2020 Unsung Heroes – the finalists and winners

Welcome to our 7th Unsung Hero Awards.

As always it is a huge pleasure to be able to share the Awards with you all, and although this year we have had to adapt to these unprecedented times we still want to celebrate the hard work taking place across the UK to ensure our children and young people are safe and supported.

Everyone nominated for any of our 7th annual awards have something in common, they all love their job, have clearly been outstanding in their commitment to young people and every single one is a worthy winner.

We all know that the young people we are supporting have experienced the most difficult of times, but many bravely choose to speak out, in court, to professionals, to other young people, all in an effort to make this world a better place for others and they couldn’t do that without the support of very dedicated individuals such as yourselves.

It is essential that when managing cases and developing work we ensure young people’s needs are met and that they feel supported at that first point of contact. We all play a crucial role in ensuring the issues of exploitation within our society are dealt with as seamlessly as possible.

It is our great pleasure to recognise some of these people; people who have been nominated by their peers.

Our categories for the 2020 awards are: –

* Creating Safe Spaces for Sport Activities

* Prevention and Disruption

* Families and Communities

* Adolescence to Adulthood

* Campaign Award

Congratulations to all of the finalists:

Rebekah Vickers Basis Yorkshire

Joanne Ross, Lorraine Brook, Roberta Hughes The Safe Project

Robert Hill Barnardo’s Cymru

Lawrence Jordan Milton Keyes Council

Space Space

Tracy Harrison Safe and Sound

Alex Bridge Adolescent Intervention Prevention Team Southend

Jersey Safeguarding Partnership Board Jersey Safeguarding Partnership Board

Peter Gomm Bedfordshire Police

Jade Hibbert and Vicki Ridgewell West Mercia Police

Sarah Hegarty The Children’s Society

Louise Murphy Fairclough Safe and Sound

Penny Catton Ferngate

Amy Bendall North Yorkshire County Council

Joanne Grimshaw Surrey Police

Disrupting Exploitation Team The Children’s Society

Lynette Reid The Children’s Trust

Maria Edwards, Julie Speed, Lawrie Baker Surrey Police, Surrey Safeguarding Partnership, Active Surrey Partnership

Multi Agency Child Exploitation Team Wigston

Operation Topaz Avon and Somerset Constabulary


The first award is Creating Safe Spaces for Sport Activities This Award is looking for innovative projects that promote Safeguarding in Sport and activities that has had a positive impact on creating safer spaces for young people to take part in.

And the Winner is…

Maria Edwards, Julie Speed, Lawrie Baker Surrey Police, Surrey Safeguarding Partnership, Active Surrey Partnership

PC Maria Edwards, Julie Speed from the SSCP and Lawrie Baker from Active Surrey Sports Partnership have been instrumental in the development of Operation Sport Safe across Surrey. The safeguarding partnership have recognised the vulnerabilities of children who participate in sport and other extracurricular activities across Surrey. Operation Sports Safe has been instrumental in all our efforts to keep children safe and active at their chosen sport. Maria, Julie and Lawrie have been instrumental at both a strategic and operational level in ensuring that key messages are getting across to all of our partner agencies and sports and leisure providers, this project is on top of all of their busy workloads for and their dedication to this project throughout the year has been exemplary. The resources that they have jointly developed with colleagues from sport have been distributed across Surrey and can be seen in many sports clubs, Leisure centers and club houses ensuring key messages about how to keep children safe from exploitation can be seen by as many adults as possible. The team have also willingly agreed to adopt the NWG Safe to Play campaign and have been planning to deliver these unique resources across Surrey to help embed Operation Sports Safe, once again this is on top of very busy workloads and all have embraced this work without question or complaint

On to the next award; Prevention and Disruption – This Award recognises positive impact on prevention and disruption where the work focuses on the earliest opportunity to intervene.

And the Winner is…

Amy Bednall North Yorkshire County Council

Amy is a Social Worker within North Yorkshire County Council. She was nominated for this award for innovative practice that helped to develop a local contextual safeguarding disruption strategy as part of North Yorkshire’s Multi-Agency Child Exploitation (MACE) and Contextual Safeguarding arrangements. Amy was working with a number of young girls who were all friends and involved in behaviour that increased their vulnerability. All of the girls had incidents of going missing and all were classed either at risk of CSE, CCE; or both. While some of the girls were working with social care, there were some who were avoiding of the social worker and not wanting to talk.

Amy developed a group that would enable targeted work with the girls in a way that was more engaging. The girls were all known to one another and they would often go missing to spend time together, thus felt more comfortable doing work as a group. Amy contacted other professionals including Sexual Health, our Hand in Hand project run by The Children Society and North Yorkshire Police to develop a partnership approach. She also sourced funding through the local council partnership fund and identified the right venue so that the girls would feel comfortable and able to work creatively. Amy transported the girls when appropriate and provided food and positive activity. The targeted work around healthy relationships identified a wealth of intelligence and importantly built a working relationship with some girls who had previously not spoken to social care.

