Thursday, 13 August 2020

Building Our Future

 It's out with the old.  In the past year, two city centre County Headquarters hereabouts have gone on the market, and it's been announced that our national Training Centre won't re-open after Covid, and will instead be prepared for sale.

It would be easy to be sentimental about these grand and historic buildings which have been owned by Guiding for over seventy years.  But although grand and historic and beautiful they were, for a charity they were also a bit of a problem - they were expensive to run, and expensive to maintain, and there were forthcoming large repair bills.  They also had issues around accessibility - most of the rooms were not wheelchair accessible, and listed status made that impossible to rectify, even if there had been large amounts of funding available to do it.

Once these buildings sell, it will leave a large pot of money, but also a purpose to fulfil.  The Guide Counties will still need a building to house their administrative functions, and access to meeting rooms for their committees.  The loss of the training centre means the loss of the training centre itself and also the campsites and holiday houses - so there will need to be investment in alternative training resources and outdoor facilities.

In other words, the loss of these twentieth-century facilities provides an opportunity to plan and deliver twenty-first century facilities.  We have a blank sheet of paper to consider what sort of premises a city County might want in fifty years' time.  We can consider what training for Unit Leaders might look like in fifty years time, and plan facilities to meet that need.  We can think about what Guiding residential events might be like in fifty years time, and consider what facilities that would entail.  

Every end is a beginning - how can we utilise the opportunity of a fresh beginning to serve the members of tomorrow?

Monday, 27 July 2020

A Hobby or a Job?

Guiding is a hobby. 

There, I've said it, attack me now. 

Because I can already hear the people saying 'Of course not, it's far more than a hobby!'  But it is just a hobby.  And the Founders stated several times that every Leader in Scouting and Guiding should have at least one other hobby or pastime unrelated to their Scouting or Guiding, otherwise they would soon become stale.

I appreciate that during the current Covid lockdown, many people who would normally be in paid employment are finding themselves furloughed and with large amounts of unexpected time on their hands as a result.  And I also appreciate that there have long been a number of Leaders in Guiding who aren't normally in paid employment due to their own health or to acting as carers for others, who find Guiding an engaging way of occupying their spare time, and in the absence of the weekly meeting, are devoting their spare time to creating resources and activities to send out to the girls - although they aren't always receiving the enthusiastic responses hoped for in return.

But I return to what the Founders said.  At least one hobby or pastime unrelated to their Scouting or Guiding.  Now it doesn't much matter what it is - it could be a handicraft such as knitting or woodwork, sketching or flower arranging, singing in the choir, playing in the orchestra, hillwalking or fishing or sailing or dancing or - or anything really.  Anything which gets you away from Guiding, and if possible, mixing with people beyond those involved in Guiding, giving you fresh ideas and inspiration, and keeping you from becoming stale.  "All work and no play . . . "

Unit Guiding can be a treadmill.  Each year, new girls join the unit, old girls move on, but the unit and it's Leaders keep on going - because there is no natural end-point.  There used to be - used to be a maximum age for Leaders, and though there were downsides, one advantage was that at a certain point people had to get off the bus, and at an age when there was often still plenty of time and energy to take up the other hobbies which had been laid aside as Guiding took up the time - but now there isn't a retirement date, and so Leaders tend to keep going, month by month and year by year, unless an outside reason causes them to stop - either a change to the Leader's personal life, or falling numbers in the unit due to demographics making it no longer viable.  It's why they've had to bring out ever higher-numbered long-service awards - at one time 30 years was the highest, then a 40 year one was introduced, then a 50.  It may only be a matter of time before 60 year awards are needed. 

I often hear, too, of people who 'live for Guiding'.  Who wouldn't know what to do with their time if it wasn't for Guiding.  And - I feel sorry for them.  Great as Guiding can be (and I do believe it can be), it isn't a substitute for a varied range of acquaintance and of inspiration.  If you only mix with the same sorts of people who have the same sorts of viewpoints and the same sorts of interests - then you don't encounter other viewpoints and other ideas.  Another Founder quote - "when you think you're looking wide, look wider still!"

I've long had a rule - a bare minimum of one day per week where I do nothing Guiding-related whatsoever, ideally more.  I might do some musical instrument practice, I might go walking in the hills, I might visit a museum or place of interest, I might visit family or friends - it matters not what I do, so long as I am doing something, and it is unrelated to Guiding - no playing Guide songs or doing a recce for a future Brownie visit!

