Scottish Daily Mail

A very mod­ern Guide for life!

From camp­ing on Zoom to badges for mind­ful­ness and cock­tail mak­ing... how the Girl Guides stayed bang up to date af­ter 110 years of fun and friend­ship

- By Emma Cow­ing Scotland · Twitter · London · Crystal Palace F.C. · The Crystal Palace · Queen · Elizabeth II · Nigeria · Ashley Jensen · Joanne (JK) Rowling · Scottish Borders · Peeblesshire · Robert Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell · Susie Wolff · Aertex

IT’S early evening in the Bor­ders district of Tweed­dale and in some homes, a Girl Guides sleep­over is about to be­gin. Guides dressed in their uni­forms log on to Zoom, the video chat plat­form, where they wave hello to their unit leader. They take part in a craft, per­haps mak­ing a danc­ing ele­phant cos­tume or bak­ing pancakes.

Then they’ll re­tire to their own tents in their re­spec­tive back gar­dens, or per­haps to a home-made pil­low fort in the liv­ing room, bid­ding good­night to their fel­low Guides over a video screen.

This is Girl­guid­ing in 2020. There may not be unit meet­ings in draughty com­mu­nity halls or week­ends away bond­ing over a camp­fire with a bag of marsh­mal­lows, but even in the midst of a pandemic, guid­ing is still thriv­ing.

‘It’s in­no­va­tive, it’s new and it’s not been done be­fore,’ says Gail Fox, Guide leader at Tweed­bank, Selkirk­shire, and the Deputy Scot­tish Chief Com­mis­sioner of the Guides.

‘And yet through­out this year there have been hun­dreds of th­ese vir­tual events go­ing on across Scot­land.’

Girl­guid­ing Scot­land has a whop­ping 45,000 mem­bers, mak­ing it the largest char­ity for girls and young women in the coun­try.

But it has also changed im­mea­sur­ably in the 110 years since its es­tab­lish­ment.

In Au­gust, it was an­nounced that Girl­guid­ing Scot­land was sell­ing its beloved Netherurd out­door ac­tiv­ity cen­tre, a 30-acre es­tate in Pee­b­lesshire, which has, since the 1940s, been a ‘home from home’ for thou­sands of Guides.

Here, gen­er­a­tions of girls and young women have camped, climbed trees, tracked an­i­mals, learnt how to start fires and chopped wood. Over the years it has be­come a place where many Guides from ur­ban units, as well as the younger Brown­ies and Rain­bows and the older Rangers, could get back to na­ture.

Girl­guid­ing Scot­land put Netherurd on the mar­ket as the ‘im­pact of the Coro­n­avirus ex­ac­er­bated fi­nan­cial is­sues’, as well as low num­bers of mem­bers us­ing the fa­cil­ity.

Moira McKenna, Girl­guid­ing Scot­land’s chief com­mis­sioner, said: ‘Even be­fore the pandemic, Girl­guid­ing was plan­ning to set up a dig­i­tal hub to pro­vide train­ing online, and while we know the value of be­ing to­gether, vol­un­teers across Scot­land are find­ing the online or local train­ing options more con­ve­nient in terms of both time and money.’

Guides past and present pro­nounced them­selves dev­as­tated at the sale. ‘Dread­ful news,’ wrote one f ormer Guide. ‘ Bro­ken- hearted doesn’t be­gin to de­scribe the way I’m feel­ing. Netherurd has al­ways been a home away from home.’

THE es­tate is al­ready on the mar­ket, priced at a hefty of­fers over £1,335,000, and the funds will be plunged back into Guid­ing, keep­ing the or­gan­i­sa­tion go­ing at a time when fundrais­ing has be­come more dif­fi­cult than ever.

‘The money raised will be put back into ad­ven­ture... it will open up new op­por­tu­ni­ties to girls,’ says Fox.

Cer­tainly, the Guides are do­ing many things th­ese days that would have been in­con­ceiv­able even 25 years ago.

Gone are the stuffy skirts and starched uni­forms, re­placed in­stead with comfy Aer­tex shirts and leg­gings. Salutes and songs are used less com­monly than in previous gen­er­a­tions, with girls them­selves of­ten de­cid­ing how to start and end their meet­ings. The days of badges for skills such as ‘laun­dress’ and ‘rab­bit keeper’ have van­ished too, re­placed by some de­cid­edly more up-to-theminute pur­suits.

