The 1st of September. That significant staging point that comes around every year, drummed into us by school and for us Methodists, the start of the new Connexional year. This year will feel very different to any before with sanitisers, social distance measures and one way flows. I don’t know how wartime affected this annual event in 1914 and 1939, but of course in 1939 we were poised to go to war and children were beginning to be evacuated to the countryside. So this year schools, churches and many other institutions will have planned with great care to make ‘la rentree’ as the French term it, as safe as possible. Nothing will be the same but we will want it to be as near ‘normal’ as it can be made.
The theme of evacuation to escape what may befall us is a long standing tradition and has been a key social force in history, in, and since biblical times. Bob Marley sang about ‘Exodus – movement of Jah People’. Irish and Scottish folk songs reference the emigration that followed potato famines and the Highland clearances. It’s a driving factor that we see in the perilous journeys of present day asylum seekers. But as we also know forced evacuation or government planned and promoted schemes of both immigration and emigration can be fraught with a wide range of issues that will include safeguarding children in particular. Our history books and oral history accounts testify to the physical and sexual abuse experienced by some evacuees in this country during the second world war and the IICSA hearings told us more about the horrific experiences of those often-orphaned children who were shipped off to Australia, Canada and South Africa through church sponsored passage schemes.
At the moment we often seem to sign off our emails with a cheery ‘stay safe’ or something similar. As some of us are now travelling on holiday or venturing to work places, restaurants, museums and yes, churches, perhaps we should replace ‘stay’ with ‘travel’. So planning to ensure the safety of children, and vulnerable adults as they move about our country and the world is something that we should perhaps endorse as part of our safeguarding agenda for the year ahead.