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Azalea reaches out to those trapped in or vulnerable to sexual exploitation, supporting them to build new lives because of the love of God.
Since starting in 2007, Azalea has connected with more than 200 women.
We want to communicate to these women that they are valuable, enabling them to see their lives from a different perspective. We are also forming new teams to tackle the issue of demand by working with men, and to share Azalea’s expertise internationally. Read on to find out more about these aspects of our work...
Outreach, Drop-In and Befriending
Azalea connects with women through outreach, drop-in and befriending. In all areas, we work closely with statutory partners to form exit strategies out of sexual exploitation and drug or alcohol addiction.
Two nights a week the Azalea team drive around the streets, caring, listening and providing practical support. Sometimes we can stop just long enough to offer a smile and something to eat. At other times we are able to have a much longer chat, or point women to our Drop-in and other local services.
On Monday and Friday nights and Wednesday afternoons, the Azalea Drop-in provides an environment where women can be welcomed. It is a homely space, well stocked with food, and offers the women a chance to step away from the pressures and dangers of the street. An art teacher runs regular art and craft sessions, and we also offer a weekly "Rebuilt" session with a meal, praise and worship and discussion.
Our goal is that through radical acceptance, the Drop-in fosters hope that change is possible. From July 2015-July 2016, there were 678 visits to our Drop-in.
Azalea volunteers offer in-depth care in many ways, when women talk about wanting their lives to change, including:
- practical support e.g. furnishing flats, giving lifts to appointments, helping to fill out forms
- relational support e.g. visiting women who have moved away, phone calls, prison visits, going out for coffee
The women we support have complex needs, and we partner with a variety of statutory agencies to break the cycles of addiction that prevent them from moving forward in their lives. Between July 2015-July 2016, volunteers made 144 befriending visits including 29 hospital appointments.
Men's ministry: Flint
Azalea is now looking at the causes of sexual exploitation as well as the consequences, by addressing the issue of demand. We recognise that just as one women exits, another fills her place, because the demand is still there. To this end, we are setting up a separate group offering support for men who access women for sex and violence. We are doing this in partnership with other agencies and hope to develop a programme that will help kerb crawlers to change their attitudes and behaviour. Read more about Flint here
We are involved in the fight for freedom from sexual exploitation globally, consulting and training teams around the UK and the world. This is a new area of work that we are exploring, starting with developing a project in Hong Kong, and this aspect of our work is self-funding. For more information email [email protected]
Who We Are
The work of Azalea is made possible by a large number of people who each contribute what they can. By drawing on the compassion of volunteers, we offer holistic support and a wider community where the women can experience healing and social inclusion.
- Those who give financially so that we can run a drop-in, a car, employ part-time staff and meet all sorts of practical needs
- An army of bakers who make cakes that we hand out while on outreach or at the drop-in
- A huge prayer network made of up people who pray for the women and Azalea team
- A group of trustees who help us to make wise decisions about Azalea's future
- A team of about 30 who regularly go out on outreach, stay at the drop-in and meet up with the women
- A couple of administrative and financial whizz-kids to make everything run smoothly
If you are interested in being part of our big team, do get in contact at [email protected] We would love to hear from you.
We are primarily funded through donations from individuals and churches and we also receive grants from a variety of Trusts.
Azalea's story began in January 2007 when a few local people got together to think about how they could engage and serve the women working on the streets in Luton. Azalea was set up with the aim of listening to, valuing and supporting these women.
We call ourselves Azalea because the flower is often associated with dignity and an important Bible verse for us is Proverbs 31:25 which says: “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.” Early conversations with local church leaders assessed the viability of offering a non-judgmental Christian response to the women, alongside providing exit strategies. A part-time project director was appointed and we began to liaise with existing services. Azalea gained Trust status and began to apply for and receive grants.
At this stage advertisements went out for volunteer outreach workers. The successful candidates met as a team and began building relationships with the women at our drop-in centre. We have been expanding our work since then to try to keep up with the needs of the women, and to provide support as they build lives away from sexual exploitation and the associated violence, poverty and addiction.
We asked some of the women what they think of Azalea.
‘The Drop-in has meant I know you care. I’ve been beaten up badly by my pimp and I kept on thinking and praying I would get there. I want somewhere I can be safe. Here I can plan to leave this lifestyle, and find myself. I had no food and you fed me.’
"I know I wouldn’t have gotten this far without God’s love for me so wonderfully expressed through the love of the Azalea team. I am eternally grateful for all their help, support and love.”
'I really do like it. I feel really relaxed here. It makes me feel comfortable, I can kick off my shoes.'
"When I’ve been distressed I’ve come to Azalea; even if it is busy I can have private space. I have learnt to bake muffins: I am so pleased."
'Brilliant, wicked, 10 out of 10. All the people who work here are very supportive. If it wasn't for all of you I wouldn't be where I am now.’
We asked some of the women to tell us about their lives
(for safety and privacy, all names have been changed)
Watch an actress tell Esther's story:
What were you like before?
I had a chaotic lifestyle; I never slept and when I could sleep, it was on the streets. I was a dead woman walking. The drugs made me too high, then too low. For 18 years I never had a sober day from drink or drugs.
What has Azalea done?
Wow, what can I say? It’s amazing. My life has turned from being hurt, treated like dirt. Azalea showered me with dignity and showed me the way I should be treated. They have guided me and never gave up on me. I love it because I am not judged for my past. I am Esther and I am loved.
Tell us about your background
My mum beat me up and forced me to shoplift. A family member sexually abused me. I ran away when was I was 15 and went into care, but I didn't like the children's homes so I'd sleep on the streets or in squats. I started to shoplift, do burglaries and fight and was in and out of prison for 26 years. Then I went on drugs, and to avoid going to prison I worked on the streets, but that was really bad.
What has changed?
Meeting one of the Azalea volunteers, she is like another mother. She helps me change my life. I've got a beautiful home, I volunteer, I go to college and I've got a little job. I don't do drugs or work on the streets any more. I couldn't do it myself: I wouldn't know where to start.