years ago after a few people from Bristol came across a woman being trafficked while they were on a trip to Eastern Europe. Kate Garbers, who collected the award (from June Sarpong) was working in a Ukrainian orphanage when she noticed the children disappear when they turned 16. It turned out that they were often being trafficked – ie, sold into slavery. They have an eight-bed safe house where women stay for an average of ten weeks. The resettlement service they offer is working with 14 women. It now trains Bristol police officers to recognize and respond to modern slavery (there have been examples of slaves who run away being arrested when they turn to the police).

Hope into Action is an incredible group that accommodates homeless people in Cambridge, Norwich, Peterborough and Swindon. Its founder, Ed Walker, collected the award. He said it started when he met a man just released from Peterborough prison, on a park bench, who had finished his first bottle and had no one to go to. He co-ordinated action from local churches, asking them to fund accommodation. Its results are incredible: of the people it has helped in the last year, 97pc have maintained tenancy. 94pc have refrained from offending. 83pc have improved relations with their families. In its own words, providing a home is not enough. It aims to provide non-judgmental, non-patronising friendship and support.

Strength to Change helps men who are inclined to domestic abuse. The very concept sounds bizarre but Mark Coulter, its founder who collected the award, thanked the judges for “recognising that men who are violent need support”. Its six staff work with 40 people (and their families) a week. Men who are abusive and recognize they need help are unlikely to be given any by the state authorities – whose instinct is to protect the woman and arrest the man. There is nothing for men who want to change. Hull has a particularly high level of domestic abuse and Coulter wanted to do something about it. As soon as a man comes to Strength to Change asking for help, he registers with the police regardless whether he has a criminal record and is given support, one-to-one sessions. Each week he self-reports on how he’s been, if he’s improving. It’s not just violence towards women, but a other forms of controlling behaviour. And it works: Men involved with the scheme have been in involved in two-thirds fewer incidents.

It’s hard to imagine government offering such a scheme. But society is, and always has been, more ingenious than government. One of the drawbacks of big government is that people tend to think that social problems are the responsibility of this expensive government. As a result, the horizontal ties that bind us to each other are replaced by vertical ties which bind individuals to the state. Last night was a celebration of organisations forging new, horizontal ties – the people who really strengthen society. For those in the audience used to politics, where the narrative is so often one of bungling and hot air, it was a great tonic.

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