Blog | A woman’s world
To celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March, we asked you to nominate some inspirational female volunteers who deserve recognition. Here’s one of the stories from the hundreds you suggested.
Pam Baker and Beryl Swatton – 12th Erith Scout Group
Eighty-two-year-old Beryl and 74-year-old Pam sit side by side, firm friends since they met through Scouting years ago. ‘They used to call us the wicked witches!’ Pam jokes, and they both chuckle. They have seen adult uniforms change three times, welcomed girls into their sections, and have clocked up over 90 years of volunteering experience between them.
First to join was Beryl. Upon leaving Girlguiding aged 15, she decided she wanted to help children. ‘Someone said there was a Cub Pack nearby,’ she explains. ‘I wasn’t really old enough, but I went – and I’ve been in Scouting ever since.’ At that time, in the early 1950s, there were so few female volunteers that Beryl didn’t even have an official uniform. From Section Assistant to Akala, she then became Group Scout Leader, where she introduced Pam to Scouting in 1981, and subsequently took on numerous District and County roles. Beryl still makes the journey to 12th Erith Scout Group when she can, and is part of their Executive Committee.
Pam is currently Group Scout Leader at 12th Erith but first joined Scouting as a parent helper in the 1980s. ‘I had two boys in Cubs, and I went along to their sports day,’ she recalls. ‘I was asked to hold the tape at the end of the running race, and it progressed from there.’
‘That’s what comes from knowing me!’ Beryl quips. ‘I started going along to help run Cubs, not knowing a thing,’ Pam continues. ‘But I was very lucky, because Beryl was our Group Scout Leader: she knew everything, and she taught me everything I know.’
Over the years, thousands of young people have attended their Group, the District camps Pam catered for, and the County events Beryl ran, including the annual canoe race that she organised for over 30 years. As a result, they are well-known in the community. ‘When I went to the doctor’s the other day, I wondered why there were a lot of men saying hello,’ Beryl says. ‘Then I realised that they were all formerly in Scouting. I don’t often recognise them because my memory isn’t very good, but I do still like to speak to them.’
'We may be a couple of old birds, but we do realise that you’ve got to change with the times.'
‘What I find amazing,’ Pam chips in, ‘is that some of our young Cubs are now bringing their children to Beavers. And a lot of our youngsters have gone into Explorers and want to come back to help, so I’m getting overrun with Young Leaders at the moment. But I’m not saying no: we may be a couple of old birds, but we do realise that you’ve got to change with the times.’
Scouting has been a source of great happiness over the years. ‘Everyone used to think it was great to play practical jokes on us,’ Pam reminisces. ‘One time on camp, we were sleeping in these little wooden chicken sheds, and the leaders spent all day trying to put sheep in our hut!’ They both have a good laugh at the memory. ‘They did some terrible things to us, but it was all in good fun. And we have done some very silly things over the years, too,’ Pam continues. ‘It wouldn’t be life if we hadn’t,’ Beryl says.
As a community, friendship circle and support network, Scouting is perhaps more important than ever for Beryl and Pam. Both are widows, and neither are as mobile as they once were. ‘I was in hospital recently and everybody wanted to help,’ Pam says. ‘It was just like having another family. They are the nicest group of people you could meet.’ Beryl’s house is full of Scouting memorabilia, photographs and trinkets; Scouting is woven into the fabric of their lives, and they wouldn’t be the same without it.
‘It’s a great organisation,’ Pam says. ‘It’s given me a lot over the years.’ Their dedication is truly inspirational, and a reminder that we are all indebted to our loyal, longstanding volunteers, without whom Scouting would not be what it is today.
This story is taken from the March 2017 edition of Scouting. Take a look at the magazine when it’s published in mid-March to see the full feature.