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Blogs and Opinion Just-Ice: Ice cream café helps trafficking survivors ‘move on’

Just-Ice: Ice cream café helps trafficking survivors ‘move on’

Survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking are being supported into employment through a collaboration between Hope for Justice and social enterprise Just-Ice. 

Hope for Justice has now referred four people to Just-Ice, all of whom had previously been exploited and controlled by traffickers, to work at one of its ice cream cafés.

The community café is in Poynton, 11 miles south of Manchester. It provides survivors with either voluntary or paid roles, including serving customers, managing the tills, food preparation, baking and cleaning.

Just-Ice is located in Poynton

One of the survivors who has benefited from the scheme told us: “It was my dream to work in a café and I really loved it.” 

Ellie Russell, Hope for Justice’s UK Advocacy Manager, said: “It can take months, even years, for survivors of modern slavery to receive their immigration status from the Home Office. During these long wait times, they often do not have the right to work in the UK. They can face long periods feeling left in limbo which invariably impacts on their wellbeing and recovery. Being able to go and volunteer somewhere like Just-Ice can give individuals a real sense of purpose and meaning. Additionally, as and when survivors do receive their status, they may then be given the opportunity to start paid work too.”

What are some of the survivors’ experiences?

Just-Ice is working with four anti-trafficking organisations: Hope for Justice, Medaille Trust, Causeway and Saint John of God. 

One of the survivors referred by Hope for Justice was trafficked to the UK when he was just 16 and has experienced terrible things. But since starting at the café, he has developed skills, including learning to bake, preparing lunches and serving at the counter. He also improved his English language skills. He made many friends through Just-Ice and has now moved into employment. 

Other survivors have shared their positive experiences of working at Just-Ice.

Sara* said: “When I got my status, I was moved to a new city, and a charity who helped survivors of exploitation introduced me to Just-Ice, where I got my first job. Just-Ice has not only helped me with a job but also with a family and helped me in moving on.” 

Lynne*, aged 25, said: “I was introduced to Just-Ice when I was at the lowest point in my life. I had just been granted leave to remain after years of waiting and was struggling to adjust to this newly found freedom. I had no previous work experience so it was difficult to find a job, let alone be considered or hired for one. Just-Ice came in when I needed them the most […]. What they stand for is truly inspiring and makes me feel seen.” 

Just-Ice provides voluntary and paid roles for survivors of modern slavery

How Hope for Justice and Just-Ice began working together

When the Poynton shop was first being set up, chair of trustees Jo Rodman contacted Hope for Justice to ask for our advice and our team was able to support them. Then, when the café was up and running, we introduced Just-Ice staff to other anti-trafficking organisations in the Manchester area that might be able to refer clients for opportunities. 

We then worked together to form a process for referring beneficiaries from Hope for Justice for voluntary and paid positions. 

In October 2022, Ellie Russell and Laura Burns, one of Hope for Justice’s Independent Modern Slavery Advocates (IMSAs), went to deliver training for volunteers at Just-Ice which centred on working with survivors of modern slavery. They spoke about the context of modern slavery in the UK and taught on best practice around working with survivors. 

Jo Rodman, the chair of trustees at Just-Ice Poynton, said: “Since we established our charity in 2020, Hope for Justice have been a valuable source of advice and support and have connected us with other anti-slavery agencies well as referring some of their own clients to us for voluntary and paid work placements. We look forward to continuing our collaboration throughout 2024 as we work together in the fight against modern slavery.” 

The referral process

Hope for Justice’s Independent Modern Slavery Advocates (IMSAs) carry out an assessment of legal and support needs when a survivor of modern slavery or human trafficking is first referred to us. As part of this assessment, IMSAs speak to the survivor about their goals and opportunities. Where employability is an aim, the team will discuss volunteering or supported employment opportunities with the survivor – including at Just-Ice, if they live nearby.  

If they want to learn more, the survivor and their IMSA make an in-person visit to the café to see first-hand how it all works, to understand what the job would be like, and to ask any questions. 

