ONE HOUR A WEEK
Long weekend camp: Pioneering, rifles and mini hawks
As we all bask in the sunshine reading our latest edition of Scout and Scouting magazine, I want you to think back to the beginning of May, the bank holiday in fact when the temperatures were just warming up but still with the threat of frost every evening.
Well, as it was all planned and arranged, we went as a group on our annual scout camp. Usually we go on the late bank holiday but due to the Jubilee we went early. The downside with going early is the chance of unpredictable weather. However, as I just mentioned, the weather was getting sunnier during the day with clear skies at night.
Now, although we are a small group (1st Bramshill, Rotherwick), this has always been a joint venture with our neighbours 7th Bramshill, Hook. We set up camp straight after school on the Friday and the plan was for three nights, coming home on the bank holiday Monday. The cubs and scouts all arrived within a couple of hours of finishing school and the first task was to put their tents up. For the cubs this was, for some of them a. The first time they had been camping, and b. The first time away from their parents. Since we had the various lockdowns and restrictions it meant this was the first camp in three years.
The cubs were sleeping in a typical scout tents, these have not changed since the 1950s. The scouts on the other hand were all assigned to either a two or three person tent.
We were all situated at various different positions around the camp: the scouts were near the river and trees along with a few leaders whilst the cubs were on the other side of the field with trees and hedges behind them, also with leaders nearby. Then we have another area where our youngest members, the beavers, sleep as they come for one night camping on the Saturday; this area is near the toilet block as they tend to need lots of trips to the loo.
First night and everyone is on site and games have been played, hot chocolate and cake have been consumed and the leaders prepare themselves for the typical over excitement of the young ones. This is usually a latish night with a bit of shouting to each other between the tents etc. On the positive this is always followed by an early night on the Saturday.
Saturday morning after a cold night: Tents are covered in frost but all the cubs and scouts survived (always good for morale). Saturday daytime was spent doing a round robin of activities: Air rifle shooting, mini hawk throwing, woggle making, cooking etc. Whilst this was going on throughout the day the scouts were also busy making two large pioneering A-frames. Once these were erected they attached rope to make a bridge strong enough for them to use. This was a great build as the scouts had to put into practice the knots and lashings they had learnt
In the evening the scouts prepared the vegetables and cooked their own meals on the open fires that they had been attending to since earlier in the day. For everyone else the food was provided for; this is when the cubs step up and show off their washing and drying skills.
The evening is rounded off with a campfire for everyone including our beavers who have had their first experience of camp life - campfire singing is a must - followed by one last mug of hot chocolate before bed. Ohh it's so quiet on the Saturday night. But not where the beavers are sleeping. They are now experiencing just how many trips to the toilet a tent full of girls really needs.
Sunday and the night had been warmer. Once breakfast is cooked, served, eaten and cleared away it's time for parade and flag then onto activities again. Another full day of tiring stuff and access for the cubs and scouts to redo some of their favourite activities to hone their skills. The beavers are collected at 11am by their parents and go home for a nice long sleep in the afternoon in front of the TV.
Sunday draws to a close and the scouts have been on an epic pot washing experiment. They quickly realised how black and sooty they can get and no one else is going to do it.
Monday arrives and after breakfast it's pack up tents and break camp. We then go through the "Who's the owner of this sock?" routine. Parents arrive at 11am and everyone is collected - all safe and accounted for.
They all enjoyed different aspects of camp. When the cubs were asked on Monday night it looked like shooting was top followed by woggle making. The scouts enjoyed throwing the mini hawks at the targets and cooking.
Now if you are reading this and you are not involved in Scouting, I wonder is it something you fancy doing? We are always looking for more leaders in all our sections in all our groups across the country. With more leaders we can always do more with the young on a regular troop night and for those that attend camp, plus there's always plenty of cake to eat and lots of singing to be done. Contact www.scouts.org.uk/groups for more information.
Dan Pearce, Skip, 1st Bramshill, Rotherwick
An outsider's view of scouting
I am not involved with Scouts myself but I decided to find out a bit more about our local Scout Group, 1st Sandstone Scout Group, here in Bickerton for our village magazine which I took over editing recently.
I got in touch with the Scouts and visited on two different nights in January to catch all the age groups. I was helped by a scout, Fifi McLachlan, in putting together the article. Her leader said that Fifi wanted to do her "Media Relations and Marketing Activity" badge. What better way to find out about scouting than from a scout? She made an ambitious plan for us both to visit all the age groups and find out what they get up to at beavers, cubs, scouts and explorers.
Beavers: Fifi and I arrived at the start of beavers with a noisy ball game being played as twenty-two busy beavers assembled. After saluting the flag the group split up for three fifteen-minute activities, "bug finding" outside, "pond dipping" (inside!) to identify creatures, and "making seed paper." There were plenty of helpers to manage the energy level with the leaders, two parent helpers and some explorers. This evening the most popular activity was making seed paper (paper mâché shapes with seeds sprinkled on top to grow). "I liked squishing it" gives you the idea! In general the children enjoy "doing messy activities" as well as playing outside, making friends, camping and getting badges. Many badges were presented at the end of the evening. One beaver was awarded the "Bronze Chief Scout's Award" for completing six challenge badges.
Explorers: Their meeting started with the salute and then a demonstration of pheasant plucking by Robin Pfeiffer. Sixteen birds were the duly plucked by the explorers, Fifi and me. It took us ten times longer than Robin but it was a first time for everyone. After a brief clear up of the feathers that were everywhere Robin demonstrated the removal of wings and gutting which everyone then copied, very successfully overall. Random scores for the activity ranged from 2 "Never again" to a majority of 10s, "Actually surprised me, it was good, fairly easy," and an 11! Thanks to Bolesworth Estate gamekeeper for sourcing the birds.
