Modern slavery – bringing a national challenge to a local audience

With official figures estimating that there are at least 13,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK, the issue is a national challenge. Katherine Lloyd, Communications Team Leader (Campaigns and Digital) at Reigate & Banstead Borough Council, explains how the council translated this national picture into a local reality and helped residents to understand that nowhere is immune from the problem.


The challenge

The issue of modern slavery has been gathering greater attention in recent years with many organisations suggesting that the problem is getting worse. While official figures put victims at approximately 13,000, those working closely on the issue suggest that the reality could be far higher. Despite its high profile, there’s relatively little public understanding about what modern slavery is and what the signs of it are. As discussion has traditionally focused on the national picture, there’s also a perception that it isn’t something that happens in the communities we represent. We needed to change that.

The solution

As an organisation, we’ve been working on issues surrounding modern slavery for a while but we wanted to increase our direct engagement with residents on it. We decided to develop a campaign to help raise awareness of modern slavery and emphasise that it’s something that happens everywhere, including in our leafy corner of Surrey. >

In order to create a successful campaign it was vital to work closely with our Community Safety service area, as well as with partner organisations. This gave us access to the most relevant data and information to help create the campaign, as well as greater insight about what our local people would respond to and new channels for engaging with them. As it’s a borough-wide issue, the partners we worked with also had a vested interested in getting the messaging right and sharing the content with their audiences, which significantly increased the numbers of people that we were able to reach.

With a campaign of this nature, raising awareness levels is an outcome in itself. With many campaigns we want to see immediate action or behaviour change as a result of communications activity, but it’s not that likely that a resident exposed to messaging would immediately see suspicious behaviour and report it. Therefore raising awareness of the issue is a vital first step. We wanted our residents to be equipped with the information and knowledge to recognise the signs of modern slavery (if they ever encounter it) and know how to report it. Our objectives primarily reflected the need to raise awareness levels with our audiences, and garner support to tackle modern slavery locally, though we did also add an increase in reporting measurement. Our aim was to increase awareness amongst residents that modern slavery happens in the borough by 10 per cent, secure 150 pledges from residents to support our crackdown on modern slavery over a three month period, and increase reports of modern slavery in the borough by 5 per cent over a one year period.

We wanted the campaign to have a clear, hard hitting message and decided on “Modern slavery can happen anywhere” and directly asking people how many of the estimated 13,000 victims could be in Reigate & Banstead. It was a bold, clear key message, and deliberately hyper-local to focus people’s attention on the fact that this is an issue happening in our area, and every area in the UK. We commissioned some external design support to supplement this bold messaging, using them to create campaign materials which used real imagery from the local area to make it feel more authentic.

We used a range of integrated channels to get our message across. We developed a dedicated modern slavery section of our website, provided local media with a media pack on the campaign, posted regular social media content about modern slavery, building messaging throughout the campaign period, and shared the information at a wide range of town centre and community events through our Community Safety Team. We also staged a very visual launch event in the centre of Redhill with representatives wearing sandwich boards with the campaign messages to bring the reality of modern slavery directly into our town centre, which attracted significant attention from both the public and the media.

The impact

We saw some great results from this campaign. We hugely exceeded our target for pledge signatures with more than 900 people signing and promising to watch out for the signs of modern slavery and tell their friends and family. Our social media activity achieved a reach of 1.2m and nearly 1,000 clicks, with many of our posts being shared by key organisations working in the sector such as the Modern Slavery Helpline, Crimestoppers and Trading Standards. We had more than 1,300 unique visitors to our new website section and our staff survey revealed that 88 per cent of employees had seen the campaign. Our face-to-face events reached around 700 people and our launch was covered as the lead story on the BBC Surrey Breakfast Show with further coverage on local radio and television channels.

Although it’s too early to see if it’s had an impact on broad report figures we have seen some pockets of increases in reporting and recognition during the campaign period and when looked at all together, we’re confident that this campaign will have a positive impact on longer-term reporting across the borough, as well as the awareness-raising that we know it’s achieved.

Internally, the campaign has also demonstrated the positive benefit that closer collaboration between communications and service areas can have on delivering outcomes. We were able to reach so many more people as a result of working closely with our community safety team and other colleagues. We’ve been able to use this work as an example of best practice for how we’d like our campaigns to work in the future.

Why it worked / how we’re sustaining it

Key to the success of this campaign was the fact that it was deliberately hyper-local. From the messaging to the visuals, everything was rooted in Reigate & Banstead as a specific place, making it feel much more direct and relevant to our audiences. There was harmony in the tone and look and feel of our materials, and our use of diverse channels meant that we were able to get as much value and reach as possible out of our content. The other vital aspect of the campaign’s success was the strong relationships we had with colleagues across the council, and in partner organisations. Investing time and effort in working on this aspect meant that we had a range of advocates for the message and could create something that met the needs of a wide range of communities and residents across the borough.

Lessons learned

If we had had more time I think we could have made even better use of our community groups and the networks and links that our colleagues had into them. There was so much appetite from local people to support the initiative that we perhaps could have extended our reach even further by engaging more closely from the very start, but that’s something that we can factor in for the future. While working collaboratively with organisations across the borough was fantastic, I think we perhaps underestimated the time it could take to agree on a shared key tone and focus. With all organisations having different priorities, needs and risks, balancing all of those was challenging at times. We all navigated it really well and came up with a great end project, but being more aware of those differences at the start might have been helpful.

>Want to know more?

For more information about this campaign please contact Katherine Lloyd, Communications Team Leader (Campaigns and Digital), at Reigate & Banstead Borough Council.