Taking a stand against grooming: For the children’s sake, “we will not be found wanting”

Bradford’s Manningham Housing Association is as much a part of its community as it is a social landlord, that’s why it is determined to play its part in rooting out the evil of child sexual exploitation, explains Lee Bloomfield

I am proud to lead Manningham Housing Association (MHA) through a period of transformation but also remarkable achievement.

We were set up in 1986 with the predominant objective of addressing the housing needs of a growing Asian community in Bradford district. MHA now manages over 1,400 homes for around 6,000 residents, more than 80% of which are of Bangladeshi or Pakistani origin.

Lee Bloomfield
Lee Bloomfield, chief executive, Manningham Housing Association, Bradford.

I became chief executive in January 2018 and, following a challenging phase which resulted in necessary changes at all levels, a raft of improvements saw our financial viability rating returned to V1 with governance raised to G2.

We have since been shortlisted for five national awards, achieved the highest standard of customer service excellence and become the first housing association in the country to be officially accredited for our work in promoting equality, diversity and inclusion.

None of this success would have been possible without the support of the individuals and families it is our honour to serve.

As well as providing a range of services that go far beyond the provision of high-quality affordable homes, MHA regards it as our mission to represent and protect the interests of our customers and their surrounding communities in all possible ways.

This includes safeguarding children and young people from the evils of sexual exploitation.

Earlier this year, MHA was proud to sponsor a major conference in Bradford organised by West Yorkshire-based campaign group Together Against Grooming (TAG).

The high-profile event included a keynote speech from the UK’s leading authority on sexual violence and exploitation, Dr Ella Cockbain, alongside several thought-provoking contributions from other experts.

TAG was formed to carry out practical work and raise awareness of sexual exploitation in general, and the “street” or “localised” grooming carried out by gangs in particular, when members of the group were affected by the severe impact of the actions of perpetrators on victims and their families.

For victims read children often as young as 11. These children are plied with alcohol and drugs, often subjected to extreme violence and trafficked for the purposes of being raped, often by many men on one night.

Many victims and their families describe the effects of this as a “living hell” and that they are subjected to a life sentence, as it is something that you never recover from.

In one case, which is not untypical, a “survivor” before the age of 19 had become pregnant after one episode, became addicted to alcohol and drugs and attempted suicide on three separate occasions.

A few weeks ago, it was announced that the Bradford Safeguarding Children Board will commission a serious case review into historic child sexual exploitation in the district.

It is important that those organisations with a positive part to play in protecting our young people step forward and do their duty in defence of the local community. Manningham Housing Association is one such organisation and therefore a key partner in TAG.

The group is chaired by Khalida Ashrafi, who also serves as an invaluable member of the MHA board. She has deep knowledge across many fields including more than a decade working as policy manager for the Equality & Human Rights Commission, and 15 years of experience in developing and delivering bilingual training on sensitive subject areas such as sexual and mental health.

Speaking in advance of the group’s conference in April, Khalida said TAG’s experience was that many Asian members of the community do not like to engage with the subject of grooming for fear of seeming to accept ownership of the issue, and handing ammunition to those who want to tar residents of Asian ethnicity with the same brush.

The man who brutally murdered 51 people in New Zealand in March claimed that his actions were “for Rotherham” after an estimated 1,400 young people fell victim to paedophiles in the town across several decades.

But whilst rightly underlining that responsibility for child sexual exploitation “does not lie with the whole community, but just with those who carry out such wicked acts against our children”, Khalida said it was important to “not shy away from asking challenging, difficult questions and attempt to find joint solutions”.

And this is what the TAG event did very successfully.

Such complex, distressing and sensitive problems will clearly not be solved at a one-day conference and must instead form part of an ongoing process which enables levels of trust and understanding to be built up amongst the partner organisations.

In its “key messages and principles,” TAG states that community members “in various positions within local communities” should be educated to identify signs that perpetrators and victims display that may help to identify the risk early on.

These “positions” include “teachers, youth workers, social workers, probation officers, imams and many, many others.”

Amongst the “others” I would certainly incorporate MHA staff and – as chief executive – I am being proactive on this, as should other housing associations across the country.

Being a component part of any flourishing, cohesive, forward-looking community requires hard work, commitment, foresight and fortitude.

As MHA continues its journey, we will not be found wanting on any such aspect of our work.

NH

Lee Bloomfield is chief executive of Manningham Housing Association.

 

Main Image: Bradford’s mirror pool in Centenary Square. Creative Commons, Curtis Malinowski, CC BY-SA 3.0

 

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