There are still Leaders who will tell the girls that old fib that they have to wear uniform otherwise they won’t be covered by insurance, whilst knowing fine well it’s not true. Because sometimes it is easier to deliberately lie, and to deflect arguments through untruth, rather than grasp the bull by the horns and be honest. For as we know, grasping bulls by the horns (or anywhere else on their anatomy for that matter!) does risk upsetting the bull somewhat . . .
Until recently, Guiding has had an upper age limit for it’s Leadership roles. At one time it was 81, for many years 65. And all Leaders, regardless of what role they happened to hold when the big day came round, had to hang up their uniforms for the last time on their 65th birthday. They could become Advisers, and/or join Trefoil Guild, but they could no longer wear uniform or be members of Guiding, even if they had been members for about as long as they could remember. It was harsh, it can’t be denied, and caused some people a great deal of upset. But – it applied across the board, and whatever each individual felt about it, all knew the day was coming when they must step aside from active Guiding and leave it to the next generations to take the movement forward.
Then a few years ago the rule was altered, so that although they could no longer be Leader in Charge at a unit, if the Commissioner felt the particular individual was capable they could be allowed to remain as Assistant Leader for a few more years – provided the individual was still contributing to the running of an up-to-date programme, still fit enough, still relating well to the girls etc. Although it was positive for the individuals who benefitted and did mean some units continuing which would otherwise have closed, it did mean that instead of a straightforward blanket rule, the Commissioner was now landed with the difficult task of having to decide whether or not each individual in her area should have their appointment renewed for an extra period – and if the Commissioner had any doubts about the wisdom of appointing an individual who fully expected to have her paperwork rubber-stamped, she was placed in a horribly difficult position – how to break it to an experienced adult that the expected automatic renewal might not be automatic? Of course, on paper Commissioners had the safety-net that appointment was only as an Assistant Leader, so the buck would still stop with the younger Leader in Charge of the unit, who would be the direct ‘line manager’ of the other Leaders in her team. Sadly, in reality, there were cases where Leaders in Charge who reached 65 simply ‘changed the name over the door’ but carried on business as usual, with the person listed as being Leader in Charge having a nominal role, whilst the older Assistant retained the authority and autonomy which should have come with the job. Now, that last Assistant-only restriction is being removed, and there is apparently to be no upper age limit on Leaders in charge of units. It is assumed that the individual Leader will judge for herself when the time is right for her to retire from unit Guiding, either as Leader in Charge, or Assistant Leader, and will entirely lay aside her personal feelings in order to do what is best for the unit and act on that judgement.
For many Leaders approaching or in their sixties, the announcement has come as a cause for celebration. And I can well understand that – I don’t doubt that when my time came, if I were still in active Guiding, it would be hard to accept that ‘yesterday I was considered perfectly capable but tomorrow I won’t be, for the date on my birth certificate and no other reason’. After all, nowadays many people live far longer ‘active lives’ than they used to do, such that many Leaders in their mid-60s are still perfectly capable of running unit meetings and residential events - and an ageing population means that there are automatically many fewer under 65s who can take on the Leadership roles in Guiding than there were in past decades, something which will only increase as all the 1960s baby boomers collect their pensions . . .
For some older Leaders, however, it’s not such good news. Surprising thought? Well, for some people the fixed retirement age was actually a relief. It gave them a guilt-free excuse for stepping back from the unit, regardless of whether others were available to keep that unit going or whether it would fold, leaving them time to take up other hobbies that had been sitting on the back burner for longer than they would have liked. These Leaders had served their time, and the age limit meant they could walk away without any need to make excuses, give explanations, or be pressured to keep going ‘just a little bit longer’. For no matter how keen you are on Guiding, there’s no doubt that the constant pressure to come up with new and exciting programme ideas, to plan the outings, residentials and other extras which the girls want, to take on a share of organising local events, and attending committee meetings, and tackling jobs such as Commissioner, or Adviser, or local representative – can become wearing to even the most dedicated of volunteers, and it is all too easy for the Guiding hobby to crowd out other much-loved hobbies and activities. The chance to say ‘sorry no, I’m 65 next year’ at an age and stage where those other neglected hobbies could still be taken up again, was something that some people really valued.
Now, it is up to the individual to judge when the time is right for her to retire. For some, that will be before reaching 65, for some it will be after, by whatever margin. But the new ruling presupposes that the individual not only knows within herself just when the time is right to step aside – but will also act on that knowledge and make the arrangements to leave when that time comes, ignoring any pressures or personal feelings. And I daresay a fair number, perhaps a majority, will know when the inspiration is running out, or energy levels are no longer what they were, or programme ideas are no longer appealing to the girls as they used to, or they are no longer as in touch with the girls’ personalities, tastes and lifestyles - and will act on it by either altering their role, or moving on – perhaps to take on another role in Guiding, perhaps not. And, of course, it also presupposes that there won’t be undue pressure from other Leaders or Commissioners to stay on. There is a fine line between encouragement and pressure . . .
What I fear is – that there will be a proportion of long-serving Leaders who either won’t realise that the time to make a move is fast approaching (or already arrived a while ago) – or who will sense it but not act upon it. Who will turn a blind eye to the signs that their unit needs to enhance it’s programmes, to signs that they aren’t as fit as they used to be, to signs that the girls don’t seem to care as much for the activities that used to be so popular, to signs that they can no longer give the unit the time it ideally needs, or whatever indicators apply. And there doesn’t seem to have been any information issued on what the procedure will be if the Leader who ‘probably could do with stepping aside’ doesn’t see it? Are they going to replace the age limit with ‘something else’, such as a regular review (whether specifically for older Leaders, or for all Leaders)? Will they introduce performance targets to meet, such as having to do a certain number of hours’ training, or will there be a need to update qualifications? (after all, you can already have a situation where someone gained their camp or holiday licence 20 or 30 years ago, and as long as they continue to attend camps/holidays as a member of staff every few years, no-one questions whether they have modernised or are still carrying out the same programmes and following the same rules they learned at training in the 1970s). Or is the idea that the DC will just be landed with the nasty task of having to approach ‘pillar of the community’ Ms A to say that perhaps the time has come to step aside from the village unit she has been running for over 40 years? Unless something occurs to bring matters to a head, then there will be the temptation for Commissioner just to let things lie a little longer, even if it means landing her successor with the nasty task instead, rather than risk upsetting Ms A and finding herself the talk of the village shop and splashed across the front page of the local paper. Sure, the same situation of ‘unsatisfactory performance’ can apply with younger Leaders, but there isn’t so much public pressure in those cases as there is when big local personalities are concerned . . .