Covid-19 has meant no unit meetings for a period of over four months - far longer than any summer break would be.  For all it's downsides, what it does offer is an opportunity for us to evaluate our hobbies - and Guiding among them.  Which hobbies and pastimes would we like to be doing a year hence - are there some 'on the back burner' that we'd like to get started on again?  Some we've always fancied trying - is now our chance to do something about starting on them, perhaps through an online course?  Which hobbies and pastimes do we want to continue, and would that be at the same level of intensity, giving a bit more time to them, or giving a bit less?   Which hobbies would we like to either drop, or change our role or commitment in - perhaps dropping some roles, or swapping for fresh ones, or moving to a job-share?

Most Leaders in Guiding have a full-time role - paid employment or caring work - and the Guiding hobby.  It should be obvious to anyone which is the full-time role and which is the spare-time hobby.  But - is it?

Friday, 24 July 2020

Don't Panic, Captain Mainwaring!

Covid lockdown has been extremely disruptive for all units, mine included.  But after so many weeks where we could not hold physical gatherings of any sort, there is light at the end of the tunnel - proposals have been posted which will allow physical gatherings under certain limited circumstances.  And with the prospect of schools returning in August in some parts of the UK and September in others - there can be hope that once that is achieved, it may be possible for youth groups such as ours to find realistic, safe ways of holding meetings.

Some initial options for holding meetings outdoors have already been published.  And within days of that, the chaos has started.  For on online forums, we already see people analysing every sub-clause of what has been said in every interpretation they can muster, in order to try and find a way to legitimately hold the events they long to.

Hence, I say, don't panic, Captain Mainwaring.  Please, step back for a moment and ponder bigger picture.  The reason we have gone through, and are still going through, such major disruption affecting everyone in the world - is a disease which can be deadly, not just to the poorly and the frail, but also to the comparatively young and comparatively healthy.  Every rule which has been put in place hasn't been imposed without forethought, or without consideration of the implications.  Governments are aware of the freedoms being withdrawn, of the impacts on physical and mental health, of the impacts on so many areas of normal life.  But the reason why has to be our focus.  Covid-19 hasn't gone away, even if you happen to be fortunate enough to live in an area where prevalence is currently low.  We don't have any vaccines to prevent people from catching it and we're only gradually finding out how best to treat those who catch it.  It need only take one bit of carelessness to allow it the chance to spread from unwitting host to large numbers of unwitting recipients. 

Please, keep in mind the reasons for having restrictions - our liability for the safety of the girls in our charge in the presence of an illness which can cause long-term illness, or worse.  Please read the guidance thoroughly and carefully, making sure you understand each element of it and how it would apply to your unit and it's circumstances.  Please take in not just the letter of the rules but also the spirit - don't hunt for loopholes, or for ways of making your brilliant idea work by making a particular interpretation of what's said that will be favourable, rather than the interpretation which would not be.  After all, if what you are thinking of is borderline permissible now depending on interpretation, it's entirely possible that in only a few weeks time it would be clearly permissible, and few good ideas are harmed by a little delay.

We do not need to rush back to holding outdoor unit meetings on the first date we legally can.  We do not need to hold indoor unit meetings on the first date we legally can.  Far better that we take time to work out things like how the girls will arrive and depart the area without ending up in crowds.  How we arrange facilities like toilets and shelter in inclement weather.  Coming up with lots of ideas for socially-distanced games and crafts and activities.  Working out our risk assessments and getting clearance for them from the DC, including allowing time if she wants us to tweak and then resubmit some of the entries.

Guiding will come back, and in time, it will come back in a broadly similar format to what it was before.  It'll happen all the sooner if we can behave calmly and sensibly now, rather than rushing in.  Hence, "Don't panic, Captain Mainwaring!"

Monday, 2 March 2020

Won't anyone think of the trees?

I am broadly supportive of the new programme.  It contains a lot of great activity resources, and it has significantly broadened the programmes of most units.  It has created a ‘minimum standard’ in each section which has made it much easier for Commissioners to identify and support ‘failing units’, and it has supported less confident leaders to plan and run activities. 

And I don’t mind most of the recent tweaks, which I have seen as a positive thing. 

What concerns me, though, is one of the recent tweaks.

