I have just come back from London, where I spent the weekend with a group of young people taking part in the Monopoly Run. We had fantastic fun visiting as many places on the Monopoly board as possible in nine hours. Everyone enjoyed it and it provided so many new experiences including, for some, their first time on the London underground.
Just seeing the enjoyment and listening to the excited discussions they had made the exhaustion worth it. It’s a far cry from whittling sticks in the wood – but this is what modern scouting offers, so it’s no surprise that thousands of young people are clamouring to join. But it’s a shame that that demand isn’t matched by the availability of Scout leaders, leaving 51,000 youngsters on the waiting list. Not only is it a worthwhile way to spend your spare time, it’s incredibly satisfying.
I volunteered when I turned 20 after having been a Cub and a Scout. I had a great time, and made some lifelong friends. Going to Camp Downe in Kent really stands out; it was an international jamboree, and there were 30 different countries represented. We were opposite the Greek Scouts, and I’m still in touch with three of them now. Once I was old enough, I wanted to give back to society just as those who had given up their time for me had done.
Supporting young people at a stage in their lives when they are making important decisions is reward enough
There’s plenty of support on offer when you volunteer and you are surrounded by like-minded individuals, looking to share and gain new experiences for themselves and those they work with. There are opportunities to learn practical, leadership, and organisational skills, taking on responsibility as and when you are ready for it. I’ve learned how to cook, how to communicate with a team and, most importantly, how to effectively lead a group of strangers. It’s challenging at first but very useful in the workplace.
Working with the Explorer Scouts (14- to 18-year-olds) can sometimes be a challenge, as anyone who works with young people will know. Teenagers can be a handful at the best of times, but supporting those who are at a stage in their lives when they are making important decisions about their futures is reward enough.
As Scout leaders we offer them opportunities they may not get elsewhere. Seeing the Scouts in your unit grow and develop as young people, and knowing you have played a part in that, is a great feeling. But they’re not the only ones learning something new. Whether it’s helping someone who’s struggling on a hike or navigating a series of assault courses, lots of the skills I’ve learned have helped me develop in my work life.
As a leader you have the chance to travel, meet inspiring people and form friendships that will last a lifetime. I’ve been to Belgium, but more glamorous trips to jamborees in farther-flung places such as Japan are available. Some of my proudest moments have been with the Scouts, helping young people to achieve so much more than they thought they could, and realising that sometimes all it takes is for them to believe in themselves.
One child springs to mind immediately. He had previously been kicked out of Cubs and Scouts due to bad behaviour, and was in trouble at school for the way he spoke to teachers. His dad got in touch to ask if we’d take him on. We were warned he was a challenge, but we agreed, and it quickly became apparent that if you treated him with respect, he reciprocated. He didn’t like people talking down to him, and the preconceptions many had of him as a troublemaker meant that was often what he faced.
With us he excelled, his behaviour was still sometimes challenging, but by setting firm boundaries we overcame any problems. He earned his bronze Duke of Edinburgh badge, and is now doing fantastically at university. Most pleasingly, before he started at uni, he became a Scout leader for nine months as he wanted to give something back to the organisation that had helped him. He was a credit to the leadership group.
The biggest challenge facing the association is making it clear that any time people can give is appreciated and can make a difference. You can give as much or as little as you choose, and it is not necessary to commit to turning up every week. People do not need previous scouting experience to get involved and volunteering with the association can take many forms. There are so many benefits, for the adults, the young people and society as a whole. Go on, give it a go.