Explorers do a lot of camping and survival training so bird-plucking could come in one day. The leader heroically offered to take all the pheasants home to roast and freeze to keep for the following week's cooking. I enjoyed mine roasted the next day.
Some of the explorers have been in the Sandstone group since the age of six and enjoyed all the friendships and experiences they had shared as a group.
My impressions were one hundred percent positive, both of the organisation and the enthusiasm of the young people.
Cubs: The photo shows the cubs after getting back from their night hike up Bickerton Hill in January. We stopped half way up and split into two groups: one went via the ridge and the other carried on up the path. The two groups raced to the top of Maiden Castle for hot chocolate drinks. As you can see it was really enjoyable for everyone.
Other activities that the cubs told us they enjoy are: knotting, origami, climbing, cooking, camping, playing outside and doing bridges.
Scouts: Recently my scout group made solar systems (see photo) out of scrap wood that we found on Bickerton Hill. We sat around the campfire and talked about things like star signs and where the equator is. We also talked about how gravity affects our oceans and how the moon makes the tides. This was for our Astronomy badge. We also needed to identify three constellations so in previous weeks we identified the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper and Orion's Belt. We saw these from Deadman's Log and Maiden Castle when we did a night hike.
We also played hide and seek and murder in the dark. (You don't actually get murdered, you just fall to the ground.) After that we played Elephant Polo. In this game the leaders stand at the sides and the scouts stand in the middle then the scouts run from one side to another whilst the leaders throw balls at the scouts. If you get hit you are out and you get to throw the balls and the last one in wins. Then we lowered the flag and we did the dismissal.
Thanks for the memories (of 2nd Acomb Scout Group)
2nd Acomb Scout Group will be ninety years old this year and as part of our plans to celebrate this significant milestone, we have set up a "Memories Project." The aim is to catalogue the special events (such as meeting Tony Blair) as well as the day to day activities of the group over its ninety-year history.
Over the next few months, we would like to gather as much information, memories and photos as possible from people who were either members, leaders or helpers at the Scout Group between 1932 and the present. If anyone out there can help us build up this ninety-year timeline with photos or stories about their time with the Scout Group, or about their parents' or grandparents' time with us, we would be delighted to hear from them to preserve these memories on a timeline.
If anybody can help document and illustrate ninety years of history, please get in touch with Alex, who is coordinating the catalogue, on our dedicated email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Like all Scout Groups, Acomb has seen an increase in demand from young people since the pandemic, so we are also appealing for new helpers to help us create more wonderful memories for our young people now. If you can help, either regularly or just occasionally, please visit our District website to find out more at https://eborscouts.org.uk/become-a-volunteer/.
The more adult volunteers we get, the more young children we can welcome into Scouting.
We look forward to hearing from you!
Becky, Group Scout Leader, 2nd Acomb Scout Group
Helping train young leaders
As Eddie Langdown starts to wind-down his involvement in organising and presenting Young Leader training since its introduction twenty years ago, he leave these thoughts…
In The Beginning
In 2003 I was a Group Scout Leader. I saw a keen teenage scout helping run our Beavers, standing as they sat around on the floor, shouting down at them, "WILL YOU SHUT UP!" She was telling them about her recent experience at the Jamboree in Thailand. Totally shocked that our younger members were being treated in this way, I decided pretty much on the spot to create some kind of training programme for our Young Leaders. We suggested basic ideas like sitting on the floor with the kids, using visual aids like her Jamboree souvenirs, speaking more quietly and slowly, asking questions etc.
No More Lectures Please!
Just think, these teenagers have just spent a week at school or college being lectured and taught; they have given-up their very precious week-end free time to balance this course with homework, so let's make this different; fun, exciting, thought-provoking in a zappy way.
In every picture and film I have seen of Baden-Powell, he has a sparkle in his eye. I think that when he did teach his junior officers he had a water pistol at the ready… "Wake-up at the back there lad!"
They are the Experts.
The chances are most Young Leaders have been members of Scouting far longer than many of the adults in the Group. They are the scouting experts; they know more games, remember exactly what is safe and what they fell-off and can tell you exactly what good and poor leadership is because they have been subjected to both! Our job is to carefully draw this knowledge out of their experiences, help them to identify and name these strategies and to give them the confidence and opportunities to practice these skills themselves. They are to be respected, listened to and trusted, not lectured.
I wish you huge enjoyment in your continuing engagement with Young Leaders!
PS. And don't forget your water-pistol!
5th Leek (St Mary's) Scout Group Presentation Evening
A presentation evening was held at our headquarters recently to celebrate the
achievements of three of our leaders for services to scouting.
Sid Davies received his 40 years' service certificate from The Scout Association together with an engraved award from our Group in recognition of his achievement. Sid's service started at the St Maria Goretti Group in Bentilee Stoke on Trent before he came to Leek in the late 1980s and joined our Cubs section helping the late John Brindley and our then Group Scout Leader the late Joe Pointon. Sid has always been very focused and supportive of our young members and although he has taken a step back in order to enjoy more free time and travel, he continues to help and offer his advice and experience to the Cubs section and the Group whenever he can.
