One of the newspapers hereabouts used to have the ‘HON Man’ – it stood for ‘Holiday On Nothing’ and suggested ways of having a family break at minimal cost, as tested out by their journalist, who was only ever referred to as the HON Man. Well, what I am proposing is a ‘TON’ term – nothing to do with weightlifting, but simply suggestions for what to do this summer term (and beyond) if paying the annual subscriptions has left your unit somewhat rooked this time.
Step 1 – spring clean your storage.
Have you got loads oddments of craft materials which you could use for a dabble night? Might you discover paper, paint, pens and other oddments about to go dog-eared for want of use? Sort out what you can realistically use, what is fit to donate to a unit in a poorer area who might appreciate, what you might pass on to archives, and what is fit for nothing but throwing out. But - before you actually do the throwing of that last category in particular, step back and think about what is in that particular pile, and why it is there. Is it literally rubbish that was never going to have been much use for anything, or are there signs that you have been wasteful – are there felt pens with no lids on, and a batch of lids lurking in the corner of the box? Is there paper or card which is crumpled or dog eared for want of being put away carefully, or has shapes cut out of the middle that could easily have been cut from one corner leaving most of a sheet for future use? Are there skipping ropes full of knots because they weren’t hanked with an overhand knot before being put in the box? Are there oddments of string or wool that could have been wound into a hank or ball but weren’t? Are there badges or equipment you over-ordered, or items from multipacks that were always going to be spare – and how much unit money is thus going to waste from buying things you didn’t need? Then cast a similar critical eye over the other piles – do they suggest well-managed resources, all carefully looked after and all regularly utilised as regularly as they might be – or not?
Did you uncover resources or equipment which you had forgotten you had even bought or made, or older resources you could re-use? (no need to worry about obtaining the badge originally associated with that challenge pack, just give some of the activities a go on their own merits!) Have you got stuff in your first aid kit or cookery store cupboard which has gone out of date, or is about to – and is it over-ordering, or unavoidable? Have you got games equipment, song books, or other resources which haven’t been used for a while? You may well find that there is more stuff lurking than you thought - and that the programme is starting to plan itself, for the first few weeks at least, with no need to spend anything at all . . . !
Step 2 – what does your locality offer?
Are there local clubs or societies, and if so would a member be willing to demonstrate or coach? What about local businesses or trades – would a mechanic from the local garage be willing to have the Guides or Senior Section unit along to do some bike or car maintenance, or give advice on things to look for when viewing a second-hand car in an auction or private sale? Would a local joiner be willing to donate some offcuts for the Guides or Brownies to make bird feeders or insect houses, and perhaps help them learn to use tools safely? Could the countryside ranger, park keeper or environment group lead a nature walk, or give you the chance to help with some conservation work? Could the sports club offer a taster session, perhaps in return for handing out leaflets about their youth classes? Could someone from the women’s institute give ideas and advice on dressmaking or doing-up clothes, cookery, or other practical household skills? Could you do a swap night with another unit – visit them to see what they do and find out what they’ve been up to recently, then host one of their leaders in exchange? Even the most rural of communities will be able to offer someone with an interesting hobby or skill, and in urban areas you will be spoilt for choice!
Step 3 – What ideas do you have for a ‘night-on-nothing’?
Could you do a music night, where you learn some new songs then have a sing-song or campfire? Is there a park, a piece of waste ground, or someone’s back garden you could use to practice outdoor skills like nature study, fire building, shelter building, play outdoor games, organise a scavenger hunt or wide game? Could you collect up some free newspapers and use them for a theme night? If the weather is foul, why not a board games night, a bingo night or a quiz night? Could you go for a dollar hike, or teach some skills via a dollar market? Could you try to do 40 challenges in 40 minutes? Stage a mini Olympics? Could you do a good turn, such as tidying up around the war memorial (why neglect it until November embarrassment looms?), making and sending birthday cards to the Queen, sending some information to the section below about what your unit does to encourage recruitment, or having a good-turn-drive week? How are the girls at skipping, at jumping into a long rope, at ball throwing and catching, at throwing a lifeline, or other practical dexterity skills? Could you choose a suitable disco track and challenge the girls to make up a dance routine together? Could they do a movement to music, or learn some campfire skits, or act out part of the Promise or Law, or make and use some percussion instruments? Or a ‘befriend a tree night’ – where you gather in a park or wood, and each girl chooses a tree, uses a tree book to find out what sort it is, takes bark and leaf rubbings, collects a sample of it’s fruit if available, learns to identify it blindfold, estimates it’s age and height (can Guides find out about techniques which were used for doing this in the old Guide First Class challenge?). Could you obtain identical boxes for each Six or Patrol from someone who works in an office, and challenge the girls to take these bare bedrooms and use your craft oddments to do a “60-minute makeover” on them? Could you do a night of ‘good turn skills’ where the girls learn all sorts of things they could use for doing good turns – how to make tea, sew on buttons or badges, fold clothes, change a light bulb, construct a piece of flat-pack furniture, check a car’s oil level, change a tap washer, clean a sink, make a bed, iron a necker, read a street map and give directions, or whichever other skills you could share with the girls for them to use as good turns. My Guides love wide games, either in the streets after dark, or on a local disused railway line on the light summer nights – loads of fun and adventure in the fresh air, and all for free!