The relationship Amy and the other professionals were able to develop led to them feeling more confident in talking to workers about what was going on in the community, the information was shared with the police which enabled them to develop the disruption work in the area to create safety for these young people. By building and developing a trusting relationship with the girls as a group, they felt able to share information about those who were exploiting them and areas they were going to that presented a risk to them. This information was fed into the North Yorkshire Multi-Agency Child Exploitation (MACE) and Contextual Safeguarding Locality meeting and enabled the multi-agency partnership to develop disruption plans to target those who were seeking to exploit the girls. This work continues and is an example of innovative practice by multi-agency partners to develop a more contextual safeguarding approach to target perpetrators and disrupt exploitation within a locality.

As a result of this group work and the work of the Multi-Agency Child Exploitation and Contextual Safeguarding arrangements in North Yorkshire, there was a significant reduction in the number of missing episodes for these young people and development of action plans that disrupted the exploitation in that locality.  

On to the next award; Families and Communities

An ideal opportunity to highlight the importance of engaging parents as partners to improve outcomes for families

And the winner is…

Lawrence Jordan Milton Keynes Council

Lawrence has been a powerful advocate, working tirelessly to develop and drive best practice approaches to CSE / CCE at all levels – locally, regionally and nationally for a number of years including as a passionate contributor to the work of the NWG. Lawrence, with access to incredibly limited resources, has designed approaches to the way that exploitation work is delivered in a person–centred way and has consistently advocated on behalf of children who have been exploited and their families, challenging practices and policies, locally, regionally and nationally that do not accord with best practice ethos.

Lawrence has championed the development of regional meetings, to further develop networks, share intelligence ,local  developments , best practice and learning .Lawrence has been instrumental in creating an effective regional network (the Cross Border Group) that has also helped to give a collective voice to partner organisations and speed the development of effective practice and greater synchronicity of approaches around exploitation in all of the surrounding counties bordering on Milton Keynes. It is to his significant credit that a number of the innovative and creative approaches he has proposed have been adopted in neighbouring counties, increasing the safeguarding of vulnerable children and creating an essential collective regional impetus that is also raising the profile of exploitation regionally amongst statutory and non-statutory organisations.

Lawrence is keen to learn from others and is open to professional challenge and this combined with his passion for learning and his vision for creating and driving forward best practice makes him a formidable ally. He has an ability and a drive to constantly review and improve, assimilating new information, research and proposed changes which enable him to continuously and rapidly adapt and evolve approaches on the basis of new evidence.

Lawrence has developed fantastic and effective multi-agency networks in Milton Keynes and his training/awareness raising and advice and support are welcomed across the partnership. Lawrence’s passion for safeguarding adolescents is infectious and motivating and this is reflected in feedback from multi-agency participants involved in training he has delivered – evidencing his ability to reach out, empower and enthuse well beyond those of us directly involved in work around exploitation, an essential element to bring about the systemic change required in wider society.

Lawrence has been an integral member of the NPIEs group instrumental in developing practice around working with parents as essential safeguarding partners. The group has met 4 times in Parliament and Lawrence has continued to focus on further developing the key lines of enquiry locally.

Lawrence, as highlighted, is focused on implementing and delivering new initiatives / projects to safeguard children from exploitation, the most recent example being the Safer Sport project. Milton Keynes was one of the first launch sites for this initiative focused on keeping children and young people safe from abuse from sport and other activities. The early feedback has already demonstrated that by raising the profile of this key area agency consciousness with the Police on this and related key safeguarding gaps has already been raised and key approaches taken have been reviewed and changed.

The next award is the Adolescence to Adulthood

An award to recognise the building and strengthening of cross disciplinary agencies to ensure the smooth transition of vulnerable young people as they travel through adolescent to adult services.

And the winner is…

Rebekah Vickers Basis Yorkshire

Rebekah began working for Basis Yorkshire in September 2019 as a worker with the STAGE project. This unique project coordinates support workers in six partnership organisations across Yorkshire and the North East to support women and girls over the age of 16 with lived experience of sexual exploitation. This age range focus means that STAGE workers fill a vital support role for exploited young people in that crucial transitional period from adolescence to adulthood, which is when they often fall through the gaps of both child and adult services. She supports young women who have been consistently let down by the system, often from a very young age and supports them at one of the most difficult life stages from a support perspective: when their age means they no longer qualify (or are prioritized) by children’s services while their needs are not deemed sufficiently high to access adult social care support, despite clear evidence of exploitation.  Rebekah has been able to win over the trust of young women who are naturally highly distrustful of services in a meaningful and beneficial way, leading them to engage more with other services as well. She has also been a strong advocate for improved responses from agencies for young women in transition, alongside her other colleagues from Basis Yorkshire.

