Blog | Growing the Movement: engaging parents
Changing the culture of 2nd Penrith wasn’t easy, but it turned the Group from ‘surviving to thriving’.
When Michael Freeman joined 2nd Penrith as Group Scout Leader (GSL), the Group was in a bit of a rut. ‘They hadn’t had a GSL for five years,’ Michael says. ‘There were a few dedicated leaders running the meetings, and they were calling in members of the Group Executive Committee when they needed more adults. A few parents helped occasionally, but generally the kids got dropped off for a meeting and the parents would leave.’
To an outsider, the Group didn’t seem to be struggling: numbers were reasonable, and the young people enjoyed themselves. But without a GSL to take the time to build relationships, leaders were burning out and the Group culture became quite closed off. ‘The leaders were getting on with the job as best they could,’ Michael says, ‘but they just didn’t have the time to involve parents.’ Enthusiasm was waning, and because no one was asking for help, there were no fresh volunteers to help spread the load.
‘When I started as GSL, it was important for me to get to know the Leaders and understand the situation,’ Michael says. ‘A couple of months later, we had our AGM and several members of the Group exec stepped down. Our team was getting smaller and smaller.’ Increasing parental support was becoming urgent, so all of the sections set up a parent rota. Michael was adamant they would focus on a rosy future for the Group, rather than a difficult present. ‘We marketed it positively,’ he says. ‘We didn’t go to parents and say “Help us or we’ll close”, we just said that we needed some help in specific areas, and could they give us a hand.’
An idea was floated for a family camp to celebrate the Group’s 90th anniversary, giving the leaders a chance to talk with parents. They decided to use this camp as a recruitment opportunity for the Group Executive Committee. In preparation for the camp, they involved parents, assigning them jobs like setting up a cooking rota and organising equipment.
Libby Lehninger attended the camp with her husband and son Dillon. ‘I didn’t have a massive amount to do with the Group until the family camp,’ Libby says. ‘It was interesting to meet the leaders on a social level – more than just small talk when you pick up and drop off. They were very welcoming and enthusiastic, and when I thought about how much time they’d spent entertaining and developing my child, I wanted to give something back and help them out. One of the other mums asked if I would be a Parent Representative, and I said yes.’
‘Camp gave us a great chance to get to know the parents’ skills and experiences,’ Michael says. ‘When we were thinking about roles afterwards, we knew them as individuals and could make informed decisions.’ After the family camp, the Group Executive Committee swelled from four to 10 people, including a new Treasurer. ‘It staggered us all!’ Michael laughs. ‘We didn’t expect so much of an impact. It just highlights how effective it is to involve people as much as you can: they see how fun Scouting is, and then you just need to ask the question.
‘Before, I didn’t realise there were administrative volunteering roles in the Scout Group, or a Group exec,’ Libby says. ‘It’s the first time I’ve ever been part of a committee or anything like this before so it’s something out of my comfort zone – but it’s a good kind of scary! I’m seeing the beneficial effect it has on the children and I’m happy to be part of that.’
When asked about how things have changed in his two-and-a-half-year tenure at 2nd Penrith, Michael is absolutely positive. ‘We’ve gone from surviving to thriving,’ he says. ‘We’ve got a full Group exec, and all the sections have adequate numbers of leaders. We even opened a new Beaver Colony in September 2016 to tackle the 20 young people on our waiting list.’
But the biggest change of all? The culture. ‘The feel of the Group is different,’ Michael says. ‘Instead of parents waiting outside for leaders to finish, they’ll come into the hall. They feel like they are part of the Group now.’ The parents continue to get involved. Libby is now in a new role as Fundraising Coordinator, dreaming up ways to raise money that will allow the Group to do even more.
‘All Groups have things they are working on, but attitude change is a really big and important thing,’ Michael says. ‘The Group was in danger of becoming Isolated without a GSL, but now, with a manager, the leaders feel empowered to do things and put forward new ideas. We talk about how can we make it work, not about the limitations. Without getting the parents on board and actively involved, we wouldn’t have been able to pull this off.'