CEO's blog | A Movement with the courage to do things differently
I was recently asked what had surprised me most about Scouting since I started as Chief Executive. My answer was that I was staggered by the sheer number of ways we are delivering Scouting where it’s needed most. I’m so impressed by how Scouting can look completely different but still deliver great outcomes. Let me explain.
A fortnight ago I spent an evening with Great Ormond Street Hospital Scouts and Guides. This is Scouting at its most flexible. Volunteers of all ages took part in a night of activities offering fun and adventure to young patients, bringing a bit of light relief to those undergoing their own personal challenges.
Last week, I was with a group in Northampton where young people from a variety of backgrounds (including many on free school meals) shared a lively evening of games and festive celebrations. This was a thriving group, brilliantly led, where children from different schools and backgrounds came together for a cracking night.
And last night, I visited a group on the outskirts of Newcastle as part of Northumberland Scouts’ LookwideUK initiative. Using the Scouting method, LookwideUK helps to bring fun, adventure, hope and purpose to disaffected and disengaged young people who have not had the support they need or for whom traditional educational routes have not worked.
It was completely inspirational, particularly when one of the Group was awarded a certificate which prompted others to ask what they would need to do get the same award. I spent many years in higher education talking about raising aspirations - I’ve rarely seen it represented so simply and so powerfully.
Becoming truly inclusive
Scouting has been on quite a journey in recent years. What I see today is a Movement committed to representing wider society in word and deed in order to become truly inclusive. Consider the following:
• We already provide Scouting in over 70 of the 100 most deprived communities across England, and for over half of the most deprived communities in Wales and Scotland.
• The Scout Association has recently engaged with the Youth United Foundation (YUF) to support the further development of Scouting in disadvantaged communities. Staff have been employed to support this work on a range of initiatives to engage these communities.
• In 2003, girls represented just 8% of the total youth membership. They now represent 18%, and are the biggest contributor to growth in the Movement. Now fewer than 2% of Scout Groups are without girls.
• Training on diversity and inclusion has been a part of the Adult Training Scheme for more than 10 years.
• The Scout Association attends London Pride, with a growing presence at this annual event. We have our own Scout Active Support Unit, FLAGS, which helps with the recruitment, retention and ongoing support of LGBT adults within UK Scouting, as well as supporting attendance at local Pride events across the country.
• The Scout Association partners with a number of organisations to develop support and resources for a range of additional needs, including Mencap, the National Deaf Children’s Society, Royal London Society for the Blind and the Communications Trust.
• Our Developments Grants Board targets funding to a range of projects aimed at making Scouting inclusive to all, including young offenders.
• There are now 45 Muslim Scout Groups supported by a nationally employed Development Officer and a team of volunteers focused solely on the growth of Scouting in Muslim communities.
• Recruitment resources have been created in a variety of languages including Bengali, Hindi and Polish.
Like any organisation in this country we still have a long way to go to be truly inclusive. However the examples above show that we are building on strong foundations. We need to share that learning within the Movement in order to reach further and ensure every young person has the opportunity to experience Scouting.
A variety of approaches
Whilst HQ can catalyse new activity by securing and targeting investment (as demonstrated by the YUF funding) what my recent visits have shown is that a diversity of approaches is essential. The delivery of the programme was completely different in each of the three settings I describe above, but the Scouting method was clearly evident.
If we are too proscriptive about what Scouting looks like we will kill the creative solutions that are needed to provide non-formal learning to new audiences. It strikes me therefore that if we are to reach more people, greater flexibility of provision is key, as is local community buy-in. There can be no one-size-fits-all approach.
This element of our new strategy is critically important not just to Scouting but to wider society. We are helping to educate a generation of young people to understand and accept difference, so that they can navigate the world around them.
An appreciation of difference was at the heart of the origins of Scouting. Baden-Powell’s original Brownsea Island experiment was attended by boys from different social backgrounds during the class-conscious Edwardian era. Today the policy experts call this social mixing. It is an enduring principle that leads to greater community cohesion and a more tolerant society.
The importance of educating people so that they understand and accept difference is brilliantly articulated in the seminal book The Dignity of Difference by former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks. He describes how today we live in ‘the conscious presence of difference’ and argues that different faiths and cultures should ‘make space for "the other" the one who is not like us, whose race, colour or creed is different from ours.’
Scouting is a Movement that celebrates diversity and we have a vital role today in helping our members to learn about, and celebrate, difference. We have bold and exciting plans to build on existing work so young people from every background get to enjoy life-changing fun and adventure. This will be a clear priority in the 2014-18 Strategic Plan.
We are ambitious about our ability to make a step-change in this area and I am a big believer in the carrot rather than stick approach. I want to see how we could encourage the sharing of best practice and celebrate groundbreaking and innovative work. With the former, this might mean creating a central hub of case studies and using technology to share knowledge, learning and evaluation.
In terms of celebration, I do think National Scout Awards would help shine a spotlight on exceptional work to champion our exemplary Groups to the Movement and the outside world. That way we can create a greater sense of pride in what we are doing and make a statement that this is an inclusive Movement, capable of learning, transformation and innovation – and fundamentally one that changes people’s lives whatever their background.