In June an impressive number of colleagues from across the railway community will be embarking upon the annual Three Peaks by Rail challenge in order to raise vital funds for the Railway Children
Already this year the charity has encouraged more than 180 people to sleep rough on one of our coldest nights, they have also taken a team of hardcore cyclists out to India. Alongside this they are working on expeditions out to Vietnam and Tanzania next year. But behind the excitement that these high-profile events and far-flung trips offer there lay some stark truths.
Every five minutes a child runs away from home in the UK. In 2017/18 British Transport Police dealt with over 8,000 child safeguarding incidents on the rail network and this year that number is anticipated to increase by 25 per cent to 10,000. A third of children identified had run away from home or care; other issues included sexual exploitation, abuse, addiction, poor mental health and suicide.
Safeguarding on transport
The Railway Children charity exists to fight for vulnerable children who live alone and at risk on the streets in India, Kenya, Tanzania and the UK where they suffer abuse and exploitation. Their aim is to reach children as soon as they arrive on the streets and intervene before an abuser can. Their pioneering work enables them to get to street children before the streets get to them.
In the UK, Railway Children has a strategic partnership with British Transport Police (BTP) and since 2015 have worked together to develop and deliver the Safeguarding on Transport programme which identifies and supports vulnerable children on the transport network, an area no other agency or statutory body is tackling.
As a result of this partnership the charity was able to launch a project in Manchester that has to date supported 148 children and young people across the region. In July 2018 this project expanded into London.
The Railway Children’s next stop is Yorkshire which is where the charity and vulnerable children need the Rail Community within the region and across the country to help. I recently had the opportunity to spend time with Dave Ellis, the Railway Children’s Corporate Partnerships Manager. Naturally I was interested in what the charity does, and where event sponsorship goes, but I was not clear on the wider reach that the Railway Children has.
Talking specifically about the Safeguarding on Transport project and working in and around UK stations he explained to me that the children that they are reaching out to ‘are either not meeting the threshold to receive support from social services or are being allocated services that do not meet their complex needs. Our partnership with BTP enables us to connect with some of the most vulnerable children in the country and provide them with a service that genuinely turns their lives around for good.
‘In June 2017 we launched our first safeguarding project in Manchester, supporting children across the North West who BTP identified as being at risk. In July 2018 we expanded into London and May 2019 sees us expand into Leeds. These stations are among the top ten for receiving the most referrals which is where we have concentrated our efforts on as a priority.
’84 per cent of children we work with experience abuse (physical, sexual or emotional including grooming), domestic violence, distress, neglect and poor parenting, or physical and mental illness. 16 per cent suffer from psychological or behavioural issues, often related to abuse, violence or neglect or due to bullying, loneliness, family breakdown and unhealthy relationships. We also support children who are growing up in poverty and deprivation who feel unsafe and insecure, with few opportunities.’
So why am I compelled to take this as my topic this month?
First of all, I am but one of very many people tackling the Three Peaks by Rail challenge this year. I am excited by the personal challenge, but genuinely inspired by the work of the Railway Children. To learn that as well as protecting countless lives overseas the charity also works increasingly across the UK really brings it home to me. Kids are kids and regardless of where they live, there will always be too many kids in horrendously vulnerable positions.
Last month I talked about Gracie, a future PM and the inspiring face of Transport for the North’s inaugural conference. This month I am talking about Peter (saved from drug-running and gang-culture, now back in mainstream education), Emma (who ran away from home to escape bullying and drug-use) and Liam (who went missing from care and began stealing to fund his own drug-use).
These are kids who represent so many more that none of us will ever even see, who will never step out of our peripheral vision. Not because we are bad people ourselves, but because we are not equipped to spot these victims nor to help them rebuild their lives. Peter, Emma and Liam are as important to us as Gracie; they all now have more positive futures ahead of them.
But the Railway Children needs more help. Lovely as it is to walk up hills, ride bikes or revel in the camaraderie of a mass sleep-out, the charity needs more sustainable sponsorship support.
I have been blown away by the generosity of the people and companies that have sponsored my Three Peaks team (please do check out @summit_north and #NorthernSoles on social media, we would appreciate any further donations, no matter the size), but this is a personal plea to ask you to ask your companies to consider an annual sponsorship.
The Railway Family is a wonderful community, but in terms of its reach as a charitable contributor consider this: according to the Institute of Fundraising’s ‘Good Values’ report the railway sector lags behind. Broken down the report shows that Banking represents 23 per cent of UK giving to charity, Retail represents another 23 per cent, Technology and Communications: ten per cent. These are admittedly quite mature industries when it comes to charitable giving and Corporate Social Responsibility.
However, Rail does not factor into the statistics as a charitable industrial sector in its own right. Rail falls under ‘all other industries’. This segment only accounts for four per cent of the total giving within the UK.
To get the Yorkshire project off the ground, the Railway Children charity is only asking for 19 companies across Yorkshire to donate £2,500 this year. If this is achieved, they will be able to fully fund the first year of the project, boosted by Comic Relief funds, and play a vital role in protecting vulnerable children in the community, setting them onto a brighter path. Please, if you can help, contact Dave Ellis on D.Ellis@railwaychildren.org.uk and help us do #SummitUpNorth. For further information on the Railway Children please visit www.railwaychildren.org.uk
Lucy Prior MBE is the Business Development Director of RTS Solutions, a specialist transportation software engineering company delivering stable and resilient, web-based, real-time safety critical applications. RTS’ software supports the railways, metros and road network infrastructures to meet the ever-growing operational demands for increases in capacity, reliability and availability of their networks by providing a suite of products and applications. Lucy was awarded an MBE for services to rail exports in last year’s Birthday Honours, the nominations for which also cited her work in support of the YRP and encouraging EDI within rail. She also has two young children who hear an awful lot about just how cool the rail sector is.