St George's Day celebrations refreshed
The St George’s Day parade might be a time-honoured custom, but is it still the best way for Scouts to be seen in their communities and to change perceptions?
When you think of St George’s Day, chances are you’ll think of uniformed parades around the local village. It’s one of those old Scouting traditions that we all respect, but not everyone looks forward to. St George’s Day has always been an important celebration in Scouting, but at times the need to preserve tradition may have prevented us from allowing the celebrations to move with the times and remain relevant to everyone involved in Scouting. Being seen in the local community is important, but are our celebrations representative of all of our members, of the 21st century and of what our young people want? These are the types of questions District Commissioner James Divall has been asking, and the answers are refreshingly honest.
East Somerset District was only formed two years ago as part of a reshuffle that meant the area went from having seven Districts to having three. With big changes already taking place, James and the new Assistant District Commissioner Programming Team felt encouraged to review how the new District would be run, and to discuss how they would meet Scouting for All, The Scout Association’s 2014–2018 strategy.
‘We had a lot of workshops and roadshows to calm everyone down after our new “super District” was formed,’ James explains. ‘It was a good opportunity to let people air any frustrations and gain intel; St George’s Day was something that kept coming up in those initial consultations.’
Keen to find out what the day means to members, the team began their quest to discover what people wanted, with a year’s worth of consultation with Group Scout Leaders, Young Leaders and other Scouting members. The verdict was mixed.
Parents and carers of Beavers and Cubs said they love watching their children parading down the street, but many Scouts and Explorers admitted that they hate it. Various young people said they understand the importance of parading for Remembrance Day, but not for St George’s Day. ‘They wondered why Irish people get to have a party for St Patrick’s Day and they have to parade in their uniform, getting cold and bored, while people laugh at them parading,’ James elaborates. ‘The turnout for older sections is low because of concern for their street cred.’ Yet, while the young people were voicing their concerns, the leaders enthused how St George’s Day is a fundamental part of the Programme and that uniformed parades are a good way to be seen in the local community. James realised that the only way they could make the most of this opportunity was to take an inclusive, Youth Shaped approach by making sure all young people and volunteers had their say.
The District needed a community celebration that everyone could be proud of taking part in. One thing everyone agreed on was the need to do something collaborative, but with the sheer size of the District, unless they organised a camp, there was no way of having one event in a location suitable for all Groups. The solution? ‘The digital age is here,’ James announces. ‘Let’s use it to bring everyone together and showcase Scouting to the rest of the community.’
The team decided to support individual Groups and sections across the District to celebrate in their own way, whether that’s a talent show or a coffee morning in the town hall. To create a sense of togetherness across the District, they decided to gather everyone’s St George’s Day photos on social media. As a way of supporting volunteers who weren’t confident using social media, the team invested in training around social media and digital inclusion, which has in turn also enhanced the Programme. Internally, the aim was to strengthen the District’s Scouting community spirit, and externally it was to promote Scouting. The approach gives young people and volunteers more control over celebrations and helps to change people’s preconceptions of what Scouting is all about. ‘Scouts walking down the road in uniform isn’t really the imagery we want,’ James explains. While more traditional imagery isn’t a bad thing, James recognises the need to show others how much fun Scouting can be and is aware that images of uniformed parades can be off-putting for new members. The team hopes to highlight the Groups that have done something different – like those who went to Brownsea Island or had a dragon-boat race – as a way of reaching new potential Scouts and volunteers.
‘It’s a real Marmite subject; some love the approach and others hate it,’ James admits. There are still people who want the whole District to march together in Yeovil, but this would mean some members travelling over an hour just to get there.
Last year’s trial run with this fresh approach has already resulted in more people wanting to join Scouting. The team has noticed increasing traffic to their website and Facebook pages and are hoping to develop their social media concept for 2017. Sectional leaders have given really positive feedback, but James is well aware that there will always be resistance when change occurs. A few members of the District tried to tip off the media, James divulges. ‘We saw a press release saying that it was the death of St George’s Day, but the media understood the need for change, and quoted a balanced argument.’
James goes on to explain how there is a problem when people don’t consider the need for growth and inclusion: ‘I do understand the traditionalist viewpoint, but sometimes people are so concerned about Scouting changing, they forget to focus on what the young people want.’ James elaborates, expressing his desire to get everyone on board, supporting one another and forming new traditions together. In some Groups, a church parade may no longer be relevant to or suitable for the young people, so to make sure everyone can participate it’s important to rethink some of the activities and venues.
By giving both young people and adult volunteers the chance to voice their thoughts, they feel more involved and it becomes an event people enjoy and are proud of taking part in.
This year, St George’s Day in East Somerset will be a week-long celebration. The team is encouraging sections to do as they please, whether it’s a party or a more traditional event. They’ve been working on sharing information about the events early on and are incentivising alternative celebrations as a way to generate a variety of images to inspire people.
For areas considering altering their usual Programme, James emphasises the importance of getting the District team behind changes before filtering them out at Group visits and meetings. This project is successful because there have been continuous consultations rather than a top-down approach.
The team has invested time in ensuring everyone feels comfortable with the new approach. Working with people on the ground has been crucial for gaining the support of local volunteers and young people. Perhaps with this kind of approach, St George’s Day can become an event everyone looks forward to.