Scouting Reflections

Scouting. I’m a Scouter. I’ve been a Scouter since 2007. I’m enjoy Scouting.

I started Scouting as part of my Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award volunteering section with 1st Chelmsford Scout group on the recommendation of a friend.

My introduction was… chaotic – that is to say, I don’t recall any introduction! I was just thrown into the mix of a rowdy group of youngsters who played games all night; I don’t recall much ‘Scouting’ going on then. Needless to say, I wasn’t there for long; my university course was finishing and I was planning a trip aboard so I have very little memory of the group, the leaders and the young people. When uni was completed I spent the summer at Trefoil Ranch in Provo, Utah where I volunteered as a Camp Counsellor with the Girl Scouts of Utah.

I LOVED my time with the Girl Scouts. It taught me a lot of Scouting values and was a fantastic experience in a beautiful canyon. The weather was kind during my three months there. Every night I was sleeping in a fixed patrol tent in the woodland where you could hear the critters outside… I got to ride horses, teach outdoors skills, go white water rafting, archery, interact with Americans and even the opportunity to visit Yellowstone National Park (a dream of mind at the time!). If I could relive the experience again I would without hesitation! So many wonderful memories…

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Upon returning I wanted to continue Scouting for my DofE so  I contacted groups within Swindon to see if they needed a volunteer and was contacted back by Kelvin, the Group Scout Leader for 7th Swindon Scouts. I recall the Scout section (10 1/2 – 14 years old) met every Monday night at a local community centre at the time, where 12 Scouts and 3 leaders were crammed into a small room to run the programme (as the Beaver and Cub section were larger in numbers so used the hall); still, it was good fun. The Scouts seemed to enjoy themselves and numbers were growing.

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Evening activities and camps with 7th were fun – we had a good bunch of kids. Whilst there I achieved my Queen Scout Award in 2009: “The Queen’s Scout Award is the highest youth award achievable in the Scouting movement in the Commonwealth realms, including the United Kingdom, Canada (Queen’s Venturer Award), Australia, and New Zealand, where Scouts operate under the patronage of Queen Elizabeth II.Wiki.

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I was presented with my certificate several times, met Wayne Bulpitt, Chief Commissioner of UK Scouting, attended a Queen Scout Reception in the Science Museum in London and shook hands with Bear Grylls at the Queen Scout Parade in Windsor Castle. After turning 25 and having to leave Network I continue to support the section by being the County Administrator.

Shortly after I begun dating Terry and, as 7th has grown considerably with more leaders in the Section, I moved across to 1st Stratton Scouts. It was a huge change to go from a community centre to a Scout hut (with storage and fields!).

The necker colour changed from blue and yellow to ‘gold’ and red, yet there were still a lot of camps and activities with the young people…

Some very old photos… I miss my fluffy Russian hat.

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Me, Adam, Mike, Toni, Terry, Rosie, Ross, Jamie and Dave.

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1st Stratton Scout leaders liked to run ‘back to basics’ camp – that is to say, they preferred ‘bushcraft’ style camps (build shelters, carve wood, cook over open fires, make own activities) to activity camps (pay for activities, food provided). I’m very supportive of this way of camping within Scouting, not only is it traditional in a sense, it’s fundamental to Scouting ethos of developing young people to becoming independent young adults. They learn to be self-reliant, organised and work within a team (a patrol) whereas I find activity camps rather boring as you move from activity to activity… plus you don’t get to take cool evening shot photos such as this parachute one…

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At Stratton, Terry and I ran a district expedition competition called the Spartan Hike for the Scout section which I have very fond memories of. At the time, there was an Expedition Challenge Badge for the Scout section but it wasn’t a requirement for the Scouts to gain the top award for their section, the Chief Scout Gold Award, so we ran this so encourage Scouts to partake in this fun endeavour…

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L to R: Tom, Stuart, Terry, Sam, Matthew, me and Sam.

I was with Stratton for about 3/4 years I think? I gained my 5-year service badge whilst there…

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At the same time, I also helped Terry with Phoenix Archer Explorer Scout Unit (still do occasionally), which meet on Tuesday nights in Highworth. Explorers are 14 – 18 years old and run a lot more “lax” programme that Scouts, that is to say, no patrols and more relaxed ceremonies. Being a lot older and more independent the camping certainly is easier and conversation a lot more… interesting!

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I even got myself into Scouting magazine one year. As I recall they wanted to hear from Scouters who had met their partner whilst volunteering.

So far, I’ve been on a couple of international trips with Scouting – Serbia (2011, 2014, 2018), Iceland (2017), Switzerland (2015) Hungary (2013) and Ireland (2016) – mainly with Explorers and Network.

Our Explorer Belt to Hungary was the first Belt we ran. We helped seven Explorer Scouts plan for their 10 days exploration and things went well (just one group ‘fall out’!) – I was joyed to hear that the experience gave the young people (and their parents) confidence enough to plan their own independent travel afterwards – maybe us dropping them off at the bus station in Hungary and letting them sort themselves out helped? (tee hee).

