Friday, 9 November 2018

Remember what really matters . . .

So it’s remembrance weekend.  And not only is it remembrance weekend, but this year Armistice Sunday and Remembrance Day both fall on the same day.  And not only is it Remembrance Day, but it is the 99th Remembrance Day, for it is the 100th anniversary of the armistice which paused the hostilities of the ‘The Great War’, fortunately a long term pause.  It can be easy to build up this year’s Remembrance Day as something extra major, extra special, extra important.

Amongst all the centenary fuss, I think what we need to be careful of – is retaining humility and focus.

Whether your unit are involved in a local commemoration event or not – doesn’t matter.  Some are, and some aren’t.

Whether you have 1 girl or 101 girls attend the local commemoration event with your unit – doesn’t matter.  It’s not a competition.

Whether your girls are wearing coats over their uniforms from start to finish of the event – doesn’t matter.  You can’t concentrate of what is being said and done if you’re being distracted by shivering – and the armed forces members wouldn’t dream of parading without coats in November.

Whether one of the girls is wearing a lime green miniskirt, orange and purple stripe tights, and yellow sandals with pink pom poms with her uniform – doesn’t matter.  It’s a remembrance parade, not a fashion parade, and it’s the remembrance that matters.

Whether one of your girls drops the flag – doesn’t matter.  It’s been done before, it’ll be done again.  It’s no time for rows or recriminations, just time to pick up the flag and put it back in it’s holster ready for the next part of the ceremonial. 

Don’t let anyone upset you by claiming that any of these things actually matter.  None of them do.

All that matters is that your girls, in their own way, at some time over the week running up to the day, have thought about the armed forces members, the civilians, the war workers, the conscientious objectors, those in reserved occupations, the refugees, the medics and nurses, the maimed or injured (whether physically or mentally or both), the widowed or orphaned, the ones left behind, or the ones who worked to aid postwar recovery.  In World War 1, or World War 2, or any of the dozens of other conflicts and incidents which the British armed forces and civilians have been involved in over the past 100 years, or any of those we still are involved in.

Some girls may not want to take part in public commemorations for good reason, reasons they may be comfortable disclosing, or may not.  Some may have other commitments on Sunday morning, but will still take a couple of minutes at 11 o’clock, wherever they are, to pause, and remember.  They are still participating in remembrance just the same as those who do their remembering in public.

I appreciate that people do feel pride in a large turnout of girls, parading down the high street.  And the public do notice it.  But I feel just as proud of the girl who prefers to stay at home and quietly take time to remember in her own way.  People do feel pride in smart uniforms on show - but I feel more pride in the girl who doesn’t own the bandbox-new uniform, who doesn’t have the ironed clothes and polished shoes laid out for her to just put on, and has to be grateful for what she has got to wear even if it doesn’t look as smart as what her better off sisters are wearing.

For what matters is each individual person, wherever they may happen to be, taking time at 11 am.  A minute to thank those who served, and paid the cost of serving, whatever that cost may have been, or to think of how conflict affected their relatives or friends.  And a minute to resolve to do all they can to ensure peace and friendship in the community, the country and the world, so that we might finally have had “the war to end all wars”.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

The new Guiding Programme - how is it doing so far?

The ‘new’ Guiding programme has now been in use in most parts of the country for just over a month, in some parts for longer.  Now that most people have had a very brief chance to experience using it for real, what has the feedback been?

Well, an honest reflection of the online traffic would be, that although a few people who had doubts before trying it remain strongly and vocally negative about it, many more are either only unhappy with one or two specific aspects of it, or are happy with it so far - early days though it is, and despite the lack of actual statistics to back these impressions.

Yes, there are some issues which are regularly referenced – the programme is inflexible.  And for Rainbows in particular, having to do 6 Skill Builders, each with 5 topics, plus 18 hours of UMAs, in two years – means that they have gone from inventing most of their own activities and traditions, to now having to ‘do programme’ most of the time, most weeks, if they are to give their girls a chance of Gold Award.  Girls who join Rainbows at 5 ½ or later will probably not be able to do Gold Award, unless the unit runs extra sessions such as activity days or sleepovers, and the girls have good attendance levels, including the key SB meetings.  For those who join Rainbows later there will be the chance to do some Skill Builders, to do Interest Badges, and to perhaps pick up a theme award or two – but not time for all the SBs.