Mavis Sproat is one of the longest serving Beaver leaders and was presented with an engraved award from 5th Leek to thank her for 37 years' service to our Group. Mavis joined in 1984 as part of a trial for boys age from 6 years to 8 years who were too young to join the Cub Scouts. Following these trials, the Beaver Scouts officially became part of The Scout Association and the World Scout Organisation in 1986 with Mavis as 5th Leek's Beaver Scouts section leader. During her long service Mavis has also held roles as Assistant District Commissioner, Special Needs and Assistant District Commissioner, Beavers. Today she welcomes the sons and daughters of past Beavers and has quipped that it is when their grandchildren start, she will know it's time to step down!
David Sheldon received an Award for Merit in recognition of his outstanding service. David joined 5th Leek as a Beaver and progressed through Cubs, Scouts and Explorers (formerly Ventures). He was a joint leader with the latter until becoming an assistant and then leader of our Cubs section duly supported by the above Sid Davies. David's award however recognises the work he has done outside of leadership from creosoting fences to cleaning gutters and maintenance work at Consall Scout Camp. He has played the bass drum for our Scout & Guide Band and supported many parades and other local community events from St George's Day to Armistice.
We were very pleased to welcome the Leek Town Mayor Cllr. Lyn Swindlehurst who presented all of the above awards. Our award recipients were also delighted to receive personal hand written letters from our Town Mayor.
Carolyn Bailey, Treasurer/Trustee, 5th Leek (St Mary's) Scout Group
"I don't want to go to school, I want to go to Squirrels!"
The new scouting section for four to six year olds - Squirrels - is now in York. Squirrels was launched last autumn with a new video from Bear Grylls, Chief Scout UK and Chief Ambassador of World Scouting, on our social media channels.
Nationally, more than two hundred Squirrel Dreys started in the first month with more coming on stream all the time, including in York. As Bear says, "More young people than ever before are wanting to join the Scouts."
There is a waiting list currently at around 60,000, which means that we also need adult volunteers to enable us to offer more places to those young people. In York, we hope to open four or five Squirrels Dreys in our District over the next few months. Squirrels met for the first time in Acomb and Holgate last September, and in West Thorpe in January and hope to meet in Dringhouses very soon.
Acomb Squirrels commented excitedly after their first meeting, "It was brilliant" and "I can't wait for next week."
Holgate Squirrels' reactions included: "I love, love, love squirrels!" (Isla) and "I don't want to go to school, I want to go to Squirrels!" (Jake). Marek Lichtarowicz said, "As group chair of Holgate, I am delighted that, through Squirrels, we are now able to offer the joys, adventures and skills for life that Scouting offers, to even more, younger children. We are very aware of the importance of engaging with children as early as possible to provide them with the best life chances. Early years Scouting continues the theme of learning through play, exploration and adventures that encourage all children to wonder and grow. This helps develop a strength and resilience so important for everyone today.
At 1st Holgate, we are very lucky to have found leaders and helpers to enable us to open two new Dreys. However I am sure, once the word of the fun of Squirrels is out, we will find ourselves needing to recruit more leaders and helpers to help us meet the demand. In the meantime we are smiling with the joy and excitement that our newest members of our Scouting family bring."
"Courage in all difficulties"
Covid-19 has made the last eighteen months a real hardship to endure, but Ninth Bradford North scout group has found that a Scout can still have 'courage in all difficulties'. The Ninth has met every week since the pandemic started using online technology to keep up their weekly meetings and events.
It was such a strange experience for all the leaders, but we agreed early on that we were not going to stop Scouting. It was a steep learning curve. The leaders had to come up with new ways of providing Scouting with an entirely 'hands off' approach, which is the opposite of what Scouting is meant to be. The biggest help initially was our active online Facebook presence, regularly used by our families, meaning we could reach people even if they weren't checking their emails! Online Scout Manager also helped, especially with the new 'badges at home' section, allowing parents to send evidence to tick off badge requirements online.
It took a little while for our young people to get used to Zoom, but we had great feedback from the parents, saying we were helping to keep life structured, helping Scouts interact with their friends, and keeping families feeling more positive as the pandemic dragged on. On St George's Day we invested four new Cub Scouts via Zoom, with the whole group present, which was great fun, and had everyone giggling when we pretended to 'shake hands'.
Although it wasn't plain sailing we quickly discovered games could be adapted to use online, keeping everyone active, such as doing treasure hunts around their houses or dressing up to play a game of 'guess who' - with hilarious results. For the first part of the pandemic the Scouts were just happy to be busy with school and most social activities closed. We added in Scouting skills using videos and demonstrations; we got the scouts doing first aid such as showing us how to treat a nosebleed on camera, and even challenged them to make their own instruments so we could complete our Musician badges. We found ways to help others too, such as emailing letters and artwork to a local nursing home that couldn't have visitors so they didn't feel so alone.
We had disappointments to overcome along the way. Our Jambowlree bowling competition sadly had to be cancelled so we asked everyone to make some bowling pins from things they had at home. We then held an online bowling contest which went down a storm! One of the Cubs made bowling pins with the Covid-19 virus on them so he could knock down Covid which was a great idea. We also held an online talent show, Ninth's Got Talent, where everyone sent in videos of themselves. This we produced into an online show which everyone watched and voted on at the same time. We'd never done anything like it before, but it worked surprisingly well!
The struggle really began when home-schooling started and adults went back to work. Suddenly our young people weren't content to sit in front of a screen - they were already doing that all day. We had to get extra creative. We scoured online resources - social media really came into its own during the pandemic, allowing us to share ideas with leaders across the world who wanted to continue Scouting.
