Monthly Archives: March 2014

The power of letter-writing

One of my Guides has just been elected as a member of the UK Youth Parliament.  We’re proud of her, and her success is no doubt due to her qualities and hard work and her family’s support.  However, what’s also nice is that guiding played a small role in it, too.  Here’s the story:

Back in September, when we were planning the term in the Guide hall, my Unit Leader spotted a letter on a Brownie unit’s display board.  It was from one of the Queen’s ladies in waiting, thanking the Brownies for their letter to Her Majesty.  Unit Leader said “I want a letter like that!”, and we came up with the idea of combining it with learning about our new Promise.

The following week, the Guides learned the new Promise, thought about what it means, and wrote letters to people connected with it: the royal family, community leaders, religious leaders, members of Girlguiding, newspapers.  We provided some names and addresses as inspiration, but we weren’t too strict about what/to whom they wrote, and some girls went outside the box, e.g. writing to comedian David Walliams asking if he’d like to come to Guides one night!

We also provided proper Basildon Bond writing paper and our Unit Helper wrote an excellent example of a letter on big paper.  The art of letter-writing is an important skill!

The leaders read through the letters before posting them.  Some made us laugh, and some made us feel all warm and fuzzy inside as the girls had written how much they enjoyed Guides and felt positive about the new Promise – often girls we wouldn’t have expected.  We hadn’t even told them we’d be reading the letters!  I highly recommend this activity if you feel in need of a morale boost.

One of the older Guides had even written a letter to Unit Leader thanking her for the last few years.  She entrusted it to Young Leader to post, and Unit Leader was delighted to receive it a few days later.

Over the next few weeks, we started to receive replies (all the girls had used Unit Leader’s address, so she brought the letters in each week).  We had several from the Queen’s ladies in waiting (all different, not just a stock template); and replies on behalf of the Countess of Wessex, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the town council, and David Walliams (sadly, he’s a very busy man).  One girl had written to the Chief Guide, Gill Slocombe, and to our delight she replied with a handwritten letter and a friendship badge!  It was so exciting for the girls who had their letters and comments acknowledged (though sadly not everyone got a reply), as it shows that they really do have a voice and the means to make it heard.

The Guide who I mentioned at the start of this post had written to the Prime Minister saying that she wanted to be PM one day and asking for advice.  One of his staff replied with some tips, including standing for the UK Youth Parliament.  Six months later, there she is.

As I said, I’m sure she would have done something like this sooner or later, but it’s great that an activity at Guides was a bit of a catalyst.  I hope she’ll remember us when she becomes PM in a few decades!

Flowers for mums

This week, like many other units, my Guides made gifts for Mothering Sunday, for their mothers or other significant women in their lives.  On the term plan we called this meeting “Spring crafts” so the families didn’t suspect a thing…

We put the girls into two groups.  One half potted pansies (equipment: plastic flower pots, bedding flowers, compost) and decorated the pots with ribbons and stickers.  The other half made decorations to stick into the soil (equipment: lolly sticks, funky foam, double-sided tape, minibeast templates, googly eyes, PVA glue, and other random craft bits we had in stock).  The groups swapped over gradually as each girl finished her first activity.

Potted pansy with a bee decoration

The results were clearly made with love and most looked really good quality, so I’m sure the recipients will be pleased.  I made templates and demos for a ladybird, a butterfly and a bee.  Some followed these exactly, some used the templates with different colours or added extra eyes, stickers, ribbons, et al.  Some Guides completely did their own thing – I saw some flowery creations and a very impressive funky foam wolf-howling-at-moon on a stick.  I didn’t take any photos of the Guides’ creations, so you’ll have to make do with mine!

Funky foam / lolly stick decorations for plant pots: bee, ladybird, and butterfly

It took quite a while to clear up the crafty bits and compost and get everyone finished, so for the girls who finished quickly there was a bit of milling about and geeing up to help with the tidying.  There wasn’t quite enough clear space or time to play a game, but heigh-ho, a Guide meeting isn’t a school lesson and a bit of unstructured time is ok, right?  We finished on a good note with International Trip Guide selling some of her lovely knitted chicks with Creme Eggs inside.