Naturally, the new programme has meant some expense for units – and in some sections, significantly more badge expenditure than they had been accustomed to.  For whereas before, Guide units had accepted the need to suck up the cost of GFI packs, GFI Cards or Badges, Adventure Badges, Interest Badges, welcome packs – as well as of G-Files if the unit opted to provide them – on top of the standard Promise badge & certificate, Patrol Badge, unit name tape etc – once Rainbow units had covered the initial recruit expenses, they only had Roundabout badges, Pot of Gold, and the occasional new Roundabout pack to pay for – Rangers even less.  Their only other expense being on activitiy equipment as for all sections.  So their unit admin/resources spend was much lower compared to Guides or Brownies. 

Whereas with the new programme all units need to invest similarly, either solely or jointly, in packs of UMA cards and Skill Builder Cards.  Each girl other than those in Rangers needs a ring-bound badge book rather than just a paper booklet.  All sections now have interest badges, and skill builder badges, and theme award badges.

But the thing which has bred, especially in recent months, is certificates.  For no longer are there just Promise certificates, leaving certificates, and optional extra certificates for those units which choose to present extra certificates.  But there are now Bronze, Silver and Gold Award certificates.  And one might say, fair enough, for those are intended to be high achievements.  Ah, but no.   Not satisfied with that, we now have Theme Award certificates too, one for each Theme Award, even though every other Theme Award certificate will be handed out at the same time as Bronze or Silver Award and certificate are.  And there are those who are advocating for Interest Badge certificates – yes, one for every Interest Badge gained.  And completion-of-UMA-minutes certificates – one per theme.  And Skill Builder Certificates – one for every Skill Builder completed.  Despite the fact that badges are already presented to mark Promise, leaving, every Interest Badge, every Skill Builder Badge, every Theme Award, Bronze Award, Silver Award and Gold Award.  So for almost all of these things, the certificate is a duplication of the badge which is already earned and presented.

Won’t anyone think of the trees?  Or of the expense?

It’s not as if most of these events aren’t already marked and rewarded in some way.  All but completion of UMA minutes is already marked by badges.  So issuing certificates is 100% duplication – two prizes per achievement instead of one. 

This leads us to two questions.  The first is expense.  Whilst in no way grudging the marking or rewarding of effort, fact is that many of the badges cost 55p each, which isn’t much singly, but starts to add up when your unit of 25 are all working on Skill Builders, and Interest Badges, and starting to clock up Theme Awards.  Still, they are earning the badges, so it is only right that they should receive them.  But certificates are 50p each – so adding a certificate onto each badge means instantly near-doubling the expense.  Is that really justified?

The expense might be neither here nor there if there was evidence of a real desire amongst the girls to have certificates.  Maybe attitudes differ in other areas, but never, upon presenting a badge, has a child asked me if there is a certificate to go with it.  Are certificates valued if they are dished out too often, or for occasions where the recipient isn’t entirely clear on what they have done to earn them?  Or is it fair to say that the more a person receives, the less special each one is?

The other consideration, as we suggested, is ‘the trees’.  Issuing both certificate and badge is a duplication.  As a way of making some things extra special, and marking achievement beyond what is expected, it may be justified.  For the likes of Theme Awards, and Bronze/Silver/Gold, where the reward isn’t just for turning up at meetings and taking part in whatever activities the Leaders happen to organise, but also involves giving up their own time and making a personal effort to work on an Interest Badge.  But to issue them for every Skill Builder, as we now may – and for every Interest Badge and set of UMA hours if some get their way – does seem unnecessary, it’s effectively just a back-door good attendance certificate.  And on that basis, it’s hard to justify ‘another tree’.  And at this point, we can consider all of the environmental costs.  For an organisation urging it’s members to make a ‘plastic promise’ for the planet – what price the cardboard, the printing, the warehousing and distribution, the shop/depot storage and distribution costs? 

I appreciate, people want to encourage the girls to achievement by rewarding achievement.  But we need to face up to the consequences of doing so, and consider how much reward is enough, not rush to add on more rewards, for minor as well as major achievements.  To pause and think of the trees . . .

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Remembrance Badges for whom?

In the past, different companies have produced their own cloth poppy badges (and other poppy-decorated products), and marketed them directly or indirectly at Guiding Leaders.  And I've tended to be uncomfortable with them, mainly because in most cases it was not clear whether they had gained permission to use poppy logos, Girlguiding UK ones, or both, nor what proportion of the proceeds (if any proportion) were going to the relevant charities (both RBL and PoppyScotland, not just the former).  I feared, rightly or wrongly, that the companies might be more focussed on profits for them rather than proceeds for the cause.

