What's Your Action Plan?

28th September 2018

A recent report found that the average 6-16-year-old spends fewer than seven hours a week outdoors, including weekends, and that 75 per cent of parents believe their children spend less time outdoors than they themselves did when they were young. But the picture is not all bleak. Lisa Botwright chats with representatives from the Scout Organisation – the archetypal movement set up to support young people’s physical, mental and spiritual development through outdoor fun…

“When you’re a parent, getting children outside is like pulling teeth,” smiles Cub Leader Sarah Wright. “They won’t go for a walk with their family, but they don’t complain when they’re on a hike with us.”

Scouting, the spiritual home of woggles, windswept walks and campfire singing – a movement which could easily have faded away as ‘uncool’ to our technology-obsessed youngest generation – has never been more popular.

There are now 640,000 Scouts in the UK, including 461,598 young people aged 6-18 and 163,533 adult volunteers; with girls having been admitted in 1991, more than a quarter of the total membership is female. The youth provision starts at the age of six, and continues to the age of 25, and is divided into Beavers, Cubs, Scouts, Explorers and Network. Scouting is growing year on year with both adults and young people, including a 6% increase in volunteers in their latest figures.

Llewellyn Watkins, Chairman of Chorleywood Scouts, says “parents still recognise the benefits of Scouts for their children, the confidence that is derived from achievement, and the need to acquire life skills which will help them wherever their future takes them. Many of the lifelong friendships that adults have made emanate from time spent in Scouts. It would be difficult to achieve any of these things online.”

Sarah tells me that leaders can’t keep up with the demand for places, and that there are long waiting lists, especially for the Beavers, the youngest entry point. She believes that one of the biggest attractions is that since family life is increasingly busy, it’s difficult to make time for the kind of challenging and exciting activities that the Scouts are set up to deliver, such as climbing, abseiling and archery.

The Scouting movement owns a vast network of campsites, with activities on-site all run by volunteers, so the cost of offering something like ‘high-ropes’, compared to a commercial operation like Go Ape is significantly cheaper. “We’re able to offer different skills and expertise, without enormous prices,” says Sarah. Then there are the relationships with various organisations. Chorleywood Scouts, for example, work closely with BLYM, a sailing charity based at Rickmansworth Aquadrome. Children can be introduced to water sports inexpensively, and may well go on to choose to become involved independently. Sarah’s own children, aged 14 and 16, who are Explorers, are also BLYM-trained Assistant Sailing Club instructors, employed over the summer holidays, thanks to this link.

“It’s fun when we do the activities outside in the dark,” 12-year-old Scout Toby, tells me. “I like the backwoods cooking and the competitions, and being able to go off at the campsite. I like the freedom.”

“We teach children to take calculated risks in a safe environment,” continues Sarah. “And not to be fazed if things go wrong. We hear anecdotally from parents that their child was the only one who could put up a tent and wasn’t upset by the rain when she went off to Reading Festival with a group of friends; or that their son was the only one who could cook in his shared university digs.”

And it’s not just the children who benefit. Former Beaver Leader Ruchi Mayfield explains, “Scouts has pushed me to do lots of things, and I have done more than I expected to be able to do: heights… walking and cycling further than I normally would… kayaking, which I would not get the opportunity to do otherwise. And just watching kids go from joining Beavers and barely being able to tie shoelaces to competently building shelters they can sleep in outdoors, in the space of a few years, is wonderful.”

Every child has something they’re good at, Sarah contends. “And the best thing is that children can try a little bit of everything. We might get someone who’s not particularly sporty, but they find they’re great at archery. If leaders identify a particular talent, they can pass the details of a local group that offers specialised lessons in this on to the parents.”

One mother, based in South Oxhey, credits Scouts with completely turning her son’s life around. Henry, nearly 12, has Global Developmental Delay and attends a Special Educational Needs School. His mum was worried that he was becoming increasingly withdrawn and overly engaged with technology. “He just wanted to play on his Xbox; he wasn’t getting any exercise.” His first time at Scouts was very daunting but he agreed to go back. “Now he’s really come out of his shell and finds it easier to make friends inside and outside of school,” she enthuses. “He couldn’t express himself with words very well before – now he can find the words to explain if he’s tired or upset. And it’s not just the physical skills he’s learning, but also life and social skills; he has pride, respect and a good moral code.”