Setting up shop

One fine Saturday, leaders and Trefoil Guilders from two local Districts took over a shared community space in town to do some promotion.

If “shared community space” sounds vague, it means a former shop that’s being rented by a group of local volunteers, who have decorated it, fitted it with lights and a kitchen, and added tables, chairs, soft furnishings, shelves, a photo exhibition and a “bring and swap” area.  Volunteers are running skill-sharing events there such as crafts and home brewing, and it’s available for local groups and individuals to hire at a very reasonable price for a day or an evening.

When I heard about it in the local news, I thought it would be great to have a Girlguiding event there, and fortunately other leaders in my District agreed.  Three of us went to visit in January, and on impulse, before we could change our minds, we booked it for a day in March.  We didn’t have a clear plan what we would do, so we billed it with the open name of “Girlguiding Takeover”.

Fast forward two months, and we’d included the District next door and decided to make it a general promotion event, with displays of photos and memorabilia and a tent:

A dome tent and display boards in a shop space


Table covered in Girlguiding leaflets and freebies

Girlguiding helium balloons on the ceiling


Card/drinking straw dafodil craft

Made with: a straw, a mini cake case, and a cut-out flower. Simples!

Carboard basket craft with knitted chick inside


Fairy cakes decorated with trefoils and rainbow sweets

And a side order of fundraising for a Guide who is going on an international trip:

Table of items for sale for fundraising

We had a good number of adult helpers from both Districts and all sections and of all ages, which I was really happy about.  It was lovely to get to know leaders from the other District better, as we don’t often do things together, and when we do, we’re usually occupied with our girls.  As another leader said, it’s a false barrier as we’re in two towns that almost run into each other and have loads of crossover.

I was touched by the amount that everyone contributed, not just in time but also in terms of bringing display materials (I was worried we wouldn’t have much, but in the end I didn’t put up most of the photos I’d brought as there was no space left) and cakes (again, I was worried we wouldn’t have enough but we didn’t even need to open the tin I’d brought).  It just goes to show how wonderful, willing and helpful our volunteers are.

We weren’t overwhelmed with visitors; someone went to hand out flyers around town every hour or so, but there just weren’t many people about.  As it was a lovely sunny day, we thought perhaps everyone had gone off to do fun things rather than going to the shops.  Still, we had quite a few visitors at mid-morning and mid-afternoon, especially families.  Some were already Rainbows/Brownies/Guides, others not.  We had some good conversations going and there was a nice friendly atmosphere.

We hoped to recruit some volunteers, and we came away with about half a dozen names and contact details of potential “occasional helpers”, which could be good.  I managed to get one helper for Guides, who has now come to three meetings!  We also had quite a few parents coming to ask about how their daughters could join Rainbows/Brownies, or saying that they’d registered their interest but hadn’t heard anything.  This is great of course, but the waiting lists – especially for Rainbows – are so big we could open another unit if we just had a few more leaders.  You’ve heard this all before, of course: it’s the same everywhere.

All in all, I’m glad the event happened, even though there weren’t as many visitors as hoped.  It was good to collaborate with the community space project, good to bond with other leaders, and I think those who did visit had fun and got a good impression of local guiding.  We also got some press attention (thanks to our wonderful PR advisers) both before and after.

Go For Its (part 2)

This week we had our second Go For It night of the term.  The patrols got started on their planned activities as soon as they arrived.  They were:

  • Finishing a picture of what they think the future might look like (started a few weeks ago – I was impressed that it had been taken home and kept safe since then)
  • Making and running a quiz about the history of sweets
  • Tasting and rating sweets
  • Meditation (for some reason this included eating chocolate)

Only 4 patrols tonight: somehow one patrol only had one Guide attending, so she joined in with another group.

