New-look girl guides swop knots for nappies
RACHEL SHIELDS looks at the future facing girlguiding
AS BREEDING grounds for talent go, it could give British top girls’ schools a run for their money, counting JK Rowling, Dame Kelly Holmes and Emma Thompson among its former members. Nevertheless, the organisation that has helped to mould the characters of some of the former British Empire’s most successful women is often dismissed as a harmless pastime for middle-class white girls. Now, as the Girlguiding movement approaches its centenary, the organisation is keen to embrace the modern world.
The organisation has spent the past two years trying to boost its membership – and drag the organisation firmly into the 21st century. In Britain it has been using an outreach programme called the “Switch” project to recruit young women who would never normally set foot in a girl-guide meeting: everyone from teenage mothers to girls from conservative Muslim families.
“We have more than half a million members, but there will be 11 million children in the country next year, so obviously we could be serving more girls,” said Denise King, chief executive of Girlguiding UK.
Traditional character-building activities for which the movement is famed, such as learning to tie knots, put up tents and administer first aid, have been expanded in order to appeal to girls with different interests.
A group of young mums in Nelson, Norfolk learned to cook cheap meals on a budget, complete an NSPCC course on keeping children safe, and were taught how to plan affordable day trips for youngsters. Even the classic girl-guide badges – have been expanded and updated to cover more political topics.
At some groups with a lot of Muslim members, girls work towards the new “Right To” badge, which teaches them about their right to be heard, to express their feelings and to worship.
“Usually we don’t get the opportunity to join groups, so it is nice to be able to hang out with other girls without my parents worrying about boys being there,” said 15year-old Amani Khan, who attends a Middlesbrough guide group.
Next month 7 000 girl guides will gather at Crystal Palace, south London – the spot where in 1909 girls in makeshift uniforms stormed a boy scout meeting and demanded that a group be created for them – to celebrate the organisation.
When Robert Baden-Powell, who went on to found the girl guides, wrote Scouting for Boys in 1908, he noted that: “Girls as well as boys may well learn scouting when young, and so be able to do useful work in the world when they are older.” With a quick survey of former guides turning up an Olympic gold medallist, a leading politician, an award-winning actress and a best-selling author, it looks as if he may well have been on to something. JK ROWLING, AUTHOR The Harry Potter author, who attended brownies and guides in Scotland, thinks Hermione Granger would make a good guide. “I can easily imagine her in the guides, given that she’s resourceful, highly motivated and eager to learn.” She says her proudest guiding memory was bagging her first-aid badge. DAME KELLY HOLMES, ATHLETE The Olympic champion says attending girl guide meetings in Kent taught her to “be the best you can be”. It seems that the gold medal winner is now inspiring others to reach their full potential, with a recent survey of girl guides revealing that 86 percent of them believe Dame Kelly to be the country’s best female role model. EMMA THOMPSON, ACTRESS The former girl guide and Oscar-winning actress believes that through the organisation “girls and young women can gain the confidence to be equal partners and to make informed, responsible choices about their lives”. Thompson is now working with the guides again, on a project which encourages them to become “Climate Champions”, reducing carbon emissions by advocating solar panels, switching off appliances and properly insulating homes. EDDI READER, SINGER-SONGWRITER For Reader, attending girl guides highlighted the problem of sectarianism in Scotland. “In heavily segregated Glasgow during the 70s, when I was growing up, we had two separate guides and brownie clubs (Catholic and Protestant). One of the main things I think it taught me, inadvertently, was how ridiculous segregation was.” SUSIE STODDART, RACING DRIVER Stoddart, one of Britain’s most successful racing drivers, admits to being hypercompetitive on the track, but says that attending guides made her realise “the importance of teamwork and motivation to achieve what you want”. SHAPPI KHORSANDI, COMEDIAN When the stand-up comedian’s father was branded “a traitor to the revolution” in Iran and the family fled to London, Khorsandi threw herself into all things English, including guiding. Khorsandi says the organisation taught her “compassion and kindness”. CLARE SHORT, POLITICIAN The British Member of Parliament says one of her favourite guiding memories was “learning to knit on four needles”. She says it was “a lovely time of innocent pleasure”. DAME TANNI GREY-THOMPSON, ATHLETE “My experience in the Brownies was very much a ’can do’ attitude. No sitting around and moaning. Just get on with it.” ASHLEY JENSEN, ACTRESS The Ugly Betty actress says the best thing about guides was “being part of a team and working together alongside other people, and not being afraid to try new challenging things that you may not have thought about yourself ”. – The Independent on Sunday