'But it's different here'

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'You don’t understand Wayne, its different here' is a phrase I hear often, no more so than when I visit Northern Ireland. But you know, I’m not so sure...

I enjoyed a great weekend in Northern Ireland where we have just held the penultimate DC and GSL Forum and took the opportunity to spend Saturday with County Down’s CC, Stephen Donaldson and found time to join Newtonards District for their annual Scout 5-a-side football and Newry District leaders and supporters for their annual dinner at the end of their centenary year (making up for having missed their service last year due to the volcanic ash).

A complexity I cannot begin to imagine, but...

Yes, it’s true that Northern Ireland has complex history and that the community is very traditional and conservative – more of that later. But the challenges I discussed with leaders from rural communities and urban areas in Northern Ireland were little different than those from similar communities elsewhere in England, Scotland and Wales. Certainly the young people I met were just as great and enthusiastic, and not just the winning team!

I was also struck by the ‘can do’ attitude of just about everybody I chatted to  from the Cub Leader who had struggled with a handful of Cubs for a couple of years and now had 26; to the Leaders who had re-opened a group a few years ago and were finding it hard going with finances and recruitment but were determined to succeed. Such determination was a common factor throughout, as well as a wish by the vast majority to move forward.

Change is never easy, but change we must

Change is never easy, and does seem to take a little longer in Northern Ireland perhaps - but change will happen and it was especially good to hear from some Explorer Scouts in particular about how good they thought their programme was, especially as a common theme for several Leaders I met was how different Northern Ireland was, and how we should change the Scout age back there. Cleary some have short memories and forget the 'good old days', when our number of teenagers was in free fall!

On the age range challenge however, I enjoyed a healthy discussion with Mark Dick from Ballymena who has commented here – although I don’t think we changed each others' minds it was a good discussion, continued over lunchtime when it was clear that we agree on much more than we disagree on – as is often the case.

My thanks to Stephen and the Leaders in County Down and Northern Ireland generally for giving me a great weekend that left me looking forward to my next visit which I hope will be very soon.

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