Valuing volunteers


It is hard to imagine another week where so many news stories have included references to Scouting. In addition I managed to fit in several one-to-one meetings, had a great day in Sutton Coldfield for the last of the DC/GSL forums in England and spent a fantastic morning with the adults of Loughborough District on Sunday.

Valuing those one-to-one chats

Before getting sidetracked, I started off the week with one of our regular meetings of those involved with our international work, to review the recent World Conference and to discuss our strategy in furthering our engagement with some of the issues I highlighted in my recent Reflection on World Scouting.

I also try to use meetings such as these to catch up with colleagues and those that I am responsible for supporting for 'one-to-one' meetings. Although they can sometimes be time-consuming when busy, I have found that if they can be undertaken in as an informal way as practical depending on the circumstances.

They provide a great opportunity to get a better understanding of what is happening, to identify how people feel about the role they are presently undertaking and to discuss future opportunities. All in all, time very well spent.

In the news

I have mentioned before that we subscribe to a news service that provides us with an email alert to reference to 'Scouts' in the national and local media and on the internet.

It is fair to say that the inbox was inundated last week, as we saw references to Scouting in many of the headlines, including changes to the Vetting and Barring Scheme, The Big Society, cuts to local authority funding (in particular to youth work), and the appearance of Meg and Derek at the Education Select Committee.

It is great that we are presently getting so many references, however I have a small frustration that we sometimes promote myths when people comment on such issues.

Dispelling those myths, again

The one in particular that had prominence last week was that 'criminal record checks' put off volunteers. There is no evidence to support this, and it is one of those urban myths, the perception of which unfortunately may deter people much more than reality.

As we explain in our response, we are certainly concerned that some of the potential changes may put a greater burden on local volunteers, however we continue to support the principle that volunteers who work with young people should be properly vetted in an efficient manner.

We are also busy tackling a myth that is being promoted by a number of other charities that have simply become 'commissioning agents' for Government (through their tendering for Local Government and Central Government work) and present this as volunteering.

Not surprisingly, these charities are now deeply concerned by the cuts they face. For me, this however is not really what The Big Society or similar schemes promoted by each of the political parties are about.

Scouting, the real essence of a Big Society

For me, Scouting and Guiding more properly demonstrate the local community helping itself, through volunteers or other support that communities and local business offer Scouting and Guiding.

In similar vein, I noticed at the very end of the evidence given to the select committee, that those organisations that rely primarily on paid youth workers were promoting the myth that somehow paid youth workers are more 'professional' than volunteers.

As I mentioned last week, this is something that increasingly frustrates me, and I would welcome any suggestions on how we could better counter the continued promotion of this myth.

Meeting managers in the West Midlands

Saturday saw the 10th DC and GSL Forum and the last in one of the English regions, covering the West Midlands at Sutton Coldfield. A fantastic attendance with over 260 local managers joining us for what was an excellent day.

As well as the great discussion groups and support workshops in the afternoon, I was able to stay for the whole day for a change and so had more time to talk to many more members and learn of their local successes and challenges.

David, for example was sitting quietly on the back row hoping to avoid attention, so to the amusement of those around him I took great delight in sitting next to him for a time. He had a great story to tell having recently joined Scouting as a helping parent and subsequently being asked to be Group Scout Leader. David struck me as just the sort of person we need to recruit more of and are perhaps just waiting out there to be asked.

I also caught up with Paul from Birmingham who is developing a project in the County and with our national support, to look at how Scouting can better help young people in foster care.

In addition Rick, County Commissioner for Birmingham, was telling me about an initiative they have that will see the recruitment of over 20 Development Advisors on a volunteer basis to help the development of Scouting in a variety of areas and communities within the County.

Saying thank you

Saying thank you and moving on is not something we are particularly good at, despite our best efforts much of the time, and so I was pleased on Saturday evening to host a thank you dinner for the UK Advisers in the Programme and Adult Support teams who are moving on to new roles as a result of the restructuring of our volunteer teams in this area.

It was a great evening with much frivolity as well as a moment to say thank you for the tremendous work they had each achieved over the past few years in developing our support for volunteers.

Meeting the team in Loughborough

A short drive on Sunday morning saw me at Oaks Campsite, and Loughborough Scout District. I had taken advantage of being in the area to accept an invitation from Colin, District Commissioner, to join 50 members of the District Team for a seminar and Q&A session in which we covered just about every facet and topic of Scouting, including one or two of those questions that people are often too embarrassed to ask.

At lunch time more of the local Leaders joined us and it was another great opportunity to find out what is happening at the coalface as well as answering questions and developing a number of the priorities as we currently see them.

Following the theme triggered by David, I was interested to chat to Ken who had recently agreed to become District Treasurer, having seen an advertisement in the local volunteer centre. Although a member briefly as a young person, Ken had not previously volunteered but had just completed his university degree and course and was looking for something worthwhile to do.

The team in Loughborough are clearly doing a great job, managing to overcome the challenges faced on a day-to-day basis, recruiting additional volunteers (I daresay by making the experience as enjoyable for them as it is for the young people who benefit) and as a result are opening new sections and increasing their numbers dramatically.

All in all a fantastic way to finish the week and take the short trip back to East Midlands airport.

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