Growing the Movement: new sections
The Regional Services Team is growing Scouting across the UK. Knowle West Scout Group, Bristol, has opened new sections and flourished in the community.
‘The Knowle West Group has existed in this area for years,’ says Matt Foster. ‘It was set up by the old Scout Leader and it was reasonably successful for decades. But then when he retired, it started to go into decline.’ It’s a familiar story for Groups around the country: when the driving force behind a Group steps back, it can be hard to motivate the community to rally behind Scouting.
Added to this, the area of South Bristol where the Group is situated has changed a lot over the years. In the 1930s and 1960s, large housing estates were built as a leafy alternative to the city centre slums. But over the years, the area became isolated and deprived, with high levels of drug use, crime and unemployment, particularly after the biggest employer in the area, the tobacco factory, closed its doors.
With Scouting falling out of favour in the community, the Knowle West Group suffered. But, in 2015, the Regional Services Team (RST) stepped in to support them, thanks to Better Prepared funding – a project aiming to open new Scout provision in the 200 most deprived areas of England – and the Pears Foundation, who support a dedicated development team in the Bristol area.
‘At that time, the Group were running Cubs and Scouts together because they didn’t have enough leaders or young people,’ explains Matt, who is part of the team who supported the Group. ‘They were trying to start a Beaver Colony too, but some nights none of the kids would turn up at all.’ The District was also supporting the Group, but there was some understandable scepticism about whether the project would succeed. However, District Commissioner Scott Stowell was a familiar face at the Group, helping run sessions and support leaders.
A breakthrough came when the team ran a big open evening. They invited the whole community to come along and try a range of activities: from toasting marshmallows over candles, to playing parachute games and learning to juggle. While the young people were engaged in activities, the leaders and RST staff could chat with parents, explaining more about Scouts, showing that it was relevant to them and breaking down their preconceptions.
Following the open evening, Matt and other members of the team attended the weekly sessions for all three sections, supporting the leaders to plan and run an exciting Programme and to engage the new young people who turned up each week. ‘It was up and down. Some weeks were good and some weren’t,’ Matt says. ‘Each section posed its own challenges. Scouts got better and grew gradually, but Beavers really faltered.’ Following a break over Christmas, the team were back to square one. ‘None of the kids came back,’ Matt admits: ‘it was really frustrating.’
However, the team didn’t give in. They redoubled their efforts to connect with the wider community, and to provide the young people with a quality Programme. They gave them opportunities they wouldn’t have had access to otherwise, including a camp at nearby Woodhouse Park Scout Activity Centre.
‘We took the Cubs away for a weekend with some of the parent helpers,’ Matt explains. During this residential experience, the young people slept under canvas, sang around a campfire, and participated in adventurous activities. For many, it was their first ever experience of camping. The local leaders really began to embrace Scouting when they saw how much it could do for their young people. ‘Over that time, they really turned into a strong leadership team,’ says Matt. ‘They are the ones who are still there today.’
With this renewed interest, the Group began to flourish. One leader in particular, Stacia, shone through. ‘She’s that person that everyone in the community knows,’ Matt says. ‘When she came on the residential, she really began to buy into Scouting. She’d not been involved in Scouts or any volunteering before – she just brought her son to the open night. But she was able to use her status in the community to invigorate the others who weren’t really engaged.’
The Group is now running itself, in a way that fits with the needs of its community: a community that the local leaders know best. Without them, the Group would not have been able to flourish the way it has.
‘The RST are still supporting Knowle West,’ Matt says, ‘but we’re starting a gradual process of stepping back. At this stage, the leaders are doing well, so it’s more about giving them administrative support.’ It’s important for the team to show the local leaders that they’re not going to leave them unsupported: this is a long-term project. ‘Every week there is progress,’ Matt says positively. ‘We’re building their confidence.’
Re-energising a Group and opening new sections is never easy, but for the young people attending their local Scout Group for the first time, meeting new young people and getting to try new activities, all the hard work has been worth it. With continued support, there is no reason for the community of Knowle West not to flourish.
Find out more about the Regional Services Team, and talk to your DC about the development support in your area. Want to run your own open night to attract new young people to your Group? Customisable resources are available on the Print Centre.