'EXPLOITATION is not acceptable' was the message from agencies and organisations who came together in Southend this week/yesterday.

World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, which took place on Tuesday, saw organisation SAMS (Southend Against Modern Slavery), put on a wealth of workshops, stalls, art and films to highlight the plight against modern slavery and human trafficking within the community.

SAMS is a partnership between 25 local organisations including charities, faith groups, law enforcement and statutory services.

It was founded by the Reverend Dr Dan Pratt, in May 2018, and works to create a "slavery free Southend".

There are an estimated tens of thousands of victims in the UK. Forms of Modern Slavery include labour exploitation, sexual exploitation, domestic exploitation, and forcing someone to commit criminal acts. Modern Slavery is where someone is held in position of slavery, servitude forced or compulsory labour, or trafficking through facilitating their travel with the intention of exploiting them.

Rev Pratt, 39, from Southend, said he set up the partnership following his role at the 57 West and Clarence Road Baptist Church in Southend, where he worked to help the homeless. He added: "When I was working within that role, we encountered people rough sleeping who had been exploited for labour and weren't paid for it, maybe offered accommodation and food with no pay, or who had to work crazy hours and then the accommodation was deducted from their 'pay' meaning they were left with something like £10 a week, and situations like that.

"That is what led me to found SAMS."

As part of the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons initiative a large piece of street artwork was began by artist Nik Vaughn, under the railway bridge on Southend High Street, in conjunction with Project 49.

The mural was commissioned by SAMS.

Pete Shrimplin, 54, who is the co-ordinator of community inclusion for Project 49 - an award winning community based resource providing innovative services for adults with learning disabilities, based in Alexandra Street, Southend - said: "We were contacted because we do a lot of commissioned art and promotion within the community and we were only too pleased to help out. "Our members helped by prepping the wall and getting it all ready for the artist Nik Vaughn, to come down and paint, and they also took part in a bit of paint spraying.

"I think not only is it nice to be involved in such a great initiative and take the opportunity for our members to get involved in making the community a safer place, but it's important to note that in the past, people with learning disabilities may have been the victims of exploitation and slavery.

"I think its great to be involved, just like everyone in the community should be working to make it a better place."

The initiative also saw the film I am A Slave, screened at Twenty One, a pop-up shop, stalls and workshops taking place around the area.

Awareness films are also being shown right up until Monday, at The Forum, Elmer Square, Southend.

Dr Rev Pratt added: "I am encouraged that so many people and organisations are supporting these events, partnering together to raise awareness about Trafficking. "Together we partner towards a slavery-free Southend."

For more information visit .samspartnership.org.uk