The other frequently-raised issue is absences – with a Skill Builder only being completed when a girl has done all 5 of it’s activities, the girl who is off on one of the weeks when the unit are doing SB activities will fall behind.  The unit will have to judge how to do catch-ups – whether to have the occasional meeting laid aside where the girls can get into small groups each repeating a specific activity, or whether activities can be sent home, or whether the SB remains incomplete until the next time there is a group doing that SB which she can join in with (though the latter could only be an option for Brownies, Guides and Rangers, not for Rainbows)?

Some Leaders are unhappy that, with the cards supplying most of the activity ideas and the instructions, they now have much less to do at unit meetings - where once they were coming up with all the ideas and then out front leading them, now the ideas are already provided, and the girls to some extent lead themselves, aided by the cards.  Although this is familiar to Guide Leaders from Go For Its, it may be less so with Leaders from the other sections.  Or there are disgruntlements at the need to arrange equipment for activities (whether bought, borrowed or whether the girls bring it in themselves).  Although the activities have been designed to be low cost (doubtless in an attempt to head off complaints on expense grounds), some equipment is, naturally, required – mainly post-its, paper, balloons, plastic bottles etc – which has to be acquired and transported to the meeting place, unless storage allows.  But you can’t do a whole programme with nothing . . .

And the recording on GO is unnecessarily slow and painful, especially for Skill Builders.  It’s nonsensical that we have to log into each girl’s record, then plough through a long list of Skill Builders, at each level, to declare the one she is starting.  And having done that, we have to click away from the page and then click back in order to start logging the first activity she has done.  And if she has done all of them, then it’s not enough to just mark the five activities as complete and assume the system will twig that the entire SB must automatically be complete – no, we have to click away from the page before clicking back into it, and we then have to log in each girl’s record to confirm that the Skill Builder is indeed now complete! 

A general complaint is that ‘one size does not fit all’, Leaders want the right to make up their own activities and count these as UMAs.  Who knows whether Guiding will flex on this anytime soon – whilst I can see the temptation to allow some flexibility, I fear that it wouldn’t be long until some units were doing more ‘own UMA’ than they were ones from the programme, on the ‘give an inch and they’ll take a yard’ principle.  And we’d be back to ‘this week’s festival is’, or ‘craft club’ again.

There are fears that new Leaders will be reliant on cards, and will not know how to think up an activity, plan it, obtain the resources, and lead it unaided. 

So if those are the negatives, what are the positives?  Well, they seem to be: 

Busy Leaders have found the cards really useful, as a grab-and-go resource, with clear equipment lists, instructions already planned, suggestions for extension activities. 

Inexperienced Leaders have found them great too – a lot of the planning already done for them, instructions in a logical order, background on what is being done and why.  Assistant Leaders and Young Leaders who have been nervous of trying to plan and run activities themselves, are now more confident to take a card, read it through, and then lead it with the girls.

Common Standard is being hailed by Commissioners – they reckon that once the new programme is in place, it will be far easier for them to spot those units which need support, because the online recording will show whether units are providing a balanced programme with the girls showing signs of regular progress, etc – and any unit which isn’t regularly doing UMAs and SBs is, automatically, not offering the programme they should, and thus struggling.  Leaders will have to list all the girls in their units in order to credit their records with activities done – even in late February/early March . . . often called ‘census time’ . . .

Common Standard amongst units too.  With so many units doing the same package of activities, units will be working at an appropriate level of difficulty for the age group (neither too advanced nor too babyish) and girls will be getting similar opportunities whichever unit they join – there will be fewer ‘good’ units or ‘poor’ units – they’ll all be up to a particular standard - and this achieved by bringing the struggling units up to a standard, not pulling the achieving units down to ‘lowest common denominator’.

Continuity has also been seen as a positive – in planning transitions, being able to assure the girls that there will be many more things that will be familiar when they get to the next section, and much less that is unfamiliar - helps with encouraging girls to give the next section a try.

The activities themselves have been broadly popular with Leaders and with girls in all sections – there are numerous unsolicited reports of girls enjoying activities (even ones their Leaders feared their girls might not enjoy) and of Leaders finding new ideas or new ways of teaching old skills amongst the selection, or being inspired to add to or extend the activities on the cards.

Most of the activities are both accessible to units urban and rural, and affordable.  Equipment has been kept to a minimum, and is usually either things that can be borrowed (like tents or hand tools) or are inexpensive (like sticky notes, balloons, plastic bottles).  Many units who have started the new programme have reported that they have been spending noticeably less on equipment and resources for unit meetings than they used to, without any corresponding reduction in programme interest or engagement.

