Way back when Guiding started, most people did not have access to genuinely waterproof coats, and wellington boots were rare. Nevertheless, the first handbook makes it clear that Guide meetings should be held outdoors unless the weather absolutely forbade – and there is the famous response from our founder when a unit asked her about fundraising to build a drill hall – Agnes asked why on earth they would want to do drill in a stuffy hall when they could equally well do their drill outdoors and get the benefit of the fresh air . . .
Although we do have to bear in mind that in those days most units met at weekends rather than weekday evenings, and so had the benefit of year-round daylight which many of us don’t, nevertheless any unit log book from those early days would be filled each week with outdoor games, picnic hikes, tracking, fire-lighting, shelter building, campfires, practicing first aid and rescue skills, long-distance signalling, wide games – and very little mention of handicrafts, citizenship discussions, or other indoor/sedentary activities.
And whenever we are preparing adverts about modern Guiding, we automatically look out our photographs of the camping, sailing, climbing and other outdoor adventures we’ve done – and tend to include very few pictures of the girls sitting around tables at the hall. Even though that would be a more accurate reflection of the average unit meeting.
Are we being honest – with the public, and just as important, with ourselves?
I do try to get my unit outdoors as much as is reasonable. Weather permitting we spend the greater part of the summer term outdoors. But this year the summer term is only 10 meetings long for one of my units, and only 7 meetings long for the other due to Monday holidays. On top of this there will be a couple of weeks at the start of the autumn term when we will have daylight. During the winter we do try to arrange some outdoor activities in the dark, but generally we’ll be indoors most of the time. I don’t suppose we’re unusual in that. And I try to organise at least one weekend residential for each unit, which is as much as I can manage most years. So the photos I pick out for the display will almost all tend to come from our once-a-year visit to the watersports centre, or the once-a-year camp or indoor holiday. What we did at unit meetings on the other 34 weeks of the year we met will not get much mention, nor many photos. So I guess my adverts and displays won’t be a very honest portrayal of the unit at all.
Need it be that way?
We nowadays have access to thermal clothing, effective waterproofs, affordable wellingtons. So we can go outside on any week of the year without ill-effects. Most units have access to a local park, farmland or common land, car parks/clearings, or other open areas (however small) which would enable them to get outside – or could borrow a back garden. If the will was there. The range of outdoor activities available to us is much wider than 100 years ago – as well as organised sports there is orienteering/geocaching, many towns have trails, streetlights allow us to do floodlit trails, many playparks and skate parks are open at night, bike trails and cycle lanes are being opened, many areas have countryside wardens, park keepers or nature clubs. And the outdoor activities the early Guides did are still open to us, and still as adventurous as ever they were – indeed in many cases even more so.
I know about staffing. I know about paperwork. I know about worried parents. I have all of those too. But Guiding was a game designed to be played outdoors, and nowadays more than ever, Guiding has a role to play in improving the health of the girls. The old health rhyme was “Always feed on wholesome fare, through your nostrils breathe fresh air, clean yourself both in and out, twist and turn and run about”. Well, don’t we keep hearing about balanced diet, self-healthcare, hygiene and exercise? The rhyme is as relevant and as necessary now as ever it was, when so many of the girls don’t have balanced diets, and rarely get exercise in the fresh air. One of the big aims of Guiding was to give the girls healthy outdoor exercise. I think it’s important that, whatever else the programme may bring, we keep that at the forefront.