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Cultural change is needed at Titus Trust, says independent review

09 December 2021

Lack of diversity and hierarchical structure named as problems


The cover of the Independent Culture Review carried out by Thirtyone:eight

The cover of the Independent Culture Review carried out by Thirtyone:eight

A NARROW focus on public schools, a hierarchical structure in which Bible teachers enjoyed greater levels of authority, and a lack of diversity among its leaders, drawn from the conservative Evangelical wing of the Church of England, are among the factors that have increased the risk of abuse at holiday camps run by the Titus Trust, an independent review concludes.

The review, carried out by Thirtyone:eight, an independent Christian safeguarding charity, and published in full on Wednesday, was commissioned by the trust in the wake of revelations about abuse perpetrated by a former chairman of the Iwerne Trust (now part of the Titus Trust), John Smyth (News, 10 February 2017, 27 August). It focuses mainly on the past five years, and responses come largely from current leaders on holidays, campers, current staff, and supporters. Visits to camps were also undertaken this summer.

It notes that “a significant amount of contributors were happy with the culture of the trust and its camps and did not have any issues with how they had been treated, nor any concerns about safeguarding,” but cautions that few responses were received from young people who had stopped going on the holidays.

The report explores nine themes, commenting that “some of these are not problematic in themselves, but it is the way in which they interrelate which increases the potential for abuse occurring.”

One theme is “exclusivity and lack of diversity” resulting from the trust’s focus on public schools. “One outcome is a uniformity of thought amongst staff and volunteers which has created a culture that risks being unable to fully see problems in its thinking and where leaders are less likely to be challenged by different perspectives or diverse views. This has increased the risk that people may be less willing to share their concerns.”

It also explores “greater levels of authority, respect and value being placed on those who held roles in Bible teaching and in Christian ministry. This has reinforced a sense of hierarchy in the leadership of the camps and contributed to imbalances in power, influence, and control which previously had increased the risk of abusive or poor behaviours being excused or ignored.”

A word heard often was “sound”. One contributor observed: “The wider Church is liberal, compromised and dangerous. Therefore, questions and challenges are instinctively treated with pushback as coming from a place that has ‘forsaken its first love’.”

The complementarian theology of the trust has created, at times, “a largely uncritical acceptance of the attitudes and behaviours of male leaders”, with a “negative impact within the camps on how women are seen by some men, how some women view themselves and their abilities, and crucially, in the context of safeguarding, on the confidence of some women to speak into critical issues or raise concerns”, it says.

The review identifies “very clear links” between the trust and the conservative Evangelical wing of the Church in England: a “symbiotic relationship, which to some degree reinforces the theology and cultural views on the camps, leading to a greater risk of a narrowness of thinking or a lack of diversity among its leaders.

“Within this context, it is more likely that concerning cultural norms and unhealthy or harmful individual behaviours are missed, and that opportunities are created to develop relationships with individuals outside the activities of the trust which has the potential to increase the risk for future grooming or abuse. In addition, the value of the patronage of some of the more influential and powerful leaders within the wider Evangelical community could be seen to have been one inhibitor to disclosing abuse and why some people may not have been called out about behaviour as they should have been.”

The review observes that the “basic model” of the camps has remained the same as that established by the Revd E. Nash more than 80 years ago, and suggests that a review is necessary.

It includes scrutiny of the one-to-one discussions about faith undertaken with young people, recognised in recent years as needing to be “less intense”. One contributor feared that “sometimes, campers can be viewed as targets to work on over a very rapid and intense week.” The review also notes an emphasis on “self-sacrifice” by leaders. One contributor recalled an apprentice leader praying: “Lord, would we all burn out on camp for you.”

The trust has been “slow to implement policies which would have supported a more positive culture”, it concludes. While recognising a “commitment to change over the last few years”, it states that “other areas of cultural change are needed to encourage a safer and healthier environment.”

Although it focuses on the past five years, the review looks at the response of the trust to Smyth’s abuse, and says: “the needs of survivors have been overshadowed by the perceived threat to the trust and the need to protect the work.”

Among its 14 recommendations are that the trust should consider amending its one-to-one ministry policy to prohibit leaders or staff from visiting young people (children) outside the context of camps, and that it should ensure that it has made “every reasonable effort to respond to John Smyth’s victims associated with Iwerne camps and have made contact as and where appropriate”. The trust should also “apologise for the way in which it has sought to distance itself over recent years from the historical legacy of the Iwerne camps”.

A survivor of Smyth’s abuse, “Graham”, said on Wednesday that the review “misses the elephant in the room: abuse over decades by a number of people associated with Titus and the Iwerne camps. . . I have not seen the slightest sign of any acceptance of moral responsibility for my abuse by John Smyth.”

Read the review at www.titustrust.org/culture-review

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