We managed to get in some fantastic folks to help us keep sessions exciting. Horus Birds of Prey logged in to show us various birds-of-prey up close, and Art for Everyone showed us how to make clay models such as the ones used in animations like 'Wallace and Gromit'. These came highly recommended from 1st Virtual Scout Group; the Scouts loved seeing new faces and content! We invited the whole family along to some of the sessions so that siblings and parents could have some fun too. We also got local charities involved - the founder of Yorkshire Cat Rescue came along to answer the Cubs' and Scouts' questions one evening and then they enjoyed showing each other their pets via Zoom.
Another obstacle to cross as isolation continued was our tendency to sit indoors rather than getting out in the fresh air. We had completed the 'Hike to the Moon' with the Scouts early on, but we needed a bigger challenge. 'May Meanders' was the outcome! Each time our young people walked a mile, they could fill in another stone along a footpath on our homemade worksheet. We awarded one 'hike away' for every 5 miles completed. The group walked 1464 miles in total, and feedback was excellent. Later in the year, to keep the momentum, we did a three-month 'Blackhills (our local campsite) to Gilwell' challenge where each person tried to cycle, walk, run or use any method of self-propelled exercise to walk the distance to Gilwell Park. Many used this towards their Personal Challenge badge too.
One of our Scouts was facing his first proper fasting for Ramadan without any family celebrations for Eid to look forward to at the end. In solidarity we invited our other non-Muslim Scout families to take part so that he wouldn't feel alone. He made a PowerPoint presentation about it for our World Faith badge. We all chose to give something up for 'One Day of Ramadan'. Some of us fasted and others gave up their games consoles, tablets, 'phones or all electronics for the day!
We had breakfast before watching the sunrise. Using a chart to track how we felt during the day showed that many of us became grumpy at times without food or our favourite pastimes. We were all really proud of ourselves at the end of the day and had a new-found respect for the Muslim community. We reached out to the Muslim Scout Fellowship with our experiences and they featured us on their webpage. They now challenge other scout groups to take part in Ramadan too.
Despite all this we missed camping. A lot. The endlessly inventive Scouting hive-mind came up with the idea of 'camp at home'. We weren't sure our families would go for it. We couldn't have been more wrong! Our Cubs and Scouts slept in living rooms, in homemade dens, in tents in the garden, in a treehouse, in the shed or playhouse and even just under the stars! It became so popular that we allowed everyone to earn one night away per month if they slept outdoors. At our Christmas sleepover everyone made a Christmas grotto to sleep in, drank 'melting snowman' hot chocolate and played silly themed games. The total opposite was our Secret Agent school where we used our creativity to invent a superhero alter-ego for ourselves, learned to send coded messages, solved some mysteries, and the Scouts learnt a new game called 'Werewolf' that they wanted to play every week.
Our most loved evening happened when two Dutch Scout Leader friends joined us on Zoom to run a session about 'Sinterklaas' - the Dutch version of St Nicolas. They produced a hilarious video showing the Dutch traditions and dressed up as Sinterklaas! We also dared to try baking via Zoom making little biscuits called 'Kruidnoten' that are traditionally eaten in December. The leader who prepared all the spices (complete with mask, gloves, and other Covid-related hygiene measures) still says her kitchen has never smelt the same since - it now permanently smells like Christmas. Whole families got involved and the feedback was fantastic.
However, as time went on, we could see that many of our Scouts were struggling with the continued changes and isolation but we weren't entirely sure how to help. Eight of our leaders and supporters decided to take a new online Mental Health First Aid course run by the Grey Dog Trust. The course was eye-opening and led to us running several age-appropriate sessions about mental health, letting our young people know what to do if they felt sad, angry, scared or alone and giving them tools to help. It also gave us the confidence to encourage the young people to let off steam and express some of the negativity they were feeling which helped far more than pretending that everything was okay.
Gradually restrictions lessened, and we were thrilled when we were able to start meeting face-to-face again, making the most of every opportunity and even squeezing in a short summer camp. Getting back to 'normal' this September has been the best.
Now lockdown was over it was time to celebrate our collective achievements. We couldn't have kept the group going if every young person, parent, helper and leader hadn't given all they could. We held a free celebration evening which was a joyous event! Our Cubs, Scouts and Explorers had earned an amazing six hundred and seventy-three badges in the most difficult eighteen months we had ever experienced. This included five Chief Scout Silver Awards, two Gold awards and one Platinum award. We couldn't have been prouder. One Scout waited so long to finally collect his award that he had totally outgrown his Scout shirt in the meantime!
The pandemic has changed the way we think about Scouting, perhaps forever. We feel very lucky that we were able to keep going, despite the restrictions on our lives. We will always remember that Scouting was our light in a very dark time, and that sticking together was what helped us through.
Chief Scout's Silver awards: Lily Marshall, Oliver Smalley, Imogen Rhodes, Lucas Hartley, Oliver Hodkinson.
Chief Scout's Gold awards: Toby Warne, Ethan Tuitakau.
Chief Scout's Platinum award: Alex Hutchinson.
The last eighteen months have been challenging for our group but the challenges have made it stronger. We all worked together in delivering scouting in new ways like Zoom or Team Meetings and the fun and learning never stopped whether it be a leader's 'phone dropping in the baking bowl whilst delivering cooking on Zoom for Cubs, or the kitchen table being used as a work surface for hammer and nails. We had lots of badges gained and we managed to have every Chief Scout award from Bronze to Queen's Scout achieved. Now this has to be a first.