Rebekah is consistently passionate, insightful and a dedicated advocate for their rights and needs, both within Basis and with external and partner services, she has worked to ensure their individual needs are met by offering a range of holistic and flexible, trauma-informed support to suit each person. She identified areas for her own self – development and shares acquired learning with others. She is also keen to explore new areas of service delivery where a need is identified.

She has also worked alongside members of our Adult and Young People’s Team to coordinate a comprehensive new programme of group work for her clients to attend, based around their needs and requests focusing on topics such as healthy relationships and self-esteem.

Many of the women Rebekah supports have delayed learning, sometimes due to childhood trauma. She has committed significant time and effort to providing these women with specialist trauma-informed support. For example, she championed the need for, and has since created, a calming room for individual appointments within our drop-in room, ensuring her clients can access a trauma-informed space when necessary.  She also recently went above and beyond to ensure the safety of one of her clients who was experiencing domestic violence to ensure she was able to move to a refuge straight from her hospital discharge where few other agencies were offering support.

Despite her complex workload, Rebekah also volunteers her spare time to make Basis a welcoming and safe space for the women we support. She recently went above and beyond by offering her brilliant culinary skills for events, such as our International Women’s Day afternoon tea and our service-users Christmas Dinner, for which she cooked an entire roast for over 50 people.

The next award is the Campaign Award This award is open to any agency or community that has developed and delivered a local campaign that promotes awareness of child exploitation.

 And the winner is…

 Alex Bridge Adolescent Intervention Prevention Team Southend

Alex shows the clear passion, drive and determination to make the biggest difference to children who are exploited. Alex is always ahead of the game and constantly creates and delivers innovative services to respond to all the needs of his local town in response to exploitation.

His campaign SeeTheSigns has generated the buy in, through his organising of training to the wider workforce and community and seen has a massive influx in intelligence, which has led to so many disruption tactics being used and investigations.

Alex creates a multi-agency approach to tackling child exploitation and has seen so many positive results during his time within the role. Currently Alex has pushed through taxi driver training, hotel training, training for housing, leisure, police, all by his influence. He has organized several sessions on disruption to engage partners in the fight against this.

Alex never stops raising awareness of the issues and his team work tirelessly in their efforts to protect children within Southend. His creative approach, engaging all members of Southend just proves that this can be done. His relationship with professionals is one to celebrate.


Our final award for 2020 is a special award for Space

SPACE have shone a bright light on the ‘Lifestyle Choice’ narrative used to describe County Lines’ victims. Space have traveled  the country delivering presentations/workshops/training/conference speeches to raise awareness of the issue of Criminal Exploitation and the impact on young people and families and the need for an improved response across all agencies. The presentations, which focus on the unheard realities of CCE and its responses, have had a significant impact on audience members.
SPACE has led the campaign to highlight CCE as Human Trafficking under Modern Slavery, bringing extensive knowledge and insight in this area to not only assist those affected but also to identify current inequalities in the treatment of and support to CCE victims, with a view to addressing the disparity in current policy. 
They have also contributed significantly to the CCE Missing response by working with national statutory and NGO leads to bring about improvements in safeguarding by highlighting poor outcomes from practices in place affecting all children and young people, whether living with birth families or in care.

Space founded the concept of Parents as Partners in Exploitation Safeguarding, and partnered with NWG, leading to the formation of the NPIES Advisory Group at Parliament in December 2018, triggering the development of key lines of enquiry to support service improvement in this area. Space also co-hosted a conference with the NWG entitled  ‘County Lines Through Parents’ Lens’ to highlight current statutory failures which had over 140 attending with very positive feedback  

SPACE  offer a website for professionals and parents, along with an advocacy service for families whose children are at risk of or victims of CCE; it is extremely well-used and has been invaluable to so many parents and professionals . They also have wide ranging influential social media presence and following as the messages resonate with many areas of Child Protection as well as Vulnerable Adults.
In short  SPACE have been inspirational in challenging poor practice around CCE, and by extension to CSE, raising awareness and offering solutions to key issues. They have been pivotal in establishing the concept of working with parents as safeguarding partners which is being adopted across the country .   

That concludes the 2020 Unsung Hero Awards, it always gives us great pleasure to present these awards, I know that you ALL work tirelessly day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year to help protect exploited children and I wish I could award you all for your unstinting efforts, thank you for everything that you do, please keep it up.

The NWG Network