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Blog | 19 November 2019

Making change happen at the Scouts x Plusnet digital camp

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Over 112 years ago, an experimental camp took place on Brownsea Island that started the Scout movement. Last weekend, that spirit of innovation was alive and well with Preparing for the Future, a Digital Camp at Gilwell Park to tackle the biggest issues of the day, and launch a partnership between Plusnet and Scouts.

‘There’s no other Earth,’ says Humaira, a Scout from Newham, ‘That’s why we’ve creating an app to remind people to take good decisions to care for it.’

It’s a bright Sunday morning at an autumnal Gilwell Park. Humaira is part of a team of four working on the app they’re calling ‘Eco-Earth’. In front of them is a distinctive green Raspberry Pi, which they’re using to bring their app to life. They came up with the concept, name and did all the coding themselves.

Like any great idea, it’s super simple. It asks you a series of questions to make you think about your lifestyle and its impact on the environment. ‘For example,’ says Humaira, ‘are you taking a journey today? If yes, could you walk or take public transport instead of travelling by car. By answering these, it helps you take the best decision.’  

A force for positive change

It’s just one of the brilliant projects being developed during the weekend-long hackathon to launch a partnership between Scouts and Plusnet. It’s all about helping young people gain digital skills and apply them to solve real world problems such as mental wellbeing, disability and the environment, showing the positive role the Internet can play as a force for positive change.

It’s made all the more inspiring by the facts that the Scouts are from different backgrounds and parts of the country. Powered by a steady supply of satsumas and custard creams, the teams of Scouts from Newham, in London and Sheffield are tackling some of the biggest issues of the day – all themes from A Million Hands, the Scouts pioneering social impact campaign, while learning coding, project management and design.

From a digital diary for people with autism, that translates emotions into emojis to a motion sensitive camera to catch big game poachers in Africa, the young people’s projects show incredible ambition and imagination.

Atif is the thoughtful Head of Digital Skills at Plusnet and one of the four judges here today. ‘Innovative events like these are empowering young people with real world skills and introducing them to new ways of working with technology. It’s a moment in their lives to unlock new skills and career paths they hadn’t thought of before. That’s so vital as we enter the fourth industrial age.’

Tackling the big issues

The room is a hive of activity – as well as computers, wires and motherboards, bits of coloured card, ribbons, Duct tape and felt tips cover every surface. It’s a heady mix of arts and science (what Sam, from the Scouts’ Community Impact Group, calls STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths, as one step beyond STEM).

Facilitated by Raspberry Pi Foundation’s energetic team, the Scouts are learning fast – not just the programming side of things, but project planning too. The walls are plastered with brightly coloured post-it notes to create their own project board showing their progress. It’s inspiring to see young people taking so easily to these methods.

Frances, Curtis and Ellis are working on Ronnie the Robot – a cheerful cardboard creation with flashing amber eyes and a screen on his belly. Detecting someone walking past with his sensor, Ronnie alerts them with a fanfare, before displaying a complement to improve self-esteem and mental wellbeing. ‘I’m most proud that we’ve coded it ourselves, says Francis. ‘We’d not really had experience of Python (the programming language) before.

Meanwhile Mariah and Francis are creating the Happybox, a colourful way promote the power of kindness, supporting Red Cross. It plays music on command with the simple outcome of making people smile. ‘It took two days to make and programme,’ says Francis. ‘It was challenging at first, but we’re now so much more confident.’  

The projects are both original and ingenious.  Aatikah is working on a project to support WWF and help highlight climate change. ‘We’re making a drone, at this stage just made out of cardboard, to send over icebergs. There’s a sensor that will send an alert and photograph if the temperature rises over -10 degrees.’ I ask why it’s important. ‘If sea levels rises, there will be flooding and animals’ habitats will be endangered.’ Issac, also on the team, is all too familiar with the threats of flooding, having just come down from a rain-drenched Sheffield.  

Working together

In so many ways, the weekend has echoes of that original experimental camp on Brownsea Island. Scouts from different places and backgrounds have come together to form new teams, learn from each and collaborate on projects. The difference this time is that the projects are digital, but when you see these new friends walking together through the autumn leaves, exchanging ideas you realise not so much has changed.   

‘We really enjoyed working together,’ says one of the Scouts. ‘We realised that it’s not that far from Sheffield to London and that we have a lot in common.’

‘This is one of the best things we’ve done as a Group,’ says Elyas, Group Scout Leader of 7th Newham. ‘I’m so impressed by the teams facilitating this. I thought one or two Scouts might drop out, but they’ve all really enjoyed it. I was going to leave them to it, but I’ve been so inspired I’ve stuck around all weekend too.’

Thumbs up from Reggie Yates

A highlight for the Scouts was TV presenter Reggie Yates, joining the judging panel. Taking time to speak to all of the young people, (and award them a special badge, of course) he was bowled over by the skills and creativity on display:

‘This is a really beautiful way of getting Scouts to think about the future. These kids are coding and creating. For all we know the next Bill Gates could here. The Plusnet x Scouts: Preparing for the Future project is a testament to these young minds and some of the ideas I’ve seen this weekend have been truly inspirational.’

Reggie Yates
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