Step 4 – what can you do to avoid the same problem next year?
Is there equipment you could invest in, or could you be more strategic about what you buy so there is less wastage? Are you using your funds to best advantage – spending a lot on challenge badges for activities which only last one night and could have been done for their own sake, or on badges for outings (which are unnecessary, and in several cases will be lost before the month is out anyway)? Buying craft kits from catalogues when it’s invariably cheaper to invest in components in bulk instead, which can then be used several times over in differing ways? (If you buy sets of glass paints or pens of a given brand, you can use them on plastic baubles at Christmas, on glass tumblers, on candle votives, on jam jars, on acetate to make window clings – and they can be used several times over a number of years and would only need occasional replenishing with ones of the same shade – whereas if you buy a kit of baubles and paints you will only get a one-off use, with at most a few dregs of colours you haven’t a make or colour code for, so can’t obtain matching top-ups for anyway)! Are all your girls paid up-to-date with their subs or do you need to do some ‘credit control’ work to ensure that everyone is paying their share, and that you have applications in to the County hardship fund for any families which are struggling (again, this shouldn’t come out of unit funds)? Have you got your Gift Aid up to date, and have all the parents been approached about it, in case more have become eligible to donate in this way, or new recruits hadn’t been asked yet? Have you a list of sources for grants and other funding which you could utilise if you had a project to invest in? Is fundraising on your schedule?
Step 5 – Plan your spending.
Sure, if your unit is like mine then there is a long list of things you would love to buy if money and storage were both no object. But given both are probably significant objects, what are the bare minimums you need to buy over the next 12 months – the badges and books the girls are entitled to and should receive, the official publications the unit should be buying in order to keep the programme fresh and the library current, the bills which are foreseeable. Secondly, what long-term things are you thinking about? So are there tents which will need to be replaced in due course, or are you saving up towards camp or holiday equipment, or a major trip happening next year? Would you like to invest in something you could get a lot of use out of, like a parachute, or an altar fireplace? Have you a major event coming up such as an international trip (to a UK international event or to somewhere abroad) or a unit anniversary? And finally, plan your optional investments. Think about getting the best value for each thing you buy – so will it be the skipping ropes from the bargain store, which never seem to last more than a term or two, or investing some money in sash window cord, or line from the ship’s chandlers, which you could cut into lengths and knot the ends of, so it will be sound for 10 years or more of hard use? Buy some ready-made bean bags, or buy some good sturdy cotton or canvas fabric to make some much more sturdy ones which would be easy to repair when the time comes? Ask around about which types of felt pens last, and put the Sixers or oldest Rainbows in charge of ensuring all the pens have their lids on properly before the box is put away so they don’t dry up? Talk to other units which share your hall about buying some resources jointly – does it really make sense for each unit to have it’s own parachute, or paints and brushes, or stoves, or whatever it might happen to be which you would each only be using a few times a year and not simultaneously, when you could split the cost and share the use so that everyone’s money and storage space goes further? Could you have a joint ‘library’ of reference books and resource packs which live in the hall? Need both Guide units own a full set of Go For Its, given each would only be using half a dozen at a time?
I’m not suggesting scrimping and saving over every little thing. Or literally not spending a penny on anything whatsoever all term. All I’m saying is, remember that old Guide Law about “A Guide is Thrifty” and the old saw about looking after the pennies – we are custodians of other people’s money, and there are lots of ways in which you can have a term on next-to-nothing without the programme feeling curtailed at all!