Back-to-basics skills in forestry, navigation, circus skills and digital skills were all fun. We saw new faces in all our sections and this is one of the reasons our scout group is the heart of our community as we go into our 110th year.
With more families becoming involved in scouting helping deliver our sectional programmes mums, dads and siblings also learnt skills for life. Activity packs dropped off by our leaders supported our Zoom meetings and online investitures were the norm. With online skills being taught our scouts really excelled. We had successes in various competitions such as District Blackley Shield Competition (this is the longest running competition in scouting, it first being competed for in 1911). District hike and backwoods cooking competition brought life skills and team-building fun.
Scouting is for all and we enjoyed new faces in our scout group, who had not been in scouting before, enjoying the activities that scouting brings. We are a multi-faith and diverse scout group. Seeing so many young people enjoying each other's company brings a sense of pride in our community.
We had a fantastic Green activity delivered to our scout group by scout headquarters learning about birds, bees and bugs at our scout hq and we learnt so much.
Having fun, making new friends, learning skills for life and gaining badges along the way has ensured that scouting has made a massive difference to all our members during these testing times. Baden-Powell would be so proud of all our members in how they have delivered his dreams. As a scout group we are privileged to have two drawings completed by B-P himself when he attended our scout group over one hundred and seven years ago. Our group sponsors have been with our members all the way during these testing times so thank you Co-operative Academy, St Peter's and St Paul's churches and of course our members and their families.
As we all come to terms worldwide with COVID scouting will ensure young people are at the forefront of communities and the skills they have gained will travel with them through life's journey.
Gary Hollingsworth, Group Scout Leader
105th Manchester Scout Group, Cooperative Academy Blackley
Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award
During the pandemic I needed a challenge because, as you all know, life ground to a halt. So I decided that then would be the time to start working towards my Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award.
Despite the challenges of Covid, my team and I planned our expedition. Although it wasn't in wild country like it should have been, it still had its challenges. So, due to the restrictions, we decided to walk in the South Downs. To make things more difficult we walked at least twenty kilometres a day and managed the likes of Wolstonbury Hill and Devil's Dyke.
Suffering from lots of blisters, brambles, nettles, broken bags and other issues on the way as a team we soldiered on and pushed ourselves to our limits. Luck was on our side as we had mild weather the entire time, temperatures as high as nineteen degrees - however mornings were quite foggy as the air traps in the lower areas of the downs.
Our practice in the North Downs was also tricky in its own way, with heat up to thirty degrees, and battling heat stroke to thunderstorms which gave us wet tents and difficult paths. The terrain was very similar but the extremes of the summer weather was something to be reckoned with.
This adventure that I have embarked on has shown me that with a good team around you and the morale, your mind is a great source of power that can encourage and push you to do things that you find hard or disheartening. Therefore it has been an important challenge for me personally. As a person who has always been in scouting, from the age of six to now twenty-two, I find it important to try new things and not get stuck in the rut of everyday life. Also it was a milestone for me because when the pandemic hit the UK and when we had three lockdowns I was left with a form of anxiety which made me feel uncomfortable to leave my own home for the first time in months. But for me, overcoming the struggles of anxiety and pushing myself to new achievements gives me a sense of pride as I can show my Beaver Scout Section that no matter what, with a bit of resilience and strength, you can push yourselves to do anything you set your mind to (not that they need to as they've all been amazing and resilient by joining in on all the Zoom calls and schooling at home through the pandemic; I don't know if I could've done it myself). Despite all the negatives it has been a very positive journey and I wouldn't change it for anything.
Rose Wiffin, 9th Basildon Beaver Leader & Hobgoblin Network Member
Keeping your Troop Simple and Exciting
Are you a large active Scout Troop, part of a big and well organised group with your own premises, transport and a healthy bank balance? In my fifty years of Troop Leadership this has never been my experience. For the past thirty years in central London I have totally enjoyed leading one of a number of tiny groups that move from one damp back room of a church or community hall to another, but who offer local kids great Scouting friendships and challenging experiences.
Every Leader I know locally has their own style of offering activities. One of my own survival techniques has been to 'keep scouting simple'; basically to limit what we offer but to do it well and often!
About twelve years ago I came back to saving a troop from closing. I was keen to do the patrol camping, hiking and canoeing but dreaded the inspections, points system and all those badge requirements. So I ran the troop without them, based only upon respect for each other, good time keeping, traditional Scouting skills, fun and adventure. No points, badges or inspections, with scouts turning up on time and in uniform simply because it was our expectation. And basically, it worked. We issued the Chief Scout Challenge badges at the rate of two a year based on general involvement in activities with no records, just a wall chart. No Interest badges at all. The sheer amount of hiking and camping we did and the range of our week night activities easily covered all the bases of the Programme Zones, but 'badges' was simply not part of our volunteering time.
I do worry at Scouting's addiction to minibuses. I fully appreciate that the whole adventure programme of many groups demands they use them but for my troop I tried to find a campsite or activities near to a bus stop or train station. Not looking for a camp site and then struggling to get everyone there. As a London Group I am even looking at sites you can get to using the tube system. I have found eight so far. But wherever you are, look at bus routes out of the main town. Identify nearby farms and estates and start visiting looking tidy and politely asking if you could bring a small group of your scouts to camp there. If it works out your host might provide a tap, places to light a fire and eventually your own little corner. Check out the place on the HQ Banned Campsite List but don't readily share it because the landowner is trusting you with the care of their livelihood.
