Measuring our contribution
I recently wrote a piece for the Guardian which outlined how Scouting has a positive effect on local areas.
You can read it on the Guardian's website now.
Alternatively, the full text appears below.
Measuring what Scouting contributes to local communities
How many of you have made the scout promise? Even if you haven't, you'll probably know that "to help other people" is part of it – and across the UK, 400,000 Scouts and 100,000 adult volunteers still make this pledge.
In the media glare around our announcement that scouts will return to the streets next May as part of Scout Community Week, it's easy to forget that strong values and making a positive contribution to society have always underpinned our movement.
Where once you saw scouts shining shoes and weeding front gardens, in 2012 you are now likely to find them planting trees, leading recycling schemes and helping older people use the internet. As a movement, scouting is not afraid to change and while our values remain constant, what we do must evolve to meet the needs of today's society.
But exactly how much does scouting contribute? In this age of targets, we need to be as smart and accountable as any other organisation. It's not enough to talk in woolly terms about helping old ladies across roads. Parents, volunteers and supporters have tough choices to make about where they commit their children, time and money. They need empirical evidence to help them make their decisions.
That's why we brought in an independent research company to measure our impact – and we genuinely did not know what this would show. They spoke to more than 2,500 people (volunteers, scouts, former scouts and non-scouts). While we paced nervously up and down the grassy fields of our activity centres, we knew that good results were vital if scouting was to remain relevant today.
Fortunately, the numbers, when they emerged, backed up what we knew deep down – our instinctive feeling that scouting makes life better for young people, adult volunteers and our communities. Some 88% of our young people said scouting has helped them develop key skills; 97% reckoned scouting helped them make friends and build relationships with other people.
We deliver everyday adventure to girls and boys – helping them canoe, climb and camp for the first time (as well as skate, dance, sing, cook – the list goes on). This means they have fun in a safe, supportive environment – but something else is happening too. They grow in confidence, develop leadership skills and start to take a bigger interest in local, national and international affairs.
The results were even more startling when it came to adults. More than 90% of scouting's volunteers say it has helped them develop personal and practical skills. The evidence from employers backs this up too. Organisations say staff who have been involved in scouting are above average employees.
Most relevant to this week's announcement however, is the evidence of our community impact. The research shows that a substantially higher proportion of scouts engage in voluntary activities than those not engaged with scouting – and the effect is long lasting: 36% of former members volunteer regularly (as least two hours per week) set against only 26% of the general population. For many, what began as a week spent vacuuming carpets and mowing lawns turned into a life-long habit of giving something back to their communities.
"Helping in the community makes me feel I have achieved something," Amy, a 14-year-old explorer scout, told me recently. "We did a sleep out to raise money on World Homeless Day. I met homeless people and saw for myself the problems they face."
So the next time you see a scout in the street, look beyond the woggle and neckerchief – you're looking at a citizen of the future and one of tomorrow's leaders today. Better still, offer to give a little time yourself.
Not only will you feel good, chances are volunteering will make you more employable and improve your social life; we promise.