Over recent years, there has been an explosion in the number of badges in UK Guiding. Gone are the days when the only badges a girl would sew on her uniform were her Six/Patrol badge, unit name tape and country badge, and the interest/proficiency and progress badges she had earned – and all of those bar the Promise badge were meant to be returned to the Leaders when she left the unit (later on the opportunity was offered to ‘buy out’ the badges earned). Apart from these, there were only the occasional jubilee or anniversary badge, if she timed her membership right.
Now it seems that no Guiding event, of however modest a scale, is complete without a ‘badge for turning up’ being issued, and sometimes some other badges for participating in the day’s organised activities being issued as well. Even if it’s only a single unit’s event, perhaps even just a theme night done at an ordinary unit meeting and all done on the one night, there is often a badge. Gone are the days when the only badge you got for attending a unit camp or holiday was the cardboard name badge for wearing during the event only. Every week more and more challenge badge packs are being launched, on a bewildering range of themes, each, naturally, accompanied by a fabric badge.
We also find people are seeking more uniform space for badges to be displayed – we’ve gone from sash, to extra-wide sash, to some saying the extra-wide sash is not big enough or the badges are too big. Rainbow polo shirts are apparently becoming covered both front and back. Even Rainbows and younger Brownies have enough badges to start a camp blanket . . .
So I think we are reaching the stage where we need to step back for a moment, and start asking ourselves about this proliferation. Why do we issue badges? When and for what should they be issued (or indeed, not be issued)? What value should be attached to the earning of a badge (if any)? Which categories of badges should be worn on uniform, and should any be restricted to display in locations other than on uniform – or not? Should all badges worn have a Guiding significance, or be a notable achievement directly linked to Guiding? What about non-Guiding badges – charity badges, military or civilian medals, souvenir badges from Guiding premises visited, name badges, Leaders wearing interest badges which their unit has done jointly, etc – and should there be different rules for one-off wearing of some badges on relevant anniversary dates, (e.g. poppies or medals in early November) against what can be worn regularly on uniform through the year? Are there occasions when it would be inappropriate or unfair to issue badges?
When badges were few, the girls could often give anyone who cared to ask them some idea of what they had done to gain each of the badges they wore. They could recall tracking progress in their test card or pocket book, or the weeks of practice prior to attending the proficiency/interest badge test, or the special venture or pack project they took part in, or the anniversary of making their Promise. There was some awareness behind each badge, and they felt they had earned each one they wore (perhaps helped by the limited number they received?), and that the badge was evidence of skills mastered and a particular standard attained. And, of course, of skills which could be used for good turns. As the number of badges issued went up, and the range of occasions when badges were issued increased, were they still as valued, is there still that feeling that each one has been thoroughly earned through serious effort - or has that faded into the background? And does it matter if it has? Are we reaching a stage where the girls (and Leaders) have come to expect ‘a badge for everything’ – and is that an appropriate expectation to have? Should badges be automatically given for ‘turning up at events’, or should there be a requirement to actually do something specific in order to earn the badge - or should some occasions not merit the issuing of badges at all? Or not? Are badges the most appropriate type of award for all occasions, or should there sometimes be another option considered, or even no reward save the fun of the activities, or the honour of representing the unit at an occasion - which may in some cases might be considered reward enough? Is the buying and issuing of yet more unofficial badges the best use of unit funds, or would it be better to utilise the funds for buying equipment for long-term use instead?
I don’t have the answers to even a fraction of all these questions, but I think we should be pausing and asking ourselves – what should badges on Guiding uniforms stand for?