As a Guide Leader of a small Guide unit (which has been running the programme since mid-August) – most activities are running significantly shorter than billed, for us.  The other week, in our 90-minute meeting we did 80 minutes of UMA activities (30+30+20) and still found ourselves playing a game for over 20 minutes to fill in time, plus holding Horseshoe at the start and end of the meeting.  On that basis, we won’t be as pressured for time to fit everything in as we thought we might be, and could slacken off on the number of UMAs we do next term, or continue to crack on for now, and be able to spend most of the summer term doing outdoor adventure.  Some of this is numbers-based – with only two groups to demonstrate what they have done, or compete against each other, or whatever, activities naturally take less time than they would for four or 5 groups. 

As a Brownie Leader of a large unit (over 20 members) we are finding that things are running within time, but we do have to keep activities moving, so that girls regularly have something new to be doing and early finishers of a particular stage aren’t hanging around bored whilst waiting for their more deliberate sisters, or those who did not get first shot of the equipment – but the activities usually provide a ‘next thing’.  We haven’t clocked up as many UMAs with the Brownies so far, as we have focussed on this term’s Skill Builder, and have had Monday holidays - but I’m happy that we will be able to clock up enough UMA hours over the three years to allow the chance of Gold Awards for any Brownie who wishes to try for one.

Yes, there are pros and cons.  But then, there were always going to be whatever programme was introduced, it was only a question of which ones they happened to be this time.  And of those reacting to it, some people were always going to be negative due to the natural knee-jerk anti-change reaction which humans have, whatever the programme happened to contain and however it was introduced.  Outwith that instinctive reaction, it appears that many more are either happy with it barring a specific concern, or happy with it overall, than are heavily critical of it. 

Friday, 24 August 2018

Guiding's Archives

We in Guiding are unusually fortunate.  Over the 110 years of our history as Girl Scouts and then as Girl Guides, many members, ‘off their own bat’, have collected and preserved our organisation’s history, and their own part in it.  Individual members, Patrols and Units have made and kept log books.  Some members kept the uniforms, books and badges from their youth and early adulthood.  Scrapbooks and photo albums of events were compiled.  Several of the Guide Training Centres have an archive, and sometimes a room in which to house it – and many of the Guide Counties have some form of archive looked after by a lone volunteer or a small team, where some of these personal collections have found a home.  Some County Archivists are fortunate enough to have the use of a room within a County building in which to store the County collection, but many more have to house it themselves.  Despite limited budgets, they attempt to catalogue, conserve, and create a functioning resource, in order to share information about Guiding in their area with the current generations of members, and to preserve the County’s story, ancient and recent, for the future.

They are largely unsupported.  Where other County posts have access to both a Country/Region Adviser and a UK Adviser to whom unusual queries or pressing difficulties can be referred, Guiding Archivists do not – the post of UK Archivist has been left vacant for many years now, and there is no word of any attempts to fill it.  The UK Archives have been put into storage and remain totally inaccessible to County Archivists and ordinary members alike, this has been the case for years since the last archivist left.  New County Archivists get little information – if they are lucky, instructions from the last UK Archivist, over a decade old, will be photocopied once again and forwarded to them by a neighbouring County for local adaptation.  Communication is usually by informal chat and by grapevine, not coordinated.  And many of the Archivists have no deputy, tend to be elderly, are often re-appointed each time a new CC takes post, and most of them continue in the role for as long as they are able – ‘death in service’ is not uncommon.  Though they often have lengthy personal knowledge and recollection of past events which is valuable, there are serious implications for the County if the Archivist “Goes Home”, and the County has to try to sensitively reclaim the Archive from the late Archivist’s grieving relatives, then quickly find somewhere to rehouse it.

In the absence of a UK Archivist, and given the archives themselves were moved out of the London Headquarters building to location unconfirmed during that building’s redevelopment work, it is not clear whether the UK archives have been properly stored in temperature and moisture controlled, infestation-free conditions – nor whether anyone with relevant conservation experience has been tending them, or adding items from recent years to them.  Although there have been rumours of a home being found which will allow access to the contents for research, or perhaps even to create a venue of some sort where they could be displayed - various locations to host the collection, and dates for access to re-open them have been suggested – all have come and gone with no update, and no sign of preparatory work at any of the locations indicated.  So there has been much talk from senior people in Guiding, certainly, but still no tangible sign of action.