If I’m honest, we as a unit could be more rigorous about Go For Its.  Our packs seem to keep disappearing and some are getting quite old: we still have a few of the first ones, published before the uniform changed and before our youngest Guides were born!  The activities are still good, but they just don’t look so attractive any more.  Most of the patrols didn’t know the name of the Go For It they were working on, and none have done three activities as I think you’re meant to.

So: we could do better at explaining the idea of Go For Its, providing up-to-date packs, giving the Guides enough time to prepare three balanced and varied activities, and giving them a reward (card/badge) at the end.

On the up side, they were all happy in what they were doing, even if not particularly challenged.  We have a new helper (huzzah!) who is keen but completely new to guiding and a bit shy with the girls, so I took her on the rounds of the patrols and asked them to explain to her what they were doing.  The other leaders got on with some camp planning and counting fundraising money – an advantage of having a less leader-intensive meeting.

The Guides did their own activities for 50 minutes, then we all played the quiz that one patrol had written.  It was good and educational (did you know that Polo mints were originally manufactured in York?) and I liked that there were edible prizes.

After that we played an active game.  It started out as what I call “the hat game”, where you have two lines facing each other, each girl numbered, an object (traditionally a hat but we used a fuzzy dice) between the lines, and when you call out a number, the two girls with that number have to race to be the first to pick up the dice and throw it into a target (a mixing bowl in this case), and win a point for their line.

At Unit Leader’s suggestion , we made it more active by setting up a goal (a chair) at each end to kick the dice into, like a game of mini one-a-side football.  This was much better as the competition wasn’t over as soon as one girl got control of the dice.  We also called “swap with [number]” if a goal wasn’t scored quickly, to keep them on their toes.  The Guides enjoyed it – there was lots of shouting and cheering – so I must remember it for another time.  New Helper kept the scores and announced them at the end.

Often at indoor meetings, we’re so busy doing the main activity that we don’t get time for a game, so it was really nice to do it tonight.  I think it’s especially good for girls who have recently joined us from Brownies, as they play lots of games there, so it must be a hard transition to suddenly not do so many.  But everyone enjoys a good play, really!

Pack holiday happened

Wall display saying "Pack Holiday 2014"

I ran a Brownie pack holiday in February half term to get my holiday licence.  (I need my licence to go on an expedition, I’m going on an expedition to get my Queen’s Guide Award, I’m getting my Queen’s Guide Award to catch the fly, I don’t know why I swallowed a fly…).

I’m pleased to report it went well and I, the other leaders, the Brownies and my assessors were all happy.  Hurrah!  I feel like I could get several posts out of it, so I’ll start with a general overview of the holiday.

(As an aside, I keep wanting to call it a weekend even though it was midweek – to the point where I actually printed “Friday, Saturday, Sunday” on the duties rota and didn’t notice until a Young Leader pointed it out on the first day!)

Duties rota with the wrong days of the week crossed out and the correct days written in

Day 1

2pm: Leaders arrive, induction from site warden, unpack food and activity kit, put up signs, sort our bedrooms out, have a cup of tea and a long break as we possibly got there a bit too early.

6pm: Brownies arrive, hand in forms and food, put kit in bedrooms, goodbye to parents, start diaries and craft

6:45pm: Welcome talk, explain safety, rules, leaders’ roles, the fun things we’ll be doing etc.

7pm: Team games/races/challenges for Six bonding

7:30pm: fire drill

7:45pm: indoor campfire with tealights and torches

8:30pm: drink and snack

9pm: into pyjamas, story time

10pm: first attempt at bedtime

12:30am: leaders go to bed

3:15am: last Brownies go to sleep (apparently.  My head hit the pillow and I didn’t wake up till my alarm went off, but the other leader in my room wasn’t so lucky)

Day 2

7:15am: leaders start stirring

7:30am: officially wake the Brownies up.  All are already awake.  Not all are quietly resting as they were instructed!

8:30am: breakfast

9am: duties, room tidying and inspection

9:45am: songs outside to get fresh air

10am: circus workshop!

