Inspiration from the Spire | HopeNow – join the revolution

I used to live in Bath in the west of England, near Bristol. On 27 March 2007 we marked the 200th anniversary of the passing of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807 by the British parliament. Hundreds of us walked through the city to a special event at Bath Abbey. This was an important anniversary to mark for two reasons. Firstly, William Wilberforce, the great anti-slavery campaigner, lived in Bath, and secondly, large cities like Bristol were founded from the wealth created by the trade in human lives.


The campaign against slavery was at first an unpopular one. People even quoted the Bible to try to justify slavery. Wilberforce was seen by some as a religious do-gooder, out of touch with the real world. But the campaign grew in momentum, and included all parts of society. The posh ladies in the Pump Room at Bath even refused to take sugar in their tea – as a small but visible protest. Wilberforce had taken on the abolition cause in 1787, and he and his colleagues worked tirelessly for the next 20 years to achieve the legal ending of the British slave trade.


The Royal Navy, which then controlled the world’s seas, established the West Africa Squadron in 1808 to patrol the coast of West Africa, and between 1808 and 1860 they seized 1,600 slave ships and freed 150,000 African people who were onboard.  


Two hundred years later, slavery continues. It is a shocking reality that an estimated 2.5 million people are traded each year. It is modern slavery that makes a human person a commodity. Women, men and children are traded for prostitution, organ removal or forced labour.


In 2007 a charity called ‘HopeNow – Empowering Trafficked People’ was founded here in Copenhagen. Its founder is Michelle Mildwater, who has worked with trafficked women and foreign women in prostitution in Denmark since 2003. The core of HopeNow’s activities is direct social work with marginalised and sometimes undocumented migrants or asylum seekers who are victims of trafficking and exploitation, mostly from Africa. The organisation keeps in contact with people who are trafficked and raises awareness to prevent trafficking, offering education, advice, outreach, networking, healthcare, and legal services.  HopeNow also uses a mentor scheme to integrate those it supports into Danish society. During the last five years, HopeNow has helped hundreds of women here in Copenhagen, and their emphasis is always on hope and change.


When I walked through the streets of Bath back in 2007 thinking how wonderful our local man William Wilberforce was, I had not fully realised how modern slavery is a reality in today’s world that is growing. The challenge before us is to now continue the awareness-raising and campaigning that Wilberforce and his generation succeeded at two centuries ago. Modern-day slavery is a scandal of our present age, and it needs the support from every section of society to stop it. To hear more about this challenge and the work of HopeNow, I warmly invite you to an open public meeting (in English) on Thursday 29 March at 7pm at St Alban’s Church, Churchillparken 11 (next to Gefion Fountain).