Free Thinking

The Northern College Free Thinking Programme:
Education for the survivors of Modern Slavery

Northern College in South Yorkshire has launched a pioneering ‘Free Thinking Programme’; this programme, the first of its kind in the UK, will prepare survivors of human trafficking and modern slavery for living and working in the UK. Adult survivors of human trafficking and modern slavery have very little or no access to further education. This lack of access to education could be a significant factor in their re-entry into human trafficking or exploitative work.

Northern College’s response has been to develop the ‘Free Thinking Programme’ for students who have experienced significant trauma through modern slavery and human trafficking. The students will stay at the college for short intensive periods, in a supportive learning environment which allows them to focus on a future of freedom either in the UK or in their country of origin.

Corporate social responsibility

We provide outstanding adult residential education for the empowerment and transformation of individuals and communities

We achieve this on our Free Thinking Programme through our outstanding teaching and the philanthropy of people like you.


As one of the country’s leading adult colleges, we have gained the expertise and the experience to make real, lasting change to survivors of human trafficking lives and your donation will help us to do this.

The programme is the first of its kind in Britain and is responding to an educational need for survivors, its aim is to rebuild self confidence and trust and encourage independence in people who have often been subject to appalling treatment at the hands of traffickers.

As well as aiming to rebuild self-confidence and trust and encourage independence, the Free Thinking Programme will provide survivors with opportunities to develop their English Language and ICT Skills, Applying for Work, Interview Techniques, Rights and Responsibilities in the Workplace, Team Skills, Dealing with Conflict and Living in the UK.

We are ambitious

The college sets itself stretching targets so we are driven to achieve more for our students

If you’d like more information, please contact the Free Thinking Programme by emailing or calling 01226 776000.

An overview of the media profile

The college appreciates that corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a key element to any business, giving back to society, investing in communities and people’s futures. Part of any good CSR policy is a positive and vibrant media profile and involvement in a prominent, national project such as the Free Thinking Programme can only add to that. Partners to the Free Thinking Programme will be invited to share in publicity and success stories arising from the programme. We will be holding a celebratory garden party on the last day of the course which all of our supporters and partners are invited to participate in.

Throughout the programme students will be recording their progress inside and outside of the classroom and we are happy to provide you with these case studies, taking into account safeguarding and confidentiality issues.

For more on recent media attention the college has received, please click here
Alternatively visit our social media pages @northerncollege Facebook | @ncomlearn | @Northerncollege

You may be interested to note that Northern College is a charitable company limited by guarantee and therefore, any donation or contribution to this programme would be regarded as charitable giving.


Changing the lives of survivors

Each year in the UK, it is estimated that around 13,000 people are victims of trafficking. Funding for the programme has initially come from the college’s own reserves, with only some of the students eligible for government funding. However, this work cannot be sustained in the long term without the generosity and social conscience of organisations. The college is actively seeking sponsors to help support this incredibly exciting and valuable work.


What would your donation provide?

As donors we’d like to explain to you how the funds would be used. Northern College provides an exceptional quality of additional learning and pastoral support to students, vital for those who have very low levels of personal confidence and self-esteem. The residential setting, coupled with these high levels of support enables students to make maximum use of their time spent at college. Survivors often have children and Northern College provides an on-site, Ofsted inspected children’s centre, which delivers care to children aged 6 months to 5 years during school term time. To gather these necessary funds, Northern College will be setting up a bursary scheme and inviting partner organisations to make a donation which would support students whilst they are on the Free Thinking Programme.


If the programme stops

If we are unsuccessful in securing sufficient funds then, ultimately, the Free Thinking Programme will cease. This would significantly impact upon survivors of human trafficking, as well as the wider, social network of dependent children, family, friends and the wider community where they live. They will lose an opportunity to use education to successfully rebuild their lives and enjoy a positive, fulfilling future. There is also evidence that when survivors see no hope for the future, there is a serious risk that they are then drawn back into the slavery that they have escaped. Finally, without the testimony of these victims, law enforcement agencies will find it very difficult to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice, leaving them free to destroy the lives of many others.


Do you want to take part?

The Free Thinking Programme is a ten week course of study at Northern College in Yorkshire. Improve your spoken English, feel confident and learn new skills to live, work and study in the UK.

What will I learn?

You will learn how to use computers and improve your spoken English by working as a team, plus: Study skills, Living in the UK, Workplace rights, Creative writing, Drama, Outdoor classroom, Navigation, First Aid & Film-making Each course is a little different; there will be fewer outdoor classes during the Winter. You can find out more by speaking to college staff.

To join the Free Thinking Programme speak to your adviser and we will arrange for you to come on a day visit to Northern College. You will be able to meet your teachers and see where you will be eating, sleeping and studying, and also look around our lovely gardens. If you prefer, we can also come out and meet you at your adviser’s office before you decide to join.

Jane Williamson can be contacted by telephone on 01226 776000 or by emailing

Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is the acquisition of a person, by means of deception or coercion, and transporting them illegally from one area to another for the purpose of exploitation. This exploitation is often termed as modern slavery and takes many forms. In the UK, modern slavery is most commonly forced labour in the agricultural, construction and fishing industries, sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, and forced criminal activity. Recent figures show there could be as many as 13,000 victims held in modern slavery in the UK alone. The uncertainty exists because the victims of human trafficking are often "hidden in the shadows" and concrete statistics are often elusive.

Wentworth Castle

Northern College is housed at Wentworth Castle, a historic mansion set in Grade 1 listed parkland. The former owner of Wentworth Castle built up its estate and grounds using money made from the slave trade. The Earl of Strafford, Thomas Wentworth, was Britain's representative for the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, which included an agreement for Britain to sell African slaves in the Spanish colonies. A statue of a slave still remains within the castle grounds. In more recent years, the Grade I listed building has had a happier history. The College Principal said “There is welcome irony in the college hosting this programme as the Wentworth Castle estate was built on profits from Britain's involvement in the slave trade. We are proud that this unique programme will help to redress the balance. As an adult residential college specialising in helping those with the greatest of needs, we feel that our environment is the best setting to trial this programme."


What have we been up to?

ITV News

Free Thinking programme graduation

Here is a picture (left) from the Free Thinking programme graduation.  It shows Sheffield’s new Lord Mayor Magid Magid, with former college Principal Jill Westerman and tutor Paul Gibson.

The Yorkshire Post

The Northern College Free Thinking Programme received some very positive press attention recently from the Yorkshire Post.Click here to find out what they said.

Radio Sheffield

The Northern College Free Thinking Programme featured on BBC Radio Sheffield recently. We are on at 12 mins & 1.02. Our friend, the fabulous Lara from the Snowdrop project, eloquent as ever, is on at 1.09. Click here to listen.

The Barnsley Chronicle

When Northern College launched its Free Thinking Programme the local press covered this in a very positive way. Click here to read the article.

We planted a Modern Slavery rose

House of Commons (EducationQuestions)

Stephanie Peacock paying tribute to the Northern College Free Thinking Programme

Got a question?

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