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Next was a joint DofE Gold Expedition and Explorer Belt with Ireland – sixteen Explorers/Network members took part in the Belt and eighteen in the DofE expedition. That was a big event for us. We stayed at Larch Hill, the national campsite of Irish Scouting, whilst they travelled around. I am envious of their experiences as the presentations showed they all had a great time.

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I’ve been to two Serbian Jamborees now – Šabac (2011) and Bela Crkva (2014) and currently planning Belgrade (2018) – including Explorer Belt for 10 Explorers. The Serbian Jamborees are not like the UK based ones nor the World Scout Jamboree – they are small, intimate and back to basics – in 2014 we turned up to a site where the Serbians had to ‘create’ it via removal of trees, stumps etc: they just got on with it without a fuss. Serbian Scouting doesn’t have the ‘gloss’ and marking like UK scouting – they have very little money (often sharing uniforms or using old army clothing) but they have a lot of kindness and pride for their Scouting and their country. I would highly recommend people to attend.

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After Stratton, I was asked to become the Scout Section Leader at 1st Blunsdon. The necker colour changed again from ‘gold’ and red to black and red…

It was daunting going from assistant to section leader – so much more responsibility on you to plan, organise, keep track of things etc… I really enjoy all of it though! I had a good leadership team, great parental support, a strong group within a lovely community and best of all inquisitive and energetic Scouts – we started with 9 and when I left it was around 30 young people. We went caving, climbing, exploring, sailing, hiking, dodge balling, camping, expedition(ing) and much much much more! I took so much away from this experience that I would love to be a Scout section leader again when the time is right.

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Whilst at Blunsdon, a couple of Scouting friends decided to join the 15th World Scout MOOT in Iceland in 2017. Having never been nor experienced what an International Service Team member does I thought I would give it a go. At the start of the event, we travelled to Akureyri, “The Capital of the North” as the Icelandic describe it, where we spent several days camping, exploring the hillsides, running activities and generally having a wonderful time. After this, we were stationed at Úlfljótsvatn Scout Centre, just outside Reykjavík.
Akureyri was the highlight for me. Being the furthest expedition centre we had to travel the longest but we got to see a lot of Iceland whilst doing so. The IST team, both UK and Icelandic, were brilliant and there was a real strong community feel to it. I’d happily go back to Akureyri any day.

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The UK contingent mascot was the puffin. All 600 IST was given a pin to say ‘Thank you’ (TAKK!) for their support.

So, as have probably read I’ve had many roles in Scouting. From leadership to an administrator, an adviser to an assistant, instructor to manager level… there are certainly lots of choices to volunteer for.

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My current primary role is County Local Training Manager for Swindon North. I took this role on in 2015 because the vacancy arose and I decided I wanted to help adults and put my administration skills to good use. The district at the time needed structure and organisation with it’s adult training. Without a centralised system of recording it was hard to see just how much training (or lack of) adults had done within their groups. Now, if you speak to any Scouter they will groan at the word Compass… in the initial inception it wasn’t the best database due to lots of missing or corrupt data, however, it allowed for an overview and to manage training by directing the right support where it was needed.

I listened to feedback from leaders and commissioners as to what they felt the district needed in terms of training and this has lead to an online diary of training, an easy online booking system, stronger communication and local collaborated training of selected modules with the neighbouring Scouting district. We also took on board an experienced First Response trainer who has become one of our most important assets in the district to support adults. Things have improved for the district.

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At our district conference, I was able to proudly say that adult training within the district was getting stronger, woodbadges were being awarded and people felt more positively about it. I’m not a public speaker so this was a very nerve-racking experience for me.

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My fondest and most prized Scouting possession is my camp blanket. On it, I have Scout scarfs (commonly known as ‘neckers’) from trips, events and activities I’ve been involved in as well as badges for events, badges for location and badges for interests and achievements (like Geocaching). This would certainly be the first thing I could save if my home was on fire (after the dog of course…).

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So, I’ve come to the end of these 10 years. I have lots more I could write about – there are just so many memories I would happily share (best shared over a pint)… So what’s next? I am taking a step back to concentrate on my education next year however, I will still be involved as much as possible with DofE advising, Phoenix Archer ESU and various other bits – just nothing as committed or time-consuming as Training Manager. I hope to get involved in Scouting when in Wales – I feel having access to mountains, caves and rivers will add a completely different element of fun and adventure.

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So upon reflection, I ask myself – what has Scouting given me? What have I gotten from these past 10 years? To know me 10 years ago you would have found a shy individual who was just finding themselves. I had some experience of the bigger world but was very naive – I didn’t know how to manage or what to do with myself or my life – I’d quit university once, attended another course that I hadn’t really thought about and ended up in a town I didn’t want to be in. At one point I was made redundant, homeless and at risk of losing my car when a Scouter (in fact, two) offered me a place to stay – if it wasn’t for the Scouting community who knows what would have happened at that point?

Since then, I’ve been given experiences I wouldn’t have otherwise thought of, been places I’ve never thought of going, enjoyed working with a variety of volunteers (and paid staff) from a variety of backgrounds, met some wonderful young people and most of all, I’m going to be able to change career with professional status.

Yes, Scouting is a community that opens itself to those willing to help others. I owe a lot of Scouting; it doesn’t just develop the young people and above all, it’s been fun.

Just Joanne

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