There are certainly arguments against Guiding spending money on storing and preserving their archives.  Many would say our money should be spent on providing adventurous and educational activities for today’s young members, not on dusty documents that are rarely read and old badges and uniforms which can provide temptation for moths and pilferers, but not necessarily for a large audience.  Others would argue that we could scan all the information on paper and just dispose of the originals – online resources are the future.  But my thoughts turn back to the BBC Domesday project in 1986.  The information collected by that project was stored on state-of-the-art laser disks, as a ‘New Domesday Book’ written 1000 years after the original, with the idea both books could be studied, in future, perhaps even in 1000 years’ time.  Sadly, by 2002 there were already concerns about whether the data on the disks could still be accessed, as there were only a handful of computers left which were capable of reading the disks, and no spare parts available should those few break down.  Yet the original Domesday book was still as easily accessible to readers today as it had been when it was first written.  Putting information online can be a straightforward way of making it available widely, and it also provides a backup in case the original should be damaged – but retaining the original still has value too.  40 years ago computers ran on cassette tapes, 30 years ago it was large 10” floppy disks, 20 years ago it was DD and HD floppy disks, 10 years ago it was CD ROMs, currently it is Memory Sticks, who can say what it will be in 10 years’ time?  All of these were said to offer long-term document saving and access, but all have experienced data deterioration or loss even if stored under ideal conditions.  Whatever the next tech, paper and ink has seen them all come and go . . .

Interestingly, one of the featured topics in the new modernised Guiding programme – is Guiding history.  It features both in the programmes for all sections, and in the handbooks.  So there are clearly some people in Headquarters, currently involved in creating policy and programme, who think the organisation’s history is one of the key topics for young members to learn about today.  So the view seems to be that yes, our history and the resources for it matter, and yes, it is relevant to make moderate investment in them.  But we need to ensure that the archives which we choose to retain are kept relevant, and Archivists need to be encouraged and supported to produce materials which can be used to support the new programme, meet the needs and interests of units seeking to teach their girls aspects of Guiding history, and encourage the young members to be interested in relevant aspects of the subject.  Each item in an archive’s collection needs to justify it’s place and ‘earn it’s keep’.

We can also think about how to make our County’s history accessible – if you have a regular newsletter, could there be an ‘Archivist’s Corner’ item – a paragraph or two at most, on a particular aspect of Guiding history in the County – 25 years since a particular County Camp, a feature on a Guider from the County who served with the GIS, a brief history of a County Campsite, memories of a Brownie Revels, how we marked the Jubilee, etc.  Deliberately kept short, with many items from recent decades, and comparatively fewer from longer back unless of general interest, so that as many people as possible can reminisce, and people are reminded that history is about the recent past as much as it is the distant past – “yesterday is history too”.  We can also look at ways of sharing the history with youth members.  Activity Boxes containing uniforms for dressing up, examples of books, and activity idea cards which can be used to bring the items in the box to life and spark an interest by comparing ‘then’ with ‘now’ or telling the experiences of real-life past members.  We can create resource packs to help with the ‘Guiding History’ activities in the new programme, and plan activity sessions at County events, and events for units, to help with sharing knowledge and inspiration.

Paper records can be scanned and stored, making them accessible to a larger number of people with a range of different interests in them (it also means that, should the worst happen to the originals, they are not entirely lost).  Use can then be made of offsite storage such as a local museum, enabling public as well as Guiding access to them whilst compact storage allows space to be freed up in the County archive for other items, or to allow more space for people to work in or visit the archive room.  Collections of books and of uniforms can and should be rationalised – enough copies kept to allow access, and to keep significant examples – then the rest sold to raise money which enables the archive to look after, repair and preserve the items that are to be kept, and to acquire items to fill any key gaps in the archive’s collection.  We don’t need to have 20 examples of 1968-1990 Brownie dresses, especially if selling 10 of them would enable us to acquire that Air Ranger uniform we don’t have any examples of at all.

But – this all depends on Archivists having support within the County.  Who will help with cataloguing the existing collection, and who will help open, sort and record the contents of the parcels of new donations which arrive so regularly?  Who will set up the activity boxes, arrange their dispatch, check them for completeness on their return?  Who will repair the sagging hems and loose buttons on the vintage uniforms, carefully hand-launder the dusty items, and darn the little holes and rips to an appropriate standard of skill, or arrange for items to be dropped off and collected from the specialist repairer?  Who will do the lengthy work of scanning page after page of logbooks, County Records and assorted correspondence?  Who will take on the job of selling off the extras, and keeping the accounts?  Could all that ever be done as a one-person-job?  In many Counties, it currently is . . .

Friday, 27 July 2018

The New Programme has arrived

Well, after all the build-up and fanfare, the new programmes have arrived.  And after a week of online firefighting against the instant critics, and trying to explain to the confused, I guess it’s time I gave my verdict on them.

