Monthly Archives: May 2014

My own keys

A hand holding a large iron key

Not my hall key!

There was no Guides this week, so here’s some random musing instead…

I have my own set of keys to the Guide hall.  While it’s a small thing, it makes me extremely happy.

Keys are symbolically (as well as practically) very important: they represent trust, responsibility and freedom.  It’s a big thing to get your first house keys as a child, to get the keys to your first car and your first house, and to entrust a copy of your house key to a friend or partner.  It’s terrifying to lose a key, and particularly stomach-dropping if it’s someone else’s, knowing that you’ve betrayed their trust and made them vulnerable.

Likewise, my hall keys are significant to me.  I’ve been using the hall since I was a Ranger, then as a Young Leader and a Guide Leader.  I spent a year as a leader with no key, which was fine as I was rarely the first one to arrive and didn’t have much reason to go there alone; I also felt quite junior, not in the key-holding ranks!  Then I moved away for a year, and then I came back and at the first district meeting I went to, the lady in charge of the hall gave me a key.  Oh frabjous day!

Now if I’m the first to get to the hall, I can let myself in and start setting up, rather than waiting outside like a lemon.  Now I can bring up the rear and lock up if we’re taking the Guides out.  Now I can nip back if we’ve forgotten something, without borrowing another leader’s keys and trying about 20 before I find the right ones.  Now I can pop in whenever I like if there’s something I need to find/tidy/dump there.*  Now I know that if for any reason I was stuck in town and needed shelter/a toilet/emergency craft supplies, I could take refuge in the hall.  More than ever, I feel trusