University plays its part in powerful new film

Child migrants
21 Apr 2011 14:25:00.000


A new British film tells the story of a Nottingham graduate and his wife who have worked for almost 25 years to uncover one of the most significant social scandals in recent history.

From 1945-67 about 4,500 children in care were deported from the UK to Australia, Canada, Zimbabwe and New Zealand under the Child Migration Scheme. Many suffered harsh conditions, neglect and abuse.

The new film Oranges and Sunshine, directed by Jim Loach, tells the story of Nottingham social worker Margaret Humphreys CBE, who, along with her husband Mervyn (Social Administration 1971), campaigned to uncover the human cost of migration and campaign for the rights of former child migrants.

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The couple, who set up the Nottingham-based Child Migrants Trust, have worked hard to keep the issue at the forefront of public attention through media coverage, books and public inquiries. The Trust operates a highly specialised service in reuniting the UK’s former child migrants with their families and has already facilitated 1,200 reunions. A major breakthrough came in the last two years with public apologies for the policy from both UK and Australian governments and the setting up of a £6 million Family Restoration Fund in the UK, which will help support a further 900 reunion visits over three years.

Another University of Nottingham link is that the senior manager at the Department of Health, tasked with working with the Trust to distribute that fund, is Nottingham graduate Mark Davies (Geography 1982).

The new film, which is currently showing in cinemas, was made on location in the East Midlands and whilst in the area the film crew used facilities at the University’s King’s Meadow Campus, formerly the home of the Carlton Television studios.

But for Mervyn Humphreys the film represents yet another milestone in the Trust’s work which began when they set up the organisation in their son’s bedroom in 1987.

“My wife and I had both had an interest in adoption and identity issues. In the 1980s Margaret was running a post adoption support group and I acted as a consultant to the group,” said Mervyn.

“A woman from Nottingham, who had been sent to Australia as a child migrant, wanted to find out about her background and got in touch with Margaret’s group because there was no other service. We were something of a pioneering group because we brought together all sides of the adopted triangle, parents, adopted people and birth parents.”

This first enquiry prompted them to research the issue and then two major features about their work appeared in the Observer newspaper. More and more former child migrants made contact and the Trust was set up.

“There was clearly a considerable need,” Mervyn added. “Margaret, in particular, became fascinated and absorbed by this work and I had written a thesis on the social policy implications of child abuse. I was interested in this issue as an example of policy disasters, how things can go wrong and how you can put them right.

“Our clients had the worst possible start to life. It’s very difficult for anyone who’s had a normal childhood to imagine what these people went through — a child of four or five being sent to the other side of the world, being told they are an orphan, being brought up in large institutions in a pretty rough and ready way and then being left to fend for themselves.

“We’re very pleased with the film and we felt that the makers would treat the subject and our clients with due regard and respect and that’s certainly been the case. It’s a major achievement to get a feature film about our work but our primary concern is not us — we’re really interested in what light the film sheds on the issue. We’re interested in the issue being discussed, thinking through the implications and dilemmas of when children are separated from their parents, the enduring impact on both sides and what you can do to bring them together if possible.”

Mervyn studied Social Administration at the University and went on to work as a social worker in Nottingham for 20 years before taking up a full-time role with the Trust.

“The University gave me a very good grounding in my own subject area to allow me to understand the complexities of this policy. When I returned to the University two years later to undertake professional training, specialising in family dynamics and parenting, one of the lecturers on that course Philip Bean became one of our original trustees providing yet another University link. In fact, our daughter studied at the University and one of our social workers, Lindsey Hughes, (MA/Dip Social Work 2003) is also a Nottingham graduate.

“The University had a deserved reputation for social policy studies during that period with a lively group of young lecturers including Bill Silburn, Victor George and Paul Wilding. It was Bill who popularised the public understanding of poverty and in some sense we’re following on in that tradition of publicising an urgent social problem which has been hidden from public view. So you could say we learned our University lessons well.”

The Trust continues its work and if you would like to know more please visit

You can see publicity about the film at


May Fest 2011 is on Saturday May 7, 11am to 5.30pm, at The University of Nottingham. The University is throwing open its doors to the community – with heaps of free activities for all ages. The Physics Buskers, thunder and lightning on demand and brain games. Get a glimpse of some of the amazing things that are happening on your doorstep. Visit:

Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham, described by The Sunday Times University Guide 2011 as ‘the embodiment of the modern international university’, has award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the QS World University Rankings. It was named ‘Europe’s greenest university’ in the UI GreenMetric World University Ranking, a league table of the world’s most environmentally-friendly higher education institutions, which ranked Nottingham second in the world overall.

The University is committed to providing a truly international education for its 40,000 students, producing world-leading research and benefiting the communities around its campuses in the UK and Asia.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranked the University 7th in the UK by research power.

The University’s vision is to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health.

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Story credits

More information is available from Tim Utton, Deputy Director, Communications, University of Nottingham on +44 (0)115 846 8092,

Tim Utton

Tim Utton - Deputy Director of Communications

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 846 8092 Location: University Park

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