Blog | Learning the ropes
Residential experiences with the Pears Project are giving new sections a taste of adventure.
Birds tweet in the frosty morning air at Woodhouse Park Scout Adventures Centre. The team of 12 Pears Project Interns check their schedules and stamp to keep warm as the high ropes course glitters in the distance. Then, right on time, cars and minibuses trickle into the carpark and it’s all action: over 80 young people, plus adult helpers, spill onto the concrete, kit and sleeping bags kicking around their ankles, chatting excitedly about the adventurous activities they’ll be doing today. The team welcome them and lead them all to the dormitories that will be their temporary home for the night.
Everyone here is part of a new section or Group, supported to open by the Pears Project: a pilot scheme that has grown Scouting in Avon by 300 new members annually for the past three years. ‘This weekend is all about turning parent helpers into Scout Leaders, and forming the young people into real Scout sections,’ Ben Powlesland, Pears Project Manager explains. For most, this is their first experience of a Scout camp.
‘This is the fourth residential we’ve done since 2015. Initially it was an experiment, but we found that by bringing the young people away with parents who are new to Scouting, everyone understands it more,’ Ben continues. ‘Adults often come away willing to take on a bigger role, and the young people see what it means to be a Scout. It helps with retaining both young people and adults, and it inspires the new sections do nights away and activity days on their own. Now, we invite every new section we open on a camp.’
There are young people from seven Groups here this weekend. Some are veterans of this process, having attended other Pears Project residentials over the years they’ve been receiving support. Often, their leaders still don’t have the means, equipment or necessary permits to go to camp, so without opportunities like this, their Scouting experience would be limited.
For others, this really is new. The Beaver Colony at 1st Prestbury, Cheltenham, has only been open for six weeks. A few Beavers migrated from the other full Colony, but most are completely fresh to Scouting. After rolling out their sleeping bags in the hall, they tramp down into the woods for their first activity: making campfire twists.
‘I was a Beaver years ago, and I liked the idea of getting my boy out and about and enjoying himself,’ volunteer Ivan Rolfe explains to me, wearing his box fresh iScout hoodie and 1st Prestbury scarf, as he helps mix dough to the right consistency. ‘We don’t have one outright leader at the moment – we’re a whole load of parents who’ve come together to assist and get everything running. This is our first event.’
Over at the crate-stacking, Larkhall Cub Pack from Bath cheer as two Cubs stand triumphantly atop their wobbly tower. Isaac, 8, has only been a Cub for two weeks. ‘I didn’t know that we would come on a residential so soon, because I’ve only just joined. It’s really fun,’ he says. His friend Seb, also 8, talks enthusiastically about the archery they’ve just done, and their plans for a midnight feast tonight. ‘I think it’s going to be quite fun sleeping over because I’ve got all my friends here. And I know where the snacks are!’
Behind them, Beavers from 209th Lockleaze, Bristol, scale the climbing wall, watched by volunteer Minowa Norton. Though the Group was reopened several years ago by the Pears Project team, she has been volunteering for just two months. ‘It’s been really good so far,’ she says. ‘I’ve got some more training coming up, and this is the second trip I’ve done. I was always too shy to join Scouts when I was younger, so it’s really nice to be here and see some of the quieter Beavers coming out of their shells.’
The activities last all day, and the young people come in for a hot dinner ruddy-faced and out of breath. They laugh and chat together – as do the leaders, finally getting chance to find out more about each other, which isn’t always possible during a hectic Scouts night.
The sun begins to set behind the trees, and the young people search through their kit bags for woolly hats and torches. The leaders from 1st Prestbury carefully roll up six neckers and tie them with friendship knots, ready for an investiture at the campfire
‘Are you ready?’ one of the leaders shouts. ‘We were born ready!’ comes the deafening reply. A line of young people, torches lit against the darkness, trickles the woods. The Pears Project team and UK Trustee Ashley Russell, who is visiting for the weekend, are in full Scouting spirit as they run the investiture ceremony and lead the songs. ‘Campfire’s Burning’ starts quietly but get louder with each repeat, as more and more young people learn the words.
The next morning there are bleary eyes at breakfast, but the mood is buoyant. I catch up with Isaac as he shoves kit into his bag. ‘The whole camp has been exciting and fun. It was a big surprise for me because I didn’t know what Cubs was like,’ he says. ‘I’m going to tell my friends about it at school tomorrow. I think most of them will say, “Sick, I’d like to do that!” – and I feel happy that I got the chance to go on this trip, because I joined Cubs.’
1st Prestbury have enjoyed themselves too. ‘It’s been cracking,’ Ivan says. ‘I think the best thing was the campfire and getting some of the Beavers invested – it’s nice to do something special at a special event, because they’ll always remember it. And it’s been handy for us to meet other volunteers and see what they do with badges and the investiture ceremony. It’s cemented it all a little bit more.’
Camp strikes, and the young people leaving with bags packed and lasting memories, while their leaders take experience back to fresh sections, and will start to plan the next adventure with ongoing guidance from the Pears Project team. ‘This weekend was all about showing, rather than telling, new members about Scouting,’ Project Manager Ben Powlesland says. And, by all accounts, it is working wonders.
Find out more about opening a new section and download useful resources to help you grow Scouting.