Guest Blog: Finding Opportunity In Chaos - The Sophie Hayes Foundation and Coronavirus

15 September 2020

A guest blog by Red Godfrey-Sagoo, CEO of the Sophie Hayes Foundation.

Covid-19 has forced most organisations and individuals to re-think the way they work and live. Great change has been thrust upon the world. Much of that change has been problematic, but for the Sophie Hayes Foundation, coronavirus has created a vibrant opportunity.

Founded in 2011 by Sophie, an English woman who was trafficked to Italy for the purposes of sexual exploitation, the Sophie Hayes Foundation is unique. It is the only charity in the UK solely focused on employability for women survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking — offering them the chance to gain a life free of fear and further abuse. Working with individual survivors for a year or more, SHF provides workshops, personal coaching, and work/education placements to women who have escaped the traffickers. The organisation’s employability programme aims to create a permanent pathway to independence and freedom by giving survivors the skills to become employable and financially independent.

Having gone through a period of growth, SHF delivers support to hundreds of women survivors per year. Group workshops and face to face coaching sessions educate students, giving them critical knowledge and the confidence to thrive and be financially resilient in our complex world.

Covid-19 put the organisation’s mission at risk.

As soon as lockdown arrived, SHF activities that were based on personal contact came to a halt. Unable to meet survivors in groups or individually, SHF realised there was a possibility that large numbers of women could fall back into the hands of the traffickers.

Fortunately, it did not work out that way. In fact, the challenge of lockdown forced Sophie Hayes to find new ways to support their survivors and in the development of those methods, a much larger opportunity has come into view.

With face-to-face support eliminated for now, SHF quickly moved to install an online delivery. Survivors — many of whom suffer from digital poverty and have little IT knowledge — were taught to use the internet to continue the employability programme. The benefits of this strategy were many fold — survivors were able to maintain their social network of coaches, tutors and co-survivors, any sense of abandonment was eradicated and most importantly, the women were still able to secure work placements and enroll into college courses as the lockdown restrictions were eased.

Remote working has been a proven success for SHF. Many of the survivors now say this method of contact suits them better than the old process of travelling to physically attend workshops or meet their coach. Additionally, the understanding that SHF is always there for them has been further solidified through the immediate access of modern technology. Help is just a tap or two away.

But the success story does not end there. With offices in London, Birmingham, and Manchester, SHF programme delivery had been limited by travel needs and logistics prior to Covid. Now, with the upcoming full-scale launch of their remote programme, the Foundation can reach locations where women survivors were previously unable to access the SHF employability programme.

As SHF transitions back to location-based delivery plus the new remote programme, for the first time in its history the organisation has two options for survivor engagement.

The Sophie Hayes mission aligns with that of the Smallwood Trust — providing urgent and necessary support to support financially vulnerable women on their journey towards financial resilience and economic wellbeing. Meeting the challenges of Covid-19 have given SHF the opportunity to expand this mission and support more women survivors than ever before.