So, what were the things people were asking for beforehand?

·         Interest badges for Rainbows and Rangers

·         Pick-up-and-go activities

·         A ‘highest award’ for each section

·         Proper structure and progression for programmes

·         Smoother transition between sections

Yes, those are things people were asking for, and they have got them.  The new programme has a clear structure, there is continuity between sections, Rainbows and Rangers have the same opportunities as the sections in-between, and there are highest awards for each section.  And the Skills Builders and Unit Meeting Activities do indeed provide pick-up-and-go activities which will be helpful for the inexperienced and the time-poor alike.

Have the programmes been universally welcomed?  Of course not.  But then, they were never going to be.  Change always attracts criticism regardless of the form it takes, and whether or not it is for the better. 

Although we now have all the books and resources, the online training and the online recording tools, there isn’t a single unit in the UK which has yet had a chance to see how the programme works in reality.  And until the first Scottish units start going back in mid-August, then apart from the few year-round units which operate, nobody can honestly say how it is or will be in reality.  All they can express is their hopes or fears. 

Ah, but what is my opinion?  My opinion is that, at first, going back to set tasks will cause upset.  We’ve already got people campaigning to be able to use their own ideas instead of the Unit Meeting Activities (yes, without trying them).  We’ve already got people saying the girls will never do interest badges if they’ve to work on them at home (despite the fact it worked in the past, over many decades).  We’ve already got people saying they can’t teach camp skills, so it’s not fair they are one of the (non-compulsory) topics covered in the programme.  And we've got people saying they haven't time to watch the online training videos (although they're the same people who have got time to spend on social media criticising the programme instead). 

My opinion is that one big thing the new programme will be great for is consistency.  Girls will move through sections learning the same basic skills, and progressing in them year by year.  It will also help to pinpoint failing units – in the past, there were a proportion of units which didn’t use the official programmes but claimed they were still able to offer ‘Good Guiding’.  And sure enough, some could.  Problem was, many others used that claim as an excuse whilst actually delivering repetitive, uninspired programmes, often ones where all the girls did the exact same activity all the time regardless of maturity or capability.  Under this new programme, things are clearly set down.  The unit whose girls regularly complete Unit Meeting Activities and Skills Builders will show signs of making good progress.  The unit where all the girls do the exact same one at the same level (they’re all equally mature, and nobody was off sick the week it was done – again!) will stick out sore thumbishly.  It will improve the standard of Guiding for all. 

Is the structure quite rigid and inflexible?  Yes, currently it is.  But as more UMAs become available (we’re told there will be another batch in January, and further ones thereafter), there will be a bit more flexibility.

But – no-one can truly criticise or praise the programme until at least January 2019.  Only once units have a full term’s experience of how it actually works with the girls in the units, countrywide, can any fair conclusions be reached.  Anything said right now is mere speculation.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

How on earth should they tell people?

We should all know that major programme changes are coming to Guiding in the UK, to be finally announced and launched in a few weeks' time.  Because the information has been communicated to Leaders in a range of places and ways.  It has had wide coverage in each of the last few issues of Guiding Magazine (which is sent by post to all adult members free of charge quarterly).  There have been regular articles on the website as front-page splashes.  E-newsletters have been issued to all who subscribe to them, each containing many references and links, and often with the coming programme changes as the lead story.  There has been coverage in various forms of social media such as Facebook and twitter, on both the official and the unofficial forums, national and local.  There have been several questionnaires and surveys issued from headquarters by various means in order to collect opinions from Leaders.  Many Counties have included updates in their regular newsletters (on paper or online), and some have organised trainings.  Taster packs of activities have been issued to every unit, in all sections, for them to try.  Units were invited to apply to test activities and feedback on them.  Information on how it will actually work as a structure and for the unit week to week, and what the specific details will be for the individual unit - may be scant - but by any reasonable measure, and regardless of your opinion on the content of the information issued, every Leader should be aware that significant change is coming, for all sections, and starting from Autumn 2018.


But – are they aware?


It seems that, despite the vast amount of time, effort and expense to date on communications - there are still some Leaders out there who have a vague awareness that change is coming, but no idea of what or what scale.  And, more amazingly still, there are also some Leaders who claim not to have heard of any coming change whatsoever.  These are often the Leaders who will freely admit they never open the wrapper of the magazine which is sent to them (or who haven’t kept their contact details up to date in order to receive their copy), who don’t subscribe to any of the e-newsletters, who delete Guiding emails unread and do not check the national website, who don’t attend District meetings or read the minutes from them, and don’t read the County newsletter or website.


