News | Brendan Cox's speech at Windsor

Brendan Cox Blog

We were proud to welcome Brendan Cox, husband of the late MP Jo Cox, as a guest speaker at the St George's Day celebrations. Here is what he had to say:

'Thank you for inviting me to speak today - it’s a huge privilege to be here because Scouting shaped my life.

I was lucky enough to join one of the first ever Beaver Colonies when Beavers had just started.

At age 6 or 7, I started hanging out in dusty church halls playing games and having adventures. I went on to join Cubs and then Sea Scouts and later what was called Ventures.

I spent two or three nights a week and many weekends camping, canoeing, sailing and hanging out with scouting friends. I didn’t enjoy school much at the time but Scouting gave me the confidence, life skills and challenge that I needed.

More importantly, it gave me my friendship group - a group of friends who remain some of my closest today.

Finally, it gave me experiences that determined what I did with the rest of my life. From adventures like hiking across Corsica, night hikes where we got chased by Dobermans and Snowdon trips where our tent got washed away to the single most important experience that has shaped everything I’ve gone on to do.

Aged 18, as a Venture Scout, I went to Croatia just as the war was ending. As a Unit, we did what we were best at: working with Croatian and Bosnian Scouts, we ran a camp and gave a holiday to around 40 children who had survived the siege of Sarajevo.

These children had been scarred by their experiences. Croatia was a country that in many ways much like ours but where extremists had poisoned political debate and divided their communities. They got people to focus on what divided them, not what united them. In this case, it was religion - whether you were Catholic, Orthodox or Muslim. A society that had lived harmoniously for decades quickly became a killing field.

Hundreds of thousands of people were killed and the impact on the survivors was catastrophic.

These survivors were young people your age who had been on the front lines, kids who had been shot at and seen people killed, kids who no longer spoke because they were so traumatised.

Having gone once, I felt compelled to return and did so, often with my Scout friends, every summer and Christmas for over ten years.

I saw those kids grow up - the survivors of Srebrenica, of Sarajevo, of Vukovar. I saw the long-term impact, the long shadow of violence.

When I met my wife Jo, she came with me to visit the kids and help run camps for them. Jo had been a Guide and was as at home camping and entertaining kids outdoors as I was. I remember her once chasing a Croatian kid during a wide game, running into a tree and nearly knocking herself out.

When my wife was killed last year by an extremist trying to divide our communities, one of the most powerful messages I received was from a child I had been visiting for a decade, who had grown up in an orphanage. The message simply said, ‘You were there for us, and now we are here for you and your children.’

What that experience taught me was two things.

Firstly, the banality of evil - how quickly civilised societies can descend into barbarity when extremists are allowed to turn community against community. How the values and the norms we think are sacrosanct are in fact fragile and have to be fought for.

But it also taught me the capacity we all possess to have an impact in the world - the kids whose lives we touched.

I’m not suggesting that we fixed things - of course we couldn’t - but we gave those kids a break from the brutality of their existence and for some kids I know that helped.

For me, that is what Scouting is about. It’s about standing up for our fundamental values of an inclusive and compassionate society, while having fun, developing ourselves and trying to make a difference.

I’m not suggesting everyone goes and runs refugee camps. Far from it. In fact, one of the things I loved about being a Scout was simply getting together with lots of other people from all sorts of backgrounds and doing something positive in my local community.

We all long to live in closer, more welcoming communities but that doesn’t just happen, it’s not just something we can wish for or post videos about on Facebook. It’s something we all have to build.

I’m a bit old for the uniform now, but that idea of getting together with my friends and people I’ve never met before to build a stronger community has stayed with me.

So to mark the anniversary of my wife’s murder, I thought a Great Get Together was the perfect way to remember her. The simple idea of bringing communities together as one is an idea that Jo would have loved.

So that’s what we’re going to be doing in the middle of June. And I’m delighted that tens of thousands - no, hundreds of thousands, millions even - of other people from all over the country will be joining us.

And of course, I’m proud that the Scout Movement - a movement that has played such a big part in my own life - will be playing a key role in bringing communities together.

The Great Get Together will be just after the general election but while Jo was an MP, this won’t be a political event - exactly the opposite, in fact.

Inevitably, during the election we’ll be hearing plenty about what the parties disagree about.

But what we’ll be doing is concentrating on all the things we can agree on. The things we all have in common.

Something tells me that by then that’s exactly what people all over the UK will want to hear.

I’m certain that the Great Get Together is more important now than ever. It’s the right thing at the right time. And it’s brilliant that so many Scouts will be joining in.

I’m now seriously old - but Scouting continues to change my life for the better. My son has just joined Beavers and my daughter is waiting for her sixth birthday with bated breath so she can join in too.

This summer, twenty years after we first ran camps together for the survivors of the siege of Sarajevo, my old Venture Unit will be reforming, travelling together to Croatia to get back together with the Croatian scouts we worked with all those years ago.

Scouting gives us all so much, I feel it creates an obligation for all of us who have been so lucky, to give back, and to help build the welcoming communities to which we all want to belong. I’m privileged to be working with so many of you on that mission.

Thank you.'

Want to make a difference and bring your community together? Read all about how to get involved in the Great get Together now. 

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