We have used trains a great deal to mountain walk in Brecon Beacons and hike camp in the New Forest, North and South Downs with Family Railcards, advance booking and special offers all making costs very affordable. And for many Scouts travelling by train is a new and valuable
Simply Repeat Every 2 Years
I totally accept that some leaders get bored with using the same camp sites and hike routes but kids don't in anything like the same way; they often love to go back to the same bendy tree, field or village shop. And after two or three years they are able to pride themselves on showing younger scouts the short-cuts, the places to find wood and trees to climb. So I rotated the same four summer campsites for fifty years. I did exactly the same canoe trip from Longridge Boating Centre, five or six times a year, for thirty years, the only variation being 'up' or 'down' river! But the weather and seasons changed, the kids and leaders changed, the river, the wildlife and the people we met were never the same. And the trips were always full. If you are struggling to take your scouts to camp at all, don't be dumb and ask them where they want to go, it is your time and you are volunteering; be clear to yourself on what you can comfortably manage and perhaps it is somewhere you have been to before. Go off and spend a weekend there, staying in a nice pub, and check, or re-check, the local footpaths which are the number one key to a good scout camp. Check out a local timber yard for a good burning hardwood, a shop that delivers, a supermarket and petrol station. And perhaps find a small local farm a few miles from your main site for an overnight patrol hike or cycle camp. A wood for bivvying perhaps. Keep it all simple, and then start evenings practicing axe and saw, wood fire cooking etc. and sell it to the kids. A minimum of eight scouts could be a grand camp. Hopefully all near to a train station. Return the next year with eighteen scouts.
Your troop does not have to be the same as everyone else's. If children or their parents want them to play in a band or camp abroad or get an armful of badges and you are not into that, then let them go elsewhere.
You can be just as special offering a huge amount of fun, fires and sausage cooking, and oodles of friendship and solid relationship building; let them choose. Try not to get over-stressed and quit; stay in Scouting and keep it simple. Take a bunch of kids on a bus, cook a few sausages over a fire and tell each other stories. Come home smelling all smoky… and then… SIMPLY do it again!
From as far back as I can remember I have known Scouts, and then when my children became Scouts I become a Scouter, which is now thirty-four years ago.
My parents owned a small farm in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, where since the late 1940s Scout Groups had camped.
I was born in 1954 so my first memories were from about 1958 being taken along to campfires by my parents. One Group that visited every year, sometimes twice a year, was the 20th Cardiff – who I think in recent years merged with another Group, but is now closed? I still keep in touch with one of its leaders. At one campfire they awarded my dad the 'Thanks Badge' - see picture.
They would arrive early on the Saturday with vans, and sometimes lorries, of their equipment down the very bumpy, long forest track to our farm. All the youth looked amazingly smart in their uniform.
I would watch as they all helped unload, sort and erect their tents. The leaders with the senior patrol leaders setting up HQs while the Scouts in their patrols set up their areas. Wet pits and toilet pits would be cut, the turf would be stacked and watered throughout the week, to be replaced on breaking camp at the end of the week. Everyone in the patrol knew what their task was and got on with it. Wood was collected, a fire lit, and a meal was cooked.
This was Baden-Powell Youth Shaped Scouting at its very best - a wonder to watch.
During the week they would be off on patrol hikes, playing wide games, making and sleeping over in shelters up in the woods. Many of their structures would last from one year to the next. They would be collecting and grading wood and much, much more!
They would often offer to help with tasks on the farm, my dad setting them at one time to help me hand weed a field of potatoes, bale haul, hand milk cows - Scouts always do their best, and they certainly did - we all had great fun. I 'fell in love' with several Scouts over the years, one I remember came from Canton, Cardiff, and one made me a woggle – see picture.
Some years later, at the age of 19, I married Harry who had been a Cub, Scout, then Assistant Leader with Grove Scouts, then Berkshire. He rejoined Scouting as an Assistant Cub Scout Leader when our oldest son asked to be a Cub, and I then joined too! Harry died in September 2013 just as we had been married for forty years; during this time Harry always did his best to live his Scout Promise, and believed, as I do, in Scouting as a wonderful thing for youth, and adults, to be a part of.
Pat Dixon AACBS/AASec
Reflections of Patrol Camping Past and Present
So, my Scout patrol of 6, The 'Hurricanes' ( 1st Andover was an Air Scout Group) were given a whole half a pound (226 grm) of tea leaves in a muslin bag at the start of our week-long camp in the overgrown ruins of Battle Abbey in Sussex. The bag would be lowered for a few seconds into a billy of boiling water until it went brown and drinkable as tea. Over the duration of our Summer Camp we did this two or three times a day. Between meals the bag would hang dripping on our stave dresser alongside the ex-army cooking pots and an enamel washing bowl. By Friday the bag of sad weary leaves would be left to boil for over 10 minutes to produce a decent brew.
This was 1954 and apart from not knowing any scouts who drink tea in 2021, the Patrol Camps I have run for the last fifty years have been very much the same: six children aged eleven to fifteen live as a 'family' for a week with sleeping tent/s, dining shelter, cooking area, chopping area, dresser made of staves and a table around a central fire, usually an altar fire raised off the ground. They have a Patrol Leader aged fourteen+ who shaves or has babies, an APL and a Quarter Master. Everyone else collects wood and water, and hope to rise in seniority through chopping wood and cooking to being the PL themselves one day. They also needed to be ready for all night hikes, over-night bivvies, pioneering, crazy challenges and the endless preparation and cooking of meals. All in their patrols, driven on by the quest for points and the ranting of their PL who cannot bear the thought of them coming last. Another thing I remember as a kid was 'having an adult leader eat with us'; it must have been the shortest straw to have to eat with Hurricanes but this system which we continue today ensures that the children's food is at least edible!
