Dr Laura McClelland (pictured above) was awarded the Wales Deanery’s BEST Trainee Award in the category of ‘Outstanding Contribution Outside of the Training Programme i.e. Charity’ at an awards ceremony held at Cardiff City Hall in February 2018.
Here, Laura describes the experience of winning the award in recognition of her outreach work:
“It was a lovely surprise to discover that I had been nominated for a BEST Award. In fact, whilst winning was clearly a hugely positive experience, I would go as far as to say that the nomination in itself was just as important.
“It made me feel as though people were appreciative of trainee efforts that are above and beyond what is officially required of them. This made me reflect on the contributions of all those who make up our training and working environments, as well as the greater community. It was a generally humbling process.
“The nomination that I received was in recognition of the work that I do as an outreach worker for a project called ‘Street Life’. The aim of Street Life is to provide support to street sex workers in Cardiff.
“Services we provide range from having simple conversations about general wellbeing, housing and benefits, to giving out food, driving someone to a place of safety or reporting crimes committed against sex workers. There is a regular needle exchange and sexual health service available.
“The outreach team is made up of charity and council employees and volunteers. The rota is able to provide an outreach service for week day nights throughout the year, so there is actually a high degree of continuity in our presence.
“We drive around in a fixed loop, in an adapted camper van, which bears the charity logo. The service-users are familiar with this, as are their clients and the local general public.
“This provides all groups with reassurance that we are there to protect the safety and wellbeing of workers whilst discouraging antisocial behaviour (soliciting in residential areas) and circumstantial crimes (robbery, sex attacks, human trafficking, and underage prostitution). Our vehicle is stocked with drinks, snacks, condoms, safety leaflets, personal alarms, hats, scarves, etc.
“The nights are quite unpredictable. We have interacted with up to fifteen individual sex workers during a session, which is an encouraging level of engagement.
“On other nights, we may see nobody. Even on these days, our presence is just as important because workers and their clients will still be aware that we are there.
“Often, crimes are reported directly to us by the women due to their fear of making contact with the police. We then inform the authorities, as well as passing the information to other workers and relevant support organisations.
“This intermediate step that outreach provides is an essential bridge of communication, which serves to improve the safety of all those providing and purchasing sexual services.
“The Street Life project has been a big part of my life for the past few years and will no doubt continue to be so in the future. My role is very minor in reality, but I like to think that the women I encounter sense that I genuinely care about their wellbeing.
“Whilst the services provided by outreach are unlikely to ever change people’s reality, I hope that our presence occasionally softens the edges of their particularly difficult lives.”
If you are interested to find out more about Street Life, or if Laura has inspired you to volunteer with the project, visit Safer Wales.