If they are happy, they and Just-Ice arrange logistics such as working days, hours, and the precise role. Just-Ice is responsible for overseeing the employment placement, while Hope for Justice continues to work with the survivor to provide additional support. 

How Just-Ice supports survivors

Just-Ice is a social enterprise and registered charity creating employment and voluntary opportunities for survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking. 

There are currently 15 part-time staff and 50 volunteers working at the café.

Jo Rodman said: “At Just-Ice we aim to provide sympathetic employment for survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking. Our ice cream café in Poynton is an ideal setting to welcome and support those who are recovering from exploitation. We have a large, open plan training kitchen where we teach baking, food preparation and hospitality skills and offer training and qualifications to help survivors build confidence, gain skills and get ready for their next step of independence.”

A stepping stone into employment

Survivors of modern slavery may be given a voluntary position at Just-Ice. These are short-term, usually around six months, and part-time. Volunteers learn vital employability skills such as time-keeping, time-management, dependability and honesty. Just-Ice covers volunteer expenses such as travel and food, so they are not out of pocket. 

Individuals waiting for their right to remain in the UK, or right to work in the UK, may also be employed part-time and salaried on Just-Ice’s employability programme. 

The roles are designed to be a stepping stone into employment.

To date, two survivors of modern slavery have completed Just-Ice’s full two-year employability programme. Another eight individuals are currently being supported through the programme.

In an interview with Granada Reports, Jo said: “We have had people here who have been physically abused and people who were controlled in a coercive, emotional way, such as threats to their family members. We have had people who have experienced torture or been held in the sex industry and, as you can imagine, they come to us totally traumatised and so we try to then provide trauma-informed, sympathetic employment to give them a half-way house into the workplace.” 

Just-Ice past and present

The Poynton café is a franchise of Just-Ice Derby, which was founded by Gavin and Sally Murray in 2018. The team began selling ice cream in the Poynton area via their ice cream trike called Harriet, named after anti-slavery activist Harriet Tubman. They opened their café in Park Lane in October 2021.

Just-Ice prides itself on selling delicious ice cream – there are some 20 flavours to choose from – as well as light lunches and Blue Bear coffee, the proceeds of which Blue Bear donates to anti-trafficking charities. 

There are some 20 flavours of ice cream to choose from

The café has been supported by St George’s Church, Poynton, with several members of that and other Poynton churches now volunteering their time and skills at the venue.

Volunteer Deborah Myers explained in an interview with Granada Reports how teaching baking skills can help survivors of modern slavery. She said: “We’ve found [survivors] are quite wary to start with and quite withdrawn and it can take a couple of years for them to be able to trust people and build up their confidence. Our longest survivor has been with us for two years. It is a gentle process. Good listening to them as well as just being sensitive to them and what they want to share with you. It is a safe space here. It is a lovely, friendly space to work in, and baking is a joyful thing to do, so that’s how it works really.”

Deborah Myers, Just-Ice volunteer, speaks to ITV News

Just recently, Just-Ice introduced a digital skills training programme, led by a volunteer, to help volunteers at the café develop computer skills. They are also due to launch one-to-one tuition of English for speakers of other languages (ESOL), for beneficiaries to benefit from private English lessons during one of their weekly café shifts.

How has the Just-Ice partnership helped survivors?

Hope for Justice can testify to how this partnership provides employment and financial stability for survivors of modern slavery. 

Ellie Russell said: “The employment opportunities at Just-Ice are brilliant but more than that, they provide a real sense of community for survivors. This is something the volunteers and staff at Just-Ice have been amazing at. One of the survivors’ goals was to set up his own business. While he was working at Just-Ice, the staff introduced him to others in the community, including a business mentor who gave him financial advice and support. The connections he has made have been hugely beneficial. The work has really helped with his independence. He developed a sense of purpose that came through having meaningful work to do.” 

*Name changed to protect the identity of the survivor