The Highlight of my Year
Running a three or four patrol week-long Summer Camp has been the highlight of every year of my time in Scouting, and generations of PLs say it was one of the best things they ever did in their young lives. The responsibility on a teenager is immense, they are suddenly the 'parent' to five children 24/7, of course they were APL last year and QM the year before after endless wood collecting, so they were well ready for it! And in truth we were all ready for it because the whole of our troop nights from Easter to Summer were, in truth, skill training for summer patrol camps. Practising using a hand axe safely and consistently carefully even for eleven year olds took place week after week until we could rely on their skill not to hurt themselves and to strictly supervise each other, while keeping a cooking fire going for hours a day. And in my years of camp leading I believe it was not luck that preserved all my scouts' fingers as beautiful working digits. It was frequent practising of tent pitching, dresser building, campsite lay-out through the springtime evenings and working together in the same patrols for five years that bore fruit in great troop summer camps.
Yes, things have changed; mixed patrols simply meant two smaller sleeping tents for patrols. I designed a more solid steel altar fire, the store tent became plastic boxes, we added a gas double burner to help patrols produce a small breakfast meal more quickly or get last-minute hot water. I was always pleased to see them rarely being used but there if the PL needed it. We bought an ex-army oven which stood on the altar fire and moved between the patrols when it was their turn to do a full roast and cakes. Yes, as a scout I had been made to cook in a mud covered biscuit tin over a fire, but we are now asking very young children to produce a well-cooked roast dinner for seven to eat on a table, decorated with flowers, not sitting cross-legged chewing on a bone!
The sad demise of the week long summer camp is largely due to the reluctance of leaders to commit a week of their summer leave to Scouting. When I started Scouting I had fourteen days leave, which was a week summer camp and the rest in Easter and half term camps. Many leaders took their families as their summer holiday. Soon both children and adults preferred the attraction of foreign sunshine holidays and who is to blame them? A week in a wet forest or wind-swept field which sees all of your burning wood blown from under your cooking pots and halfway to the next town in a shower of dust and sparks is not much fun. But another rival to the Patrol Camp is the 'adventure campsite' with leaders reduced to producing hot grub three times a day to get their little darlings off to their next adventure appointment on time. Too often leaders pack the whole of their days with climbing walls, zip wire, crate challenge, days out, visits and theme parks, leaving little time to building, let alone using, their patrol camp-sites.
Turn your Programme on its Head
To be honest you need to turn your camp programme on its head; not seeing what time you have between activities to do patrol stuff, but to see 'patrol life' and cooking together as a major, valid and enjoyable activity. Perhaps ration yourselves to one or two 'paid activities a day'. To cook two decent meals at camp a day takes a lot of preparation time. Quick meals - rolls, salad, sausage sandwiches, burgers, eggy bread could be prepared and eaten in an hour but to prepare and cook a decent casserole, curry, pasta bolognaise, steamed pudding three or four hours should be allotted. For a patrol to sit around a table peeling, chopping, mixing, chatting, laughing is a really valuable social and learning activity and a mountain of wood needs to be chopped and stacked in readiness. Please don't rely on fast burning pallet wood, do your preparation and find a local timber yard to deliver a load of hardwood logs for long slow cooking for all the patrols. It may be expensive, but so is gas.
My final contribution to planning a Summer Patrol Camp for two to four patrols (and I nearly always had three) is the 'Rotating 24-hour Programme'. All the patrol sites are totally built and a meal cooked in them by Saturday night. Starting Sunday mid-day you plan three x 24-hour patrol activities which includes a night off-site (hike-tents at a local farmer's field site, bivouac, hammocks etc.) Then a visit to a major off-site activity, perhaps using the local bus, train with leaders tracking at a distance. Thirdly, a day on-site for the patrol to have an oven and cook a major evening meal, perhaps shopping for it, with starters and pudding etc. Perhaps have one patrol to be on site but eating quick stuff and doing on-site activities. The value of this is that the patrols do not see each other for three or four days, and you just have the same programme to repeat day after day until they all meet-up and you have a huge barbie together!
One of my last camps had our patrols camping quite close to a Sea Scout Troop where a huge circle of tents had been pitched by adults in advance and food was dispensed by an adult team from a large marquee canteen. Scouts spent the whole day doing activities, washing-up and having free-time. I eventually went to speak to their leader who had invited us to their campfire. He started badly calling us 'Dirt Scouts'. He said that this was normal banter among Sea Scouts. Then he said how he had pointed to our patrols chopping wood and told his kids that if they didn't behave, they would be made to do this!
Part One in a series of articles on my years in Scouting
Life before it became hectic
I really started in Scouting when I met my current (just to keep her on her toes) wife. She was an Akela in a local Scout Group (note the capitals - this means they are important - I need to remember this). At the time, the Group (still important) was having troubles - their Executive committee was not functioning - probably because it didn’t really exist - and the leaders were (to be blunt) mostly old fogies who should have retired years ago.
At an AGM that I attended, Norma (for it is she who is my wife - also very important, thus starts with a capital N) asked for volunteers to help. One post was that of Chairman. And I was hastily volunteered for the post by one Andy, who used to be my friend before he did that. As there were no other nominations I thought I ought to be seen to be supportive, so I accepted the role. Thus was the start of my Scouting life.
