New-look girl guides swop knots for nap­pies

RACHEL SHIELDS looks at the fu­ture fac­ing girl­guid­ing

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

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

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