Nowa­days, there are badges for drinks mixol­o­gist (non-al­co­holic, of course, although Fox says some par­ents have been known to lurk in the back­ground, tak­ing notes and then mak­ing their own ‘ad­just­ments’), for nat­u­ral reme­dies and for mind­ful­ness. For the more po­lit­i­cally ori­en­tated there’s vlog­ging and cam­paign­ing, some­thing called ‘craftivism’ and even a hu­man rights badge.

Fox says: ‘ We’re try­ing to teach them skills for the fu­ture. Give t hem an i nsight i nto l ots of dif­fer­ent things.’

To­day, cam­paign­ing and speak­ing out forms a large part of be­ing a Guide. A quick scroll on the Girl­guid­ing Scot­land Twit­ter feed shows that this week, for ex­am­ple, the or­gan­i­sa­tion was hugely vo­cal in sup­port­ing the re­cent move, ap­proved by MSPs, to make Scot­land the first coun­try in the world to make pe­riod prod­ucts free. And ear­lier this month they called for gen­dered toys for chil­dren to be banned, stat­ing that they re­in­forced neg­a­tive stereo­types.

‘I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant for girls and young women to have the con­fi­dence to speak out about things,’ says Fox.

‘For so long, women have stepped back and been too shy. They haven’t wanted to use their voice for fear of what oth­ers will say about them.

‘And I think we do need to speak out about what’s right, stand up for other peo­ple, and s t and up for our­selves.’

Per­haps the no­tion of cam­paign­ing is un­sur­pris­ing given that the Girl Guides was founded on chal­leng­ing the sta­tus quo in the first place. The Guides were protest­ing against their ex­clu­sion from male ac­tiv­i­ties while

the suf­fragette move­ment was still ty­ing its shoelaces.

A group of girls gate-crashed the first-ever Boy Scout jam­boree at Lon­don’s Crys­tal Palace in 1909, dressed in makeshift uni­forms, telling Robert Baden-Pow­ell, the founder of Scout­ing, that they wanted to do ‘the same thing as boys’.

We were laughed at, we were whis­tled at, there were cat­calls but we didn’t mind,’ one of the girls re­called decades later. ‘We were there... part of the show.’ Baden-Pow­ell was ini­tially out­raged, but af­ter dis­cussing the is­sue he ac­qui­esced, set­ting up the Girl Guides and draft­ing in his sis­ter and then, in 1918, his wife Olave to be­come Chief Guide.

Right from the start the Girl Guides was a sturdy, no-non­sense, ‘if they can do it, we can too’ or­gan­i­sa­tion.

early badges included avi­a­tion, sail­ing, elec­tri­cian and pho­tog­ra­pher. Dur­ing the First World War, Guides helped out in hos­pi­tals and acted as mes­sen­gers for gov­ern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tions, and in the Sec­ond World War they col­lected blan­kets and raised money for air am­bu­lances.

Although at times it has been crit­i­cised for re­in­forc­ing gen­der stereo­types, it is nev­er­the­less an or­gan­i­sa­tion that has al­ways, some­times au­da­ciously, moved with the times.

In 2013, they dropped their vow to ‘love my God, to serve my Queen and my coun­try’ f rom their prom­ise, re­plac­ing i t with a prom­ise to ‘serve the Queen and my com­mu­nity’.

And in 2018, the Guides came in for crit­i­cism that they were putting girls at risk af­ter in­tro­duc­ing a pol­icy al­low­ing trans­gen­der peo­ple to join up.

They said in a state­ment de­fend­ing the move: ‘Our fo­cus has been, and will re­main, pro­vid­ing our young mem­bers with op­por­tu­ni­ties to learn, grow and dis­cover in a fun, safe, in­clu­sive and legally com­pli­ant way.’

Fox, 50, came back into guid­ing as an adult, hav­ing worked her way through Brown­ies and Guides in her teens, when she found her­self the mother of four chil­dren and had to give up her job as a nurse.

‘I was look­ing for some­thing else to do, and the local unit needed vol­un­teers,’ she says.

