Youth Shaped Scouting in practice
Wondering how to put Youth Shaped Scouting into practice? We visited 38th Rossendale Scout Group in East Lancashire to see how it’s done.
There are plenty of clever concepts being used in Scouting nowadays. We are encouraged to be ‘youth led’, improve ‘accessibility’ and work to make our Programme as ‘Youth Shaped’ as possible. These are all great at ensuring our Movement remains relevant and open to all, but you wouldn’t be alone in wondering what Youth Shaped Scouting looks like in practice. We visited a Troop who have embraced the concept, to hear about the good, the bad and the awkward aspects of becoming Youth Shaped.
The 38th Rossendale Scout Group in East Lancashire has over 30 Scouts, most of whom are relatively young for their age group. Opening the door to their Scout hut, I hear the boisterous chatter and laughter of the Troop. These young people seem to have the voice and confidence I was expecting, but does the Troop have the Youth Shaped attitude to match?
I have to admit to being concerned when I asked 10-year-old Jaxon what he knew about Youth Shaped Scouting and his response was a confused, ‘Err, I haven’t heard of it.’ However, after briefly explaining the meaning behind the phrase, he told me about the most important aspect of Youth Shaped Scouting: the games!
‘Before we start you can ask the leader if there is a game you want to play,’ he told me, adding: ‘I think it’s important for you to have a say, because if everyone doesn’t like what we’re doing, we might as well have a go at something that everyone likes to do.’
What is Youth Shaped Scouting?
So what exactly is Youth Shaped Scouting? It’s difcult to come up with a succinct definition because it’s more of an attitude; it’s the way that young people are being empowered to undertake their own adventures and are being given the opportunity to shape their own experiences. It’s a core concept dating back to 1907, and is an essential part of what makes us Scouts, but as there aren’t currently any formal guidelines to follow, it can be hard to know if we’re doing it right.
Being Youth Shaped is about more than asking young people to choose from a shortlist of activities; the idea is to support your young people in making the list in the first place. Group Scout Leader Chris Taylor has adopted this approach and gathers his Scouts’ thoughts, hopes and ideas right from the beginning: ‘They choose 50 things they want to do and then we’ll narrow them down,’ he says.
What does Youth Shaped Scouting look like?
Chatting to Chris and County Youth Commissioner Emma Cooper was enlightening; they talked me through some of the ways that they have become a more Youth Shaped Group and dished out a good few pieces of advice along the way. The Scout Troop has Patrol Leaders, Assistant Patrol Leaders and Troop Forums to provide everyone with a platform to speak out.
‘I sit down with the Patrol Leaders each month, and every planning cycle I sit down with everyone – that’s when we choose the badges,’ Chris explains. ‘In the middle of this year we had a planning night and they listed all of the activities that they wanted to do, which of course included things that were simply not possible.’
Naturally, this Troop have set their sights high: ‘They wanted to climb Mount Everest, which of course is not possible to do on a Wednesday night!’
This led me to ask: how are you meant to respond to such challenging requests without flattening their enthusiasm? ‘We haven’t said, “we’ll never be able to do that”, we just said “we’re working on it”, which is true,’ explains Chris.
Their overall focus is on listening, making changes and responding honestly but with a healthy dose of optimism. That said, the leaders are well aware that there is still more to be done. ‘It’s important to see being Youth Shaped as a continuous process, that no one Group is perfect at doing it,’ adds Chris, ‘because as members come and go the needs of that Group change and there will always be new opinions to be heard.’ This is a very young Troop and he recognises that as they get older they’ll probably want completely diferent things. By listening and showing the Scouts that their opinions matter, the more ambitious Troop members have started thinking about devoting more time to Scouting long term. ‘I have a couple who are already asking about becoming Senior Patrol Leaders,’ says Chris. ‘There’s lots of progression available to them and as leaders we need to make a note of that interest and then make sure that we act on it.’ Youth Shaped methods of Scouting are working their magic at 38th Rossendale by securing committed members and potential future leaders.
Is it as easy as it sounds?
I’m intrigued to find out what they’ve done when things haven’t gone quite as smoothly; Chris admits that sometimes the process can be tricky: ‘You still have to apply a bit of common sense to some of the things they say. It’s important not to just say, “you want to do it, therefore we do it”; you have to think about what they’re actually asking you to do. Are they asking you for something word for word or asking for the concept of it? So they want to go skiing, well that’s an expensive thing to do, what can we do that’s similar but doesn’t have that element of cost?’ Chris then told me about the most recent request to camp on the dry ski slope in Manchester – an activity which certainly isn’t recommended on their website.
For more Scouting stories read about:
Merseyside Scouts raising awareness of homelessness here.
Inspiring winners of Scouts awards here.