The model railway exhibition at our church Christmas Market was a great success. Feedback from customers confirmed it was one of the key attractions appealing to families with children, encouraging them to come to the Market.
The church model railway group, who stage the exhibition annually, started about 15 years ago as an offshoot of the youth club, led by an enthusiastic young member. The group then attracted some adult church members with an interest in modelling and trains in general. It immediately became clear that there would be a mixture of ages in the group and for me, at that time one of the youth club leaders, this posed a safeguarding dilemma, which if I’m honest never got properly resolved in terms of policy and practice before the younger ones either left for university or drifted away. Whilst a mixed age group it was led by the young people themselves with the adults rather peripheral, with one of them, me, feeling obliged to be there to supervise what was going on from a non-technical perspective. But now the group is solely composed of a small group of adult men and has been for 6 or 7 years or more.
The issue here though is to be clear about the safeguarding arrangements that need to be put in place when a mixed age interest group develops whether its focus is drama, music, sport or trains. The members will generally be equal in terms of their participation and engagement and may well work closely together on projects. So how to ensure that the group is a safe space is a responsibility that lies with the leadership. Churches who sponsor such groups should ask themselves if adequate supervision and chaperoning is in place. Is there a code of conduct for adults to sign? Are younger members made aware of how to keep themselves safe and whom they might approach if concerned about the behaviour of an adult member? Are there rules about out of group communication? Are parents clear about the arrangements and have they supplied consent?
In fairness, well-established organisations that cater for children and adults engaging in the same activity are very likely to have appropriate safeguarding measures in place to manage these relationships and the task of the church will be simply to satisfy itself that the arrangements are adequate. The challenge will come when groups in the church develop quickly or on an ad hoc basis in response to a new and exciting project, such as a one off dramatic production or musical concert. Church safeguarding officers should be alert to such plans and ensure the movers and shakers have thought through carefully how the new opportunities will be planned and managed safely for all age groups. The coming Christmas period is a great time for inter-generational activities, so let’s make sure they pass off successfully and safely.