Now, 20 years on, she is deputy chief com­mis­sioner for the Guides in Scot­land and says, with­out hes­i­ta­tion, that it’s ‘one of the best things I’ve ever done with my life’. ‘It’s given me op­por­tu­ni­ties I never would have had, the chance to do things I’d never done,’ she says.

‘It’s about the val­ues and the sup­port, sto­ries of girls we’ve made an im­pact on. That’s re­ally im­por­tant. You can make a real dif­fer­ence to some girls’ lives in terms of build­ing their con­fi­dence and g i v i ng t hem o ppor­tu­niti e s they never had.’

Guid­ing has al­ways at­tracted a rich and di­verse seam of girls and young women. Agatha Raisin ac­tress Ash­ley Jensen f ondly re­calls win­ning her milk­maid badge and cred­its the Guides with giv­ing her the abil­ity ‘to try new, chal­leng­ing things that you may not have thought about your­self’.

SCOT­TISh rac­ing driver Susie Wolff, who in 2014 was the first woman to take part in a For­mula One race week­end in 22 years, says guid­ing made her re­alise ‘ the im­por­tance of team­work and mo­ti­va­tion to achieve what you want’.

JK Rowl­ing said of her first aid badge: ‘I’ve never needed to make a sling since, but I’m on con­stant stand-by’, and says she al­ways thought that her harry Pot­ter char­ac­ter hermione Granger would have been in the Guides.

even the Queen was a Guide, and was fa­mously given no spe­cial treat­ment dur­ing her time with the group. I nstead she was ex­pected to cook over an open fire, pitch tents and tie knots in or­der to earn her badges, just like the rest of the girls.

That sense of a de­mand for equal­ity is ev­i­dent in Girl­guid­ing Scot­land’s re­cent sur­vey, Girls in Scot­land. The re­port in­ter­viewed 500 girls and young women be­tween ages seven and 21 on what it’s like to be a girl in Scot­land to­day.

It re­vealed their frus­tra­tion with ‘dis­crim­i­nat­ing’ and ‘sex­ist’ com­puter games dom­i­nated by male char­ac­ters, as well as gen­der­spe­cific toys.

Around 35 per cent of girls aged seven to ten said they be­lieved there were cer­tain sub­jects or ca­reers they were ex­pected to do sim­ply be­cause they are girls.

Mean­while, 26 per cent said they did not feel they had the op­por­tu­ni­ties at school, col­lege or univer­sity to ex­plore ca­reers tra­di­tion­ally tar­geted at men, such as en­gi­neer­ing and man­ual jobs.

There was ev­i­dence, too, that the pres­sure of ap­pear­ance con­tin­ues to af­fect many girls’ con­fi­dence and well­be­ing, with so­cial me­dia be­ing one of the top cul­prits.

Wor­ry­ingly, 51 per cent of girls aged 11 to 21 said they had seen ad­verts online which put pres­sure on them, ris­ing to 63 per cent for those over 16.

Katie Young, a Girl­guid­ing Scot­land Speak Out ‘cham­pion’, said: ‘There are en­cour­ag­ing signs that girls are de­ter­mined to stand up for them­selves and make their voices heard, but girls recog­nise we are a long way from equal­ity.’

Back in Tweed­dale, it’s the morn­ing af­ter the sleep­over, and Fox is pre­sid­ing over a camp break­fast, keep­ing a watch­ful – if vir­tual – eye over Zoom as the girls cook ba­con and eggy bread over an open fire in their back gar­dens.

Covid has forced many Guide meet­ings and events online – with a ‘vir­tual unit’ be­ing set up in an at­tempt to cut down wait­ing lists – and while it has its lim­i­ta­tions, there are cer­tain ben­e­fits too.

‘I know peo­ple are look­ing for­ward to get­ting back to­gether and meet­ing with the girls and get­ting out for ad­ven­tures,’ says Fox.

‘Noth­ing beats meet­ing face to face. But for now, this is great. And as a Guide leader, I must con­fess, it’s great not to have to do a tidy up af­ter 30 girls who have been cook­ing.’

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 ??  ?? Ad­ven­ture: To­day’s Girl Guides and, above, a young Princess El­iz­a­beth learns to tie a knot
Ad­ven­ture: To­day’s Girl Guides and, above, a young Princess El­iz­a­beth learns to tie a knot

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