Claire Rush, one of Sophia Network’s Steering Group members, caught up with Lindsay Bruce and learnt about the work she is involved in with A Way Out a project helping young women and girls in Stockton-on-Tees.
Tell us a bit about yourself, Lindsay -
I am 33 years old, a wife, mummy, pastor, writer and former journalist, and also now work full time for A Way Out. I am passionate about seeing injustice stamped out, empowering women and preaching the Gospel. Not always in that order. I am also a Scot living in England, therefore I am an avid Irn-Bru drinker and relish any excuse to cross the border.
How and why was A Way Out charity founded? –
A Way Out began 10 years ago by a small group of women including our now CEO Jessie Jacobs. Jessie had just become a Christian and had begun helping with some youth work at her church. One night she met a 15-year-old girl who was working as a prostitute to pay for her and her boyfriend’s drug habit, and an 11-year-old boy on methadone after becoming addicted to heroin age 10. Although shocking it wasn’t until the following week that Jessie’s heart was broken. On that occasion she had been invited to help at a large Christian youth event. In the midst of her joy in experiencing worship, and surrounded by young people happy and safe, God brought back to mind the little girl on the streets, and the little boy addicted. She couldn’t shake the juxtaposition of kids happy and safe within the walls of a local church, and less than a mile away other young people were broken, lost and in danger. That’s how A Way Out started. What began as a prayer meeting and a drop-in has become an award-winning charity with more than 20 staff now reaching out and coming alongside the most at risk women, young people and families trapped in poverty, abuse, addiction and exploitation.
What type of work and projects is A Way Out involved in?
We run several projects – and it just keeps growing. We have youth work in some of the most isolated communities in our area; Women’s Recovery work, helping females from 16+ who are already caught in a cycle of addiction / abuse / exploitation – some will be active ‘working girls’ – to coming alongside those who almost certainly are heading onto that pathway, this includes therapy, life skills classes, advocating in court, a daily Heart2Change programme and weekly drop-in times; Families work – raising aspirations and helping bring stability to those families who struggle with truancy, unemployment and deprivation; Food Plus – creating community wellbeing hubs where a food bank is not just a provider of food but a hub where cooking classes, parenting courses and community can be built and taught.
What is the biggest challenge that you have faced?
The challenges are always great. Our vision will always exceed our finance because the more people we help, the greater knowledge and understanding of the complex situations we have, so more work is needed to fully tackle the problems. We come from an area badly hit by public sector cuts and high unemployment – aspiration can be low. A challenge is always to help young people believe that there can be more and to instill hope. One story that sticks out for me is of a young girl who came to us week in, week out for years. She had an addiction she couldn’t break and a boyfriend who helped her stay that way. Every week she would come in and see that help was available, she would be spoken to and shown such value and love, but would walk out to a heavy-handed partner who would encourage her onto the streets to keep them both in their habit. It broke the hearts of the team to see her in a constant place of abuse, bruised, wounded, and scarred from the horrendous experiences she was encountering They would see him waiting for her as she left the sessions with the recovery workers. The challenge was to keep walking with her, to keep hope and believe that one day it would happen, one day she would be free. Thankfully our incredible team didn’t give up, and one day it clicked for her. She came in and said, ‘that’s it, I want to be free.’ We helped her. She is now happy, free, safe and whole again.
The grooming of young women has been profiled in the news quite a lot recently, yet many people still don’t believe that it is happening in their own communities. Can you provide us with some facts on sexual grooming across the UK?
Last year the Government issued a report that said a conservative estimate of how many young people had been affected by grooming and sexual exploitation was around 10,000 (under 18s) in the UK, with around 16,000 at risk. In an interview I did with a former police chief for Cleveland (the area where we are based) he said that if people don’t think it’s happening they just aren’t looking hard enough. He also said the problem the police have is that young girls don’t even know they are victims. That shocked and appalled me, but I needed to realise that groomers are very clever people indeed. In a nation where we have somehow lost all sense of value, we have people preying on young men and women who need love and acceptance. In just our area alone last year, there were 140 under 18s, the youngest of whom was 11, who were victims of sexual exploitation. This means they have gone through a grooming process and had actually been used for sex for the gain of another. Some were even trafficked within the UK. This is not an exhaustive figure. This is just figures relating to cases dealt with.
How can people help A Way Out to bring hope, freedom and wholeness to at risk young people?
There are lots of ways you can help.
Please pray for us. We work with people with very tough exteriors, but who are deeply hurt and broken inside. We need to carry God’s mercy and grace at all times. Pray for our team and those we reach out to.
You could become an A Way Out freedom fighter, to help us champion the right for every person to have a happy, whole and free life away from addiction, abuse, poverty and exploitation. You do this by signing up to become a regular financial giver either for just £1 a week, or for £10 a month (or any amount you like really!). In fact, if you do this, as a special thank you to Sophia Network readers, if you sign up to £1 we will post you an A Way Out T-shirt, and if you do £10 we will send you a hoody!
Just email Lindsay.email@example.com with ref SOPH/FF and your contact details and we will be in touch.
You can join our mailing list and keep in touch, maybe responding to volunteer and gift appeals. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to join the A Way Out family.