11am: drink and snack, then more circus workshop!

12 noon: adventure playground

1pm: lunch

2pm: rest time (for everyone!)

3pm: rotating activities: scavenger hunt, face painting, making pizzas, cross stitch, souvenir and tuck shop

4:30pm: drink and snack

4:45pm: free time to practise entertainment for later

6:30pm: dinner

7pm: putting on costumes, final getting ready

7:30pm: circus entertainment from the Brownies

8:30pm: into pyjamas, drink, share best moments, story time

9pm: bedtime.  Only one attempt needed tonight!

12 midnight: leaders go to bed

Day 3

7:15am: leaders start stirring

7:45am: wake up the Brownies.  Most are asleep, all are quietly in bed

8:30am: breakfast, which includes cake and a song as it’s my birthday!  I blow out all the candles in one go: very proud moment.

9am: duties, packing up, moving bags out of rooms, cleaning

10:15am: drink and snack

10:30am: final song, chat about the holiday, say thank yous

11am: goodbye Brownies!  Leaders do final tidying and cleaning

12 noon: hand back keys and leave

Princes and princesses

This week’s meeting was run by our Young Leader to cover a few last programme tasks for her Adult Leadership Qualification (ALQ).  Although she’s been with us for 4 years and helped in many ways with many things, she’s never planned or taken leadership of a whole meeting before so it was an exciting first.  She did brilliantly, and it was so nice for the rest of us knowing that all we had to do this week was turn up in costume and await instructions.

Home-made fascinator

My fascinator, made hastily from an Alice band, a paper plate, marker pens, feathers, and duct tape.

The theme was princes and princesses, chosen by Young Leader and the Guides back in December when we were coming up with ideas for this term.  Almost everyone remembered to come in costume, and those who didn’t managed to improvise with paper crowns and accessories borrowed from others.  There was quite a range of interpretations of the theme, from  long pouffy dresses to dapper waistcoated princes to Princess Leia.

We spent about half an hour decorating masquerade masks with paper, fabric, sequins etc.  Very simple, flexible craft, and the Guides were very happy and produced some beautiful masks.

Decorated masquerade masks

Deocrated masquerade masks

Then we played a game where everyone had a sticker on their back with the name of a famous prince or princess (mostly from Disney and the royal family).  We had to guess who we were by asking yes/no questions, then find our partner.  It was a good way to get us mingling, though some of the Guides found it surprisingly hard to stick to yes/no questions.  (“Am I a prince or a princess?”  “Who am I married to?”)

Post-it notes with "Cinderella" and "Aurora" written on, stuck onto Guides' backs

While some leaders got the next thing ready, the Guides got into patrols and spent 15 minutes planning Go-For-Its for next week.  Once again, some had mysteriously vanished.  Hurrah, another week where all I need to do is turn up!

Finally, we had a delicious “afternoon” tea with cakes, crisps, sandwiches, lemonade and milkshake.  While the girls were eating, Unit Leader gave out notices of events coming up, and asked the Guides if they thought Young Leader had done well, which they all agreed she had.  Some wrote comments in her ALQ book, which will be nice for her to look back on.  All in all, a very good evening: the theme wasn’t one that I’d have guessed the Guides would enjoy so much, but they really did.  Not to mention any excuse for dressing up and having a bit of a party.

Table with plates of cakes and sandwiches

Super site visit

Three weeks before I did my Brownie holiday licence, I went with two other Leaders, Brown Owl and Tawny Owl, to look at where we would be staying.

The site is a Girlguiding property with a house, a campsite, and a few activity bits like a climbing wall.  I’ve camped there with the Guides a couple of times, and had been into the house very briefly, so I knew roughly what to expect.  Brown Owl had visited a couple of years ago, and Tawny Owl had never been there, so she was the one we had to impress.