For the next few years, I was very happy bumbling along being a Chairman. I had to attend meetings 3 times a year, go to the AGM and say a few words and generally be a figurehead if needed. This was fine - I could do this. So what’s all the big fuss about Scouting? It’s easy if you are a Chairman.
But over time, I came to realise that my job was easy because Norma (remember her?) was actually doing the Akela job (running a Cub pack), the GSL job (managing the Group and the leaders) and also making sure the Exec. ran properly - which I think was supposed to be my job. Oops. Maybe I should think about doing a bit more. So, I did. I started to take an interest in what was going on in the Group and then came the first fatal mistake!
"Norma, what else is going on outside the Group?"
"Well, could you attend a County Media evening at County HQ?"
"Of course I can. Umm - what’s a County and where is County HQ?" (Thus, displaying an incredible lack of knowledge.)
Once I’d been educated as to the Scouting structure I attended this course and came back enthused. (No, seriously, I was most impressed with what was going on.) And then came my second fatal mistake.
"Okay - I’ve done that - so how else can I help?"
"Did you know there’s a vacancy for a District Commissioner? How about you applying?"
"Oh, okay. Umm - What’s a District Commissioner?" And so came to pass the second phase of my Scouting career.
Interlude - where I came from
I haven’t always been a Scout. In fact, I’ve never been a Scout. I did spend three weeks when I was eight as a cub but as I couldn’t do my knots I quickly gave that idea up. After that I joined an alternative organisation called Woodcraft which didn’t require me to do knots or say the Lord’s Prayer so that was alright. That lasted until I was about thirteen.
My teen years were dominated by badminton (I was quite good), motorcycles once I got to be sixteen and girls. So no time for schoolwork or anything to do with Scouts. Sorry but there were some of us who didn’t see the advantages of sleeping in a muddy field.
I did the normal things that most lads growing up do - played hard, nearly failed my A-levels, went to some sort of higher education (in my day, it was called a Polytechnic) and then got a job. No such thing as unemployment in the early 70s. I had no idea that Scouts even existed, never mind that it was a worldwide organisation. Occasionally I might hear about a "Jamboree" but it didn’t register that it was anything important. Girlfriends, wives and children were the way forward for me. (Okay, I had one wife and one child followed closely by one divorce and a few more girlfriends.)
Growing up lessons over, I met my current wife Norma as we were both working at the same place for a while and we seemed to hit it off well. She, of course, had been in Scouting all her life and was just returning to the North to take up a position as an Akela from her Mum who wanted to retire. Norma’s enthusiasm was infectious and I began to get an inkling of a completely new lifestyle - that of helping children become good citizens which does seem to be a good thing and I did wonder why no-one had told me before. And so, back to the story.
The Interview Process
Not knowing anything about this, I just assumed I would volunteer for this position (which had been vacant for some time) and start "doing things." Ha ha ha ha. Silly me.
Of course there was a formal interview process which I had to 'pass' so some planning was in order. Given my background as a reasonably efficient professional, this wasn’t too much of a burden. I asked around, had a couple of chats with the County Commissioner and started to write up what I hoped to achieve as a DC. (And was I naïve or what?) Remember from before, when I said I knew nothing about districts? Well that ignorance passed straight onto paper. But the CC was impressed that I’d actually written something down.
The day of the interview approached. Was I nervous? No, not really. I can, if given the opportunity, talk the hind legs off a donkey so I was just worried that too much of what came out would be classed as rubbish - but not that concerned.
The interview itself seemed okay. I was "interrogated" by three people who had been sent the write up. I must have impressed them because I walked out feeling that I had held myself together. In hindsight, once I had got to know everyone, the three who interviewed me were all very nice people - but at the time, they were the gods who held my future existence in their hands.
A week later I heard I’d got the job - and the next phase was up and running.
Starting off as a District Commissioner.
I think this phase is known as "Drop you in the deep end and see if you can swim."
My first official engagement was a district GSL meeting.
Now, a GSL is a Group Scout Leader (I knew that). These people run each of the Scout Groups and are generally very busy sorting out all sorts of issues that they would love to offload onto someone else - like a newly appointed District Commissioner.
I was not asked to chair the meeting but I was asked to make a decision. You would think that it would be something which materially affected the lives and work of our GSLs but no. What was it?
"Now that we are one district, are we still allowed to wear our old township badges and, if so, where should they be on the uniform?" Huh? Is that really important? But before I go into my answer, you, my dear reader, need some background.
Our newly formed district was made up of three old districts, each a separate township in the borough of Rochdale, each of which hated the other. I’ll just call them D1, D2 and D3 to preserve their anonymity. D1 knew they were the best and didn’t really see why they needed to merge with D2 and D3. D2 thought D1 was full of rebels and old fogeys who had no idea what scouting was all about. D3 relished their independence and didn’t want to talk to D1 or D2. Of course, merging the three district accounts and choosing a DC was fraught with political danger and anything you can imagine ended up three times worse.
So that’s where we came from. Three completely dysfunctional old districts merged into one larger dysfunctional district with members who really didn’t want to recognise the new district. I could see this was going to be fun. And my decision (see the question above - the most important thing a new DC could decide). Well as far as I was concerned, what badge you had on your uniform was so minor it was untrue so I let them have their township badges and they could wear it below the new district badge, but only for those who already had a township badge. It seemed to keep them happy.
First meeting over and a DC had MADE A DECISION! Something unheard of in past times. And for now, that will do for this article.
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