This year, Girlguiding UK have produced their own official poppy badges, and have stated that all profits will go to the relevant poppy charities.  So the concerns about copyright design, and about destination of funds, have been dealt with.

But for me, one concern remains.  Who gets a badge - and who doesn't?

Ideally, each unit thinking of issuing them would do some sort of activity about remembrance, however brief, and then issue them to all members who had thus participated in remembrance.  Or at the first meeting after the 11th, the Leaders would ask each girl whether they participated in the silence either on the Sunday nearest, or on the morning of the 11th itself, regardless of wherever they happened to be when doing it - and would then issue the badge to all who had taken part in one or both of the silences.  Whether that was in a place of worship, at school, at home, or somewhere else.

But I fear some units will only be issuing it to those who opt to take part in the one specified remembrance parade and/or service nominated by the Leaders.  Regardless of whether some of their members may have taken part in other parades or services on the day, and regardless of whether some of their members may have marked the silence in other locations and in other ways.  And there is an immediate problem, because even if there is an option of just the parade and not the service in the church, many of the ceremonies held at war memorials include Christian prayers and/or Christian hymns, which can be a barrier for any girls or Leaders who are not Christians.

The implications of the badges only going to those who parade?  That there is a reward issued to those who mark remembrance in one way, and no reward for those who mark it in any other reasonable way.  No badge if you attend a remembrance service or ceremony at another war memorial or in another religious building, instead of the chosen one.  Or you maintain your regular commitment to your Sunday morning class or club, rather than truant it, perhaps having checked that they plan to pause at 11am to have a silence.  Or if you visit a war veteran relative, or the grave of a relative injured or killed through war.  Or if you respect your family's view that a public parade with flags and bands isn't the right way to remember the war and it's effects, in general, or on your family in particular.

So while I am glad that there is now an official badge we can get and issue without having to worry about whether the proceeds are going to charity or to private profit, I don't feel that all the difficulties are resolved.  Because I believe that either the badges should be issued to everyone who remembers - or to no-one.  Not only given to those who remember in one particular way.

Friday, 22 March 2019

Awards for All?

Guiding has always had a system of awards to present to it’s membership.  Awards for long service, for gallantry, for fortitude, and for ‘good service’.  The first is awarded to adults automatically regardless of what type of role(s) have been held.  The next two categories are nowadays only for youth members, and the last of these categories, whilst notionally available to all Leaders, is in reality only ever awarded to Leaders who have taken on roles at County, Country/Region, National or International level.  Not to those who have only served at Unit Level.

In addition there is a piecemeal selection of local awards in different parts of the country.  These can be at County or at Country/Region level.  Some are open to nominations, others are in the personal gift of the appropriate Commissioner.  Some are aimed at grassroots Leaders, most at those who have taken on roles at County or Country/Region level.  But some localities are covered by more than one local award, whereas other areas have none.  And some awards are given out more frequently than others. 

I do not want to knock those who have gained awards.  I can think of a large number of instances where awards were indeed well deserved.  But I would question the fact that so many awards do not recognise the efforts of those Leaders who, year by year, provide ‘Good Guiding’ in the units.  Many Leaders and volunteers work away quietly, many are the backbone of Guiding.  But the awards structure as it currently stands - does not serve them.

So I would suggest that two steps are needed.

1) Create a parallel set of awards to the existing ones which are awarded for ‘higher level’ service, with the new ones designed to specifically recognise Unit Leaders and volunteers, and their grassroots work in local communities.

2) Each Commissioner, at some point in her term of office, should be expected to nominate someone (or more than one person if she wishes) in her area for an award.  The nomination would naturally have to be considered at a higher level as at present, and there would be no guarantee that nomination would result in an award being given, but it would mean Commissioners being required to consider the Leaders and volunteers in their patch, and consider whether, actually, there is quiet, significant achievement which is going unrecognised.

I wouldn’t want quotas.  Or a set date when each Commissioner nominates, with people waiting to see ‘who will get this time’ and being disappointed if this year no award is made.  And I wouldn’t want Commissioners to have to nominate someone every year whether there is an outstanding candidate to put forward or just a good one (‘Buggins’ turn’).  But in our rush to focus on the recruitment half of ‘recruitment and retention’, and given that the average length of service for a Leader in the UK is only 2 years – we need to value the Leaders we have who give more than two years, who consistently go above and beyond at a local level, provide the continuity in our units and form the backbone of our Districts – and show them that they are valued, and awards aren’t just for the ‘high heid yins’.

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”.