One might suggest that those who try so hard to remain uninformed – could be judged to have ‘voted with their feet’ and might have their clearly-expressed wish to be left in the dark respected?  How much effort should Guiding bother to put into trying to issue information scattergun by umpteen means in the hope that a little of it might reach the attention of these hard-to-hit targets?  Or should Guiding simply focus on using a few means, electronic and non-electronic, which between them are sufficient to reach all those who want to hear.  The rest can sink or swim when the changes come, as they so choose?


The problem with that is - that for every Leader who does not receive the information, it means a whole unit of girls, and their families, do not receive it either.  For the Leaders are not at the end of the communication chain, they are one of the key links in it.  If they have not grasped that change is coming (far less what the change incorporates and means for them and for their units) they will not be informing their units that it is coming, nor preparing the unit’s programme towards it by preparing to tie up the loose ends and letting the girls and families know that they might want to finish off any challenges they are currently tackling, and any badge work which has been started.  And the unit members could be left high and dry too, with challenges or major awards part-way through (or almost completed) the deadline for completion past and the badges for them no longer available.  Meantime the new programme could be well under way and most of the trainings on it long since over.  It may be that the first they know of a change may be when they can no longer get the badges for the old programme, and not a minute before. 


So, in terms of those Leaders who claim full ignorance that anything is happening and who have proved unreachable so far - what more can (or should) Headquarters do to reach them?  If anything?

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

I reckon the new Guiding programmes will all be absolute rubbish . . .

I have been watching on various Leader forums, and that certainly does seem to be the most popular viewpoint amongst those commenting.  None of that “wait and see how it pans out” nonsense.


So far, the only clear information we have had on what activities the new programme will actually contain - comes from the activities which some units tested (mainly in the early days when these were very much ‘what if’ options being tried out, some of which were popular and some very far from it) and from the taster pack of a dozen activity cards per section which were sent out in the autumn.  (These seem to have had a slightly more positive reception from the girls, perhaps more so than from the leaders – a lot of leaders found the activities familiar, which was inevitable given they were ideas submitted by other leaders – for there are no new ideas under the sun, just old ideas in a new guise).


I did make sure my units volunteered to take part in the testing.  Partly because I tend to the view that if you get the opportunity to participate in the decision making and choose not to, you shouldn’t then criticise the results which emerge from those who do, given you opted to let that ship sail.  But also, for these ideas to be tested in as wide a range of real situations as possible, headquarters need to have a lot of volunteers from across the country providing a wide range of different unit and leader circumstances for each activity, without overloading any one unit.  After all, we want the new programme’s activities to work for all possible circumstances – including (perhaps especially) our own peculiar ones.  Of the activities my own units tested, some we gave reasonably positive feedback to, and some, very negative feedback indeed.  But such is inevitable with testing early prototypes.  They were drafted with the intention that they would be altered at least a bit, perhaps radically, dependent on the feedback received . . .


We’ve also been given an idea of the programme’s overall structure – the 6 main themes, the structure of ‘Skills Builders’ which will be done on these topics to earn badges (which are effectively ‘staged’ across the age groups), and the Unit Meeting Activities (which we’ve had 12 samples of) to be slotted in to our schedules to give balance to our programmes and enhance the girls’ and leaders’ own activity ideas.  The awards the girls will get for completing one of the 6 topics (these awards still to be named), and the Gold Award they will get for completing all 6 plus an extra challenge whilst in a particular section (Rainbow Gold Award, Brownie Gold Award, Guide Gold Award, Ranger Gold Award).  Annual membership badges are coming back, though a name for them is yet to be confirmed, as is their format – so we will wait to see how they will run.  And there will be interest badges for the girls to work on at home, each with three clauses – again probably different in design from the existing ones, but the format and subjects covered are yet to be confirmed other than that each will have three clauses, and there will be different numbers of interest badge topics for each section – and they will be part of Gold Award, ensuring that those who gain Gold Awards will have put in some of their own time, it won’t just be a ‘turn up and join in’ badge which regular attenders collect might collect ‘on the way past’ just by regularly attending and taking part in whatever activities the Leaders arrange at weekly meetings. We know how many interest badges each section will have – but we don’t know quite what topics they will be on, or what the three clauses will be like.


And we’ve been told that one of the aims is to have continuity and progression across the sections, thus developing the girls’ skills and experience in an ongoing, structured way as they move up through the age groups, with the idea that moving from one section to another should be the natural, perhaps near-automatic step for most members, and consequently see fewer girls drop out between sections.