And she was impressed, as were we all.  It’s just such a nice house, certainly not your basic village hall.  There are nice bedrooms, nice toilets and showers, a humungus kitchen, an activity room with tables and chairs, a dining room with more tables and chairs, a cosy first aid room complete with a lockable cabinet, a bed and teddies, lots of pinboards, and a lovely sitting room with comfy chairs, cushions, beanbags, and games.  It’s obviously a very loved place, and it’s no wonder 3 of the 4 Brownie packs in our District are holidaying there this year.

Even better, all of us were inspired with new ideas for the holiday by seeing the surroundings, as is often the way.  Tawny Owl said “I’m looking forward to it now!”, which is what I’d hoped: suddenly pack holiday got much more real and exciting for her.

I tried leading the Owls across a field to the campfire circle, but we soon realised that the ground was very wet and squelchy, so they were content for me to just point towards it instead.  Still, it impressed on us that wellies are an essential item on the kit list!


I wasn’t at Guides this week: I had to work an evening shift and missed out on pancakes!  From past years, I know roughly what went on…

Each Guide brought an empty, clean tin can with the lid removed and holes made in the side.  We brought an example in the week before and warned about being careful/getting an adult to help with making the holes.  We also asked everyone to bring a household candle – not a tealight, as experience has taught us they’re not strong enough.

The leaders brought batter ingredients and toppings, and spare cans and candles.

On plates or trays, the Guides lit their candles and placed the cans over the top.  The cans really need a lot of big holes to let enough oxygen in.  The Guides mixed batter, and poured it onto the top surface of the can when it’s hot enough (with a bit of oil, I think?).  Let pancake cook, turn it over with an implement, let it cook a bit more, remove and put on a plate, add toppings, eat and enjoy, repeat until the batter runs out or you’ve had enough.

Sometimes we also make popcorn in foil pie cases, and/or toast marshmallows and make s’mores.  I’m not sure what they did this time, but there were a lot of unused marshmallows in the Guide hall (left over from my pack holiday) so hopefully some of them found a good home.

World Thinking Day 2014

On 22 February, my District held our Thinking Day event in a local village hall.

About 30 Rainbows, Brownies and Guides came – we have lots more, but it was half term – and at least one leader from most units.  We started off with a picnic lunch all together, then the group split in half.

One half did a street dance workshop with a great dance teacher whom we paid for using our Sainsbury’s Active Kids vouchers from last year.  We collected them as a District so it was nice that we could use them on something all together.  The dancing looked really fun and the leaders enjoyed it as well as the girls.

The other half did a session run by my Queen’s Guide Buddy.  First they made treasure chests: cut out nets, decorated them with paper, stickers, gemstones etc. raided from the Guide hall, stuck them together into box shapes.

A table covered in card, glue, scissors and coloured paper

Then they went on a treasure hunt for knowledge (inspired by this year’s focus Millennium Development Goal, primary education for all).  In the garden, we “hid” 12 bits of paper with facts about Thinking Day and about Girl Guides and Girl Scouts in this year’s focus countries.*  In groups, pairs or on their own, the girls had to find a fact, come and tell it to a leader, and if they remembered it right the leader would give them a coin to put in their treasure chests.

Everyone got into the treasure hunt, although it worked slightly better with the Guides and older Brownies than it did with the younger ones – firstly because they needed more help reading and remembering, and secondly because they kept losing the coins from their boxes!**  Altogether, the craft and treasure hunt took about an hour, just the right amount of time.  To end the session, when the girls came inside again, they found the focus countries on a world map.

In between sessions, we had a break for squash and biscuits/cake, decorated by one of our leaders.

Cake decorated with trefoil-shaped icing

The afternoon ended with everyone gathering in a circle, singing ‘This little guiding light’, and renewing our promises.

Sheets of paper with the words of the Guide, Brownie and Rainbow promise written on

* Armenia, Bangladesh, Benin, Egypt, and St Vincent and the Grenadines

** That was partly my fault – I made a mistake when helping to cut out some of the boxes that meant there was a little gap in them.  But still, waving them around didn’t help to keep things inside…