Growing the Movement: saving sections
The Regional Services Team is growing Scouting across the UK. 1st Weston & Weston Point Scout Group, Runcorn, was saved from closure by strong leadership.
'I've been part of the Group since I was 11,' says Jess Middleton. During the time she was a youth member, they had an 'amazing' Scout Leader who was also the Group Scout Leader (GSL), and who picked up all sorts of roles to keep everything running smoothly. 'Slowly, he had to step back because of other commitments,' Jess says. So, aged just 18, she volunteered to run the Scouts section. When the GSL left Scouting, the Group had just three volunteers.
'I was 18 and had only just become a leader,' Jess says. 'The other leaders were quite new to it too. We didn't have the permits to take the kids camping.' Lack of support from parents meant they were really struggling, and the Programme suffered as a result. Numbers in the Scouts section dropped dramatically.
Seeing that the Group desperately needed some guidance, Jess took up the role of Group Scout Leader. 'I was worried about taking on the role,' she says. 'I worried that I was too young and didn't have enough experience.'
She raised the issue with the District Commissioner, who spoke with the Regional Services Team (RST) - paid Scouts staff, based in each region of the UK, working at Group level in their local communities to improve the quality and reach of Scouting. The Growth and Development Officer for northern England is Alan Bennett.
'I got in there just before crisis point,' Alan says. 'Had they gone on as they were for another six months, they may not have stayed open with all three sections.' Alan's first task for supporting Jess and her leadership team was to create an action plan.
'We did a RAG assessment,' Alan explains. This is part of the development toolkit, and involves ranking the Group on a number of criteria - numbers of young people in each section, the accuracy of accounts and record keeping, how balanced the Programme is - on a traffic light system. Green means everything is fine, amber means there is room for improvement, and red means there are issues which urgently need tackling.
With the major issues identified - low numbers of young people and low engagement from parents - Alan and Jess worked out a plan of action. 'I'd always been determined that the Group wouldn't close,' Jess says. '[The leaders] were all really strong-minded. We didn't want it to go under.'
'Jess was really proactive,' Alan says. 'Having been a young person in the Group, she was really forward-thinking. She took it seriously, and it was really pleasing to see.' Armed with some of the ideas and best practice suggested by Alan and the Regional Services Team, Jess went back to the leadership team to make sure they were all on board with the plan. They arranged a big Group event to coincide with their AGM.
'After the AGM there was a campfire, which was a great opportunity for leaders to talk to the parents - it worked really well,' Jess explains. 'The parents stepped up and we filled the committee positions that had been empty, and got some new adult helpers.' All of this has helped Jess and her team to promote a feeling of community within the Group.
Since Alan's intervention, Jess and the team have gone from strength to strength, with steady growth in all three sections, especially Scouts. 'Sometimes you just need that outside influence to come in and give you some ideas about what's happening in other Groups,' Jess says. 'You can be too close to something to see it clearly.'
Following the support from the RST, the Group grew by almost 70% in three months. The leadership team is back up to healthy numbers, and Jess takes everyone away to try new activities and on Group camps as often as she can.
But this measurable success is nothing in comparison to the benefit Scouting has had on the young people who go through the doors of the Scout hut once a week, laughing with their friends, ready for a night of fun and adventure. Once again, 1st Weston & Weston Point Scout Group is back in the heart of the community - a stable centre around which many lives revolve.
Find out more about the Regional Services Team, and talk to your DC about the development support available in your area. Searching for volunteers in your Group? Try out the Four-Week Challenge, and read about how parent helper Matt was persuaded to become a fully-fledged leader.