Certainly, there are still quite a lot of details we have yet to find out about.  What will actually be in the Skills Builders for each section?  What topics the interest badges will cover and how much work they will require?  How much work a Gold Award will take, and what sort of thing the extra challenge at the end might be?  What badges and books will look like, and how comprehensive the books will be – will there be lots of sections to fill in, or will there be scope for them to be handed down?  How big will the Skills Builder badges be, and how will they be done – will it be one topic at a time for a few weeks or months, or will the girls be doing bits and pieces across all of them, then tying up the loose ends of them all just before they move section?  And where there are unknowns there is, automatically, negativity.


We will receive instructions in due course on how to transition the girls who are currently in our units from current programme to new, so they can get credit for the stage they have reached when the new programme begins.  Naturally it will take time for each of us to work out how best to manage that transition for the differing stages each of our girls is at.  But the guidelines will detail how we are to proceed, and we can try to ensure that each girl carries through on the current programme to a natural break point over the next term or so – to help Rainbows, Brownies and Guides to finish off the Roundabout/Adventure/Challenge badge they are currently working on, for instance.


And yet, for all the criticism – from what we’ve been told of the programme so far, many of those who have criticised the current programme - are to get what they have been asking for, from the new programme.  Handbooks for each section.  Interest Badges for Rainbows and for Rangers.  A structured programme for all the sections which follows through from one section to the next.  A ‘highest award’ to aim for in each section, not just for the older girls.  All of these are things people have been asking for, and all of them are being delivered.


So what do I reckon about it?  Well, I reckon that at worst, I just don’t yet know enough to judge.  But ‘not enough to judge’ doesn’t just mean I can’t yet praise it - it also means I can’t yet criticise it.  It could be brilliant for me and for my units, it could be dire, but it’s far more likely to be somewhere in-between.  Where in-between, we can wait and see.  There are bound to be some negatives for my units, yes, but also bound to be positives too, which may outweigh, possibly by quite a margin.


But, in the meantime, nervous about it as I naturally am, I have been through programme changes before.  And I can honestly say that I expect there will at least be positives amongst it at worst – so no, I don’t think it will all be absolute rubbish.

Monday, 12 February 2018

A celebrity figurehead for Guiding?

As another reality TV show wound to it’s conclusion, so it’s winner promptly became the latest social media suggestion of a potential celebrity chief for Guiding.  This was only days after the next lady due join the Royal family was the one being touted, hot on the heels of suggestions of a former Blue Peter presenter, who had succeeded a former Olympic rower, several female presenters of nature/countryside television programmes, and various suggestions before that.  The cynic in me suggests that soon the reality show winner will have been forgotten, another name suggested, and so it will continue.  And if a celebrity chief ever were to be appointed to head UK Guiding (which is a ‘big if’ given we don’t even know whether the topic is under consideration), I suspect there would be few praising whoever got such a job, no matter who it might be or whatever relevant skills and qualifications they might have for the post – that few drowned out by the flood of critics.  Regardless.


First question – why might we want a celebrity chief?  A celebrity could attract publicity to Guiding, and could give it a higher profile, especially if high profile themselves - which could encourage recruitment, especially youth recruitment.  Higher profile is likely if they chose the right celebrity – one who would be known to and attractive to all youth members (even the youngest), and who would have on-going fame amongst the youth age groups in particular over an extended period (not the classic ‘famous for 15 minutes’).  But - also someone who would present a positive image for Guiding to parents and the public, would mention Guiding at many of their public appearances whether specifically Guiding-related ones or not, and who would have the availability to attend some of the key Guiding events each year.


We would equally need someone who could do all that whilst avoiding ever doing or saying anything controversial for the tabloids to latch onto – we have to consider the age range, especially impressionable younger members – so no inappropriate behaviour, at any time.  From the experience of Scouting we can see pros and cons of being fronted by a celebrity whilst having a ‘working chief’ in the background – and a glance at the Scout social media forums confirms that the picture is mixed, with a lot of negative comment from Leaders regarding their current postholder (youth opinion is harder to discern).  This leads us onto the less positive reason for some in Guiding wanting a celebrity chief or figurehead for Guiding – simply ‘because the Scouts have got one’.  Need we copycat everything they do, and be assumed to be displaying jealousy?  Or would the pros outweigh the cons and justify that risk?


On the pro side, there is no doubt that positive publicity enhances the image and reputation of any organisation, and celebrities can bring media attention and coverage to events that wouldn’t otherwise attract it.  Media are far more likely to turn out to any event if there is guaranteed to be a celebrity appearance and photo opportunity to fill their gossip pages with, merely in exchange for mentioning the charity.  And dependent on the background of the celebrity, it may help to bring awareness of the organisation to sections of youth which can sometimes be hard to reach or to engage with, helping to kill some of the myths about the organisation being white, Christian, middle class, etc.


On the con side, though a celebrity chief could attract publicity – you wouldn’t have any choice over what sort of publicity it might be.  Ill-drafted tweets, controversial opinions, ‘wardrobe malfunctions’, ‘four-letter words’, ‘indiscretions’ – any or all would automatically be presented as ‘Guides’ chief says’ or ‘Guides’ chief does’ – whether there was any connection between what was allegedly said/done and their Guiding role, or none whatsoever, and whether it was recent or years ago.  Not all publicity is good publicity, and with anyone high-profile enough to draw media attention, all types of media attention will indeed be drawn, good and bad.  To quote Jonathan Swift “Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it”.  We’ve all seen the giant-size tabloid headlines and double-page spreads accusing someone in the public eye of whatever kind of inappropriate behaviour (and all failed, despite trying, to spot the single paragraph of retraction, months later, buried in the bottom corner of an inside page under a bland title!)


Nevertheless, even with a ‘celebrity chief’ you would still need to have a ‘working chief’ as well – someone to chair the meetings, to attend the County and Region events around the country, to actually take charge of the running of the organisation, to make the policy decisions, and do all the backroom work which doesn’t attract attention, but is often more important than the occasional public appearances which do.  Would you still be able to attract a sufficiently high calibre of candidate to this ‘working chief’ job, if candidates knew it would mean doing all the hard work in private, but being upstaged at public events by the celebrity who turns up for 20 minutes, signs a few autographs, says the ‘few words’ you scripted, then isn’t seen for dust?


The other thing to consider, is what you would actually be getting for your money (for of course, the celebrity’s presence would generate expense even if they themselves were giving their time for free).  How many hours a year would the celebrity be able to allocate to your cause?  If they are still active in their career then any charity commitments would have to be fitted around their working hours – and your bookings then fitted in amongst the bookings from the other causes which have already recruited the same celebrity, or may in future do so.  Would the days/times the celebrity can offer be ones Guiding could readily utilise?  Would they be willing to attend events around the UK and occasionally beyond, or only those within an hour’s travel of their home?  Then you need to consider the expenses – when attending events will they require a driver to take them to and from the venue, business class air travel or first class train?  Helicopter?  Dressing rooms?  Catering?  Accommodation?  Security?  Will they be willing to meet and chat to youth members at events – or would they need to be protected and kept apart for ‘security reasons’?  Will they be bringing staff with them, and will those staff need hospitality too?  Would they be willing to appear in Guiding uniform - or not?  Will extra admin staff be needed to deal with their correspondence and itineraries?


Then, what sort of person would we want to have, and what would we expect of them?  If you ask someone newly famous, there is the risk that their career may wane – and you end up with someone who doesn’t attract any media coverage for you, and whom younger members have not heard of.  If you ask someone more established then they are likely to already have many other charity commitments taking up what free time they can offer to volunteer work.  Also , someone more established may not currently be at a career peak – Rainbows and younger Brownies will only have heard of someone who has been high profile during the last 2-3 years, regardless what they have achieved in the past (or may achieve in the future), nor whether they are reckoned to have ongoing fame by adults.  If you choose an adventurer then it may help to promote your organisation as outdoors-based and exciting, but you risk negative headlines if the adventurer is caught taking safety shortcuts, if any accidents happen to them, or if they are caught implying hardship or jeopardy where actually there was little or none.  If you choose someone in the music or acting trades then their performances and outfits (far in the past as well as recent) are likely to be analysed in search of anything inappropriate for young children.  Sports people are famous when at the peak of their career, but careers are short and they retire comparatively young, usually to a low-profile.


Last, and perhaps most important – if we look back at some of the people who have been caught up in public scandals over the last few years – many of them are the sort of people who were or could have been approached by charities to be ambassadors.  We as an organisation have to consider very carefully who we bring into contact with our young members.  Even those who seem to be good role models may turn out to have skeletons hidden in their closets.  Is the risk of that justified by what might be gained?


Do we want a celebrity figurehead?  And if so, how do we decide on the right person, what sort of role would we be looking for them to take, and to what extent would we be willing to live with the expense and the possible consequences?