When all is not plain sailing


In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m one of those annoyingly cheerful people for whom the glass is always half-full and never half-empty.   But even my optimism was sorely tested last weekend when I joined a group of leaders. Following on from my last post...

Just amateurs - who are you kidding?

I always try to get to speak to everybody, but this time I got off to a bad start with the first table where there were four leaders from two Troops – I felt very sorry for the Young Leader, who I just hope didn’t leave as depressed as me.

The main thrust was their belief that they are ‘amateurs’, being defeated by safeguarding management/concerns and the needs/actions of young people today, and are thus unable to cope, unlike the ‘professionals’ such as teachers. I don't agree. We may be volunteers but that certainly does not mean we are anything but professional in what we do.

One of the Troops has 57 Scouts – so they really had to be doing something right didn’t they? But instead they just kept saying that they had had enough.

'Could we do better at training?’ I asked.

‘No, that would take time.'

‘Have you sought help from District or RDS with recruitment?‘

'No, the parents weren’t interested.'

What to do when all seems lost

I couldn’t help but feel that this level of despondency was probably percolating through to the parents, so along with the dreaded ‘help us or we close’ letter they had sent, there was little chance of enthusing parents and others to help.

I was left with no better suggestion than that they should take a break for a few years. Sometimes leaders need to take a break and then come back revitalised, something that I found from personal experience some years ago whilst running a troop that became a chore rather than fun.

After a brief interlude

After an all-too-brief interlude with a very happy group of Leaders from the North West, I moved to a table of two. After a good start we were joined by another Leader. ‘I’m fed up waiting for you to get to our table, so I’ve come to bend your ear’, he said.

He said we were killing Scouting with too much red tape and bureaucracy. 'How can we?' I said. 'We're growing.'

I asked for examples. It was all to do with activity rules – getting a word in was difficult (but I’m not known for being shy either, so I persisted). ‘We need to balance the conflicting demands of the courts, national governing bodies and parents etc.'

He almost accepted I had a point, so it was on to the cost of qualifications. Mat, another leader at the table, mentioned that they had obtained funding from the DGB which had been a great help, so it was possible. 2-0 it seemed.

I mentioned the further consultation in connection with the swimming rules to get them right, which was the final straw; ‘As much good as the consultation ten years ago, when you still went ahead and introduced buttons on shirt collars’, he told me. Clearly game, set and match; I moved on.

The final straw

A quick hello to another happy group and I sat down to join a couple of Leaders – what a choice from the five or so remaining tables. Both Leaders were unhappy as they had fallen foul of ‘the rules’ and had brought a Cub along to make up their team, and worse for them had to take her home that morning – a 720 mile round trip.

There are always two sides to a story, but needless to say they were very unhappy and disheartened leaders, along with the remaining members of their team.

I’m afraid at just after midnight, I didn’t have the willpower to complete my wander around and had to retire.

So what did I learn?

No, not to avoid similar gatherings (I still love a good debate) but a re-enforcement of a number of fundamental beliefs for me.

  • Where there is a will, there is a way.' Where people genuinely wish to overcome problems, we can and do, by working together.
  • We need to work harder and smarter to overcome misconceptions where we are often our own worst enemies (talk ourselves down, bemoan safeguarding and activity rules when the reality is they enable us to do things many others, like schools, are stopping).

Luckily, I topped the glass back up over breakfast and by chatting to the Scouts and Explorers and witnessing some amazing talent, as you will have read.

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