Leaders are encouraged to design their weekly (and termly) programmes around opportunities for physical, mental and spiritual development for children. It’s not all high-octane, adrenaline-charged sports every week; sometimes the children might litter-pick along the canal, or visit a place of worship that isn’t theirs, for example, earning and working towards tangible reward in the form of badges as they go along. Where once the movement was closely affiliated with the Church of England, now membership is much more diverse and alternative versions of The Promise exist for those of other faiths and more. Charlotte, 13, says, “Since I became a Scout I have been so much more involved in my local area – volunteering as a Scout, helping out and getting to know people in the community. I have learnt so much and met people from so many different backgrounds, making some really great friends.”

Another positive is that children can socialise and make friends outside their school circle. As Jake, also 13, says, “I enjoy meeting friends who do not go to my school [and] the camps we have been on have been exciting and brought us together.” One mother told me that when she moved into the area and was waiting for a local school place to come up, she signed her 10-year-old daughter up to Scouts, and “it was the best thing I did”. When the child eventually started the new school, “she already had a group of friendly, familiar faces she knew.”

Earlier this year, a research study of over 2,000 young people, both Scouts and non-Scouts, revealed (or rather ‘confirmed’, according to the Scout Association) that joining the movement develops strong community engagement in young people, fostering a culture of curiosity and acceptance. It also reported how Scouting develops skills that are vital in the workplace. Compared to their non-Scouting counterparts, Scouts are 17% more likely to demonstrate leadership skills, 11% more likely to be better problem solvers, 19% more likely to show emotional intelligence and 17% more likely to be able to work well in teams.

As the self-styled master of resilience, Bear Grylls (who is, of course, Chief Scout), says, “this research proves that Scouting helps young people to develop a sense of community spirit, curiosity about the world and tolerance of others, as well as a host of practical skills for life. But most importantly, it’s super fun!”

The only limit to the fun, it seems, is finding volunteers to lead the meetings and the activities. Lewellyn, who began his relationship with the Scouts by helping out at his local Cub pack when his now 36-year-old son joined at the age of eight, tells me that the most common subject for discussion about the future of Scouts worldwide is the shortage of adult leaders. “Scouts benefit from years of Leadership experience which needs to be augmented by the next generation of parents, helpers, and instructors. We are always keen to recruit new leaders.”

To channel the Scouts’ famous motto… could you ‘be prepared’?

To find out more visit www.scouts.org.uk

The Scouts are just one of many volunteer-led organisations for young people offering an amazing range of activities and opportunities… here are a few more examples…

Who are they?

Girlguiding, originally the sister organisation to Scouts, and the leading charity for girls in the UK, has 400,000 young members and 100,000 volunteers across the UK. It includes Rainbows (5–7 years)Brownies (7–10), Guides (10–14) and Rangers (14–18).

What do children gain from joining?

Girls and young women work towards badges and activities designed to equip them with the skills and experiences they will need to ‘thrive, succeed, make change and be happy in the modern world’. It’s all about providing ‘a supportive space where girls are encouraged to give activities a go so they discover what it is they want to pursue and don’t worry about failing or being judged’.

• www.girlguiding.org.uk

Who are they?

Since 1925 Woodcraft Folk have provided opportunities for all (from birth to adult) to engage with nature, learn about the environment and work co-operatively. Over 7,000 children and young people attend groups regularly; more than 30,000 will participate in residential experiences at one of their centres and over 10,000 children will engage in outreach sessions.

What do children gain from joining?

The aim of the organisation is ‘to have great fun, but also to try to develop children’s self-confidence and build their awareness of society around them’. Young people develop new skills in everything from public speaking to bushcraft.

• www.woodcraft.org.uk

Who are they?

The Volunteer Police Cadets (VPC) is the primary youth engagement programme of the Police Service. VPC numbers are at an all-time high, with 5100 cadets in the Metropolitan Police Service alone. Cadets aged 13-18 volunteer with police officers to support operational policing, crime prevention and community safety.

What do children gain from joining?

Young people are enriched with new skills, abilities and experiences to advantage them in life. As well as supporting the force, they also take part in outdoor expeditions to parts of the UK such as Brecon Beacons or Dartmoor, ‘in an environment of social interaction and teamwork’.

• www.met.police.uk/cadets (London) • www.vpc.police.uk (nationally)

St John’s Ambulance UK offers youth programmes for young people aged 7-25: the opportunity to learn first aid alongside other important life skills.

• www.sja.org.uk/sja/young-people.aspx

Sea Cadets is a national youth charity working with 10 to 18 year olds across the UK. Cadets follow similar traditions, values and ethos as the Royal Navy.

• www.sea-cadets.org

Air Cadets is a UK-wide force for members aged between 12 and 20 years, and is sponsored by the Royal Air Force.

• www.raf.mod.uk/aircadets

Find Your Local