Saving our Scouts: more volunteers needed to open up new clubs across the UK

Think for a second of dedicating three hours of your time a week to helping children in a community grow and develop. Could you do it?

Meet the people who do just that. John, David, Andrea Armstrong and Ian Taylor are all volunteer scout leaders at the 63rd Hackney and soon to be reformed 29th Hackney.

All dressed in their freshly pressed khaki scout shirts with their purple and white and green and red neck scarves, they talk fondly of their scout experiences.

They all work full-time jobs during the week and volunteer in the evenings to run the scout clubs. They are struggling to manage these clubs as they are understaffed and need more volunteers to keep afloat.

Without their dedication groups such as this one wouldn’t exist and the children that attend them would have no where to go. John says, “It’s not for everyone. Some like the idea and then they see it and they’re not so sure.” Recently two groups leaders unexpectedly stopped coming.

John has taken on the extra groups and is determined to not let the club disband. In 2010, Scouts had seen their biggest rise in numbers in 38 years, this means waiting lists were at an all time high.

Chief Commissioner Wayne Bulpitt said 3,000 children are currently on waiting lists for scout clubs in London. But there are not enough adult volunteers to expand groups or open new ones.

MP’s and the Scouts association have plans to launch the Better prepared project. Working with local communities they are aiming to open up 200 new scout clubs all over the country in areas where scouting is currently unavailable.

MP’s all over the country have pledged their support to establish scouting in areas where it can make the biggest different to young people’s lives.

The main barriers to providing scouting to all children are lack of volunteers and unsuitable premises where the groups can meet. Better Prepared, will run over four years, the first Scout groups will open at the start of 2015.

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Image courtesy of Magnus Manske

Ian Taylor has been volunteering as a scout leader for 40 years and at 70 doesn’t seem ready to stop anytime soon. He says “I do it for the kids. I want to do something for them.”

Looking around the compact cream and lime green painted community hall, you see the ongoing struggle to keep things running. But when you enter the 63rd Hackney you feel embraced and a sense of unity encompasses you.

All of the volunteer’s children are part of the scouts, as well as one grandson. You can really feel the community atmosphere and a sense of pride and adoration washes over you as you witness the accomplishments achieved here.

Ian, scuttling around serving everyone freshly brewed tea, talks about how fully grown men have approached him on the street. They were all apart of his cubs and scouts as children and still hold fond memories of the Scout Leader. He recalls how John, now a scout leader, was also one of his cubs.

One boy came in with the Jack Petchey achievement award. Given at a ceremony where he met with Lieutenant Colonel Roderick E F Morriss. Ian and Andrea beamed with pride as they showed everyone the young mans accomplishment, which may never have been possible without their guidance.

The room is filled with laughter and playful talk from children. Looking around the safe and happy environment offered to children, you can’t help but wonder what would happen if this club didn’t exist?

One concerned mother explains that she knows what her son would be up to without scouts. “He is easily influenced and loves drama, not being in it but seeing it. I want to keep my son away from that and to learn valuable life skills.”

Nasna Yeahya, Regional Development Officer, gave a talk to the parents about what scouts is and what it aims to do. “We’re a family, we’re understanding and we’re diverse.”Nasna explains to the parents, many of which have family backgrounds outside of the UK and hadn’t heard of scouts before.

The club tries to be ambitious with the activities it arranges for the children but as it is a charity, funding is always an issue. Ian says “One year we took the kids to Disneyland Paris. We had it arranged for this year as well but unfortunately it fell through.”

Image courtesy of Robert Toczycki

John talked fondly of a camping trip they all took in the winter. “It snowed. We were sledding on a snowy hill with a slight slope but it wasn’t enough. So we threw water down it and it iced over really quickly because it was so cold. Then we sledded down it, it was fun.”

As the evening came to an end and the children carried out their end of session ceremony, they were told about a paint-balling trip they would be taking at the weekend. The room erupted with cheers and excited chants.No matter which scout club you attend, the atmosphere will mirror this small club.

Without volunteers such as these, giving up their free time to help children in their communities, clubs such as this one wouldn’t be possible. Changing children’s lives wouldn’t be possible.

But it isn’t always enough as more volunteers are desperately needed all over the country. As Nasna explains, “we cannot do it without your support. We need you!”

For more information on volunteering visit the Scouts website: www.scouts.org.uk

5 fun facts about Scouts:

1. Scouts offers over 200 activities to young people aged 6-25.

2. There are nearly 60,000 girls in scouting.

3. 11 of the 12 people to walk on the moon were scouts.

4. You never usually more than a mile from your nearest Scouts club.

5. All Scout leaders are volunteers.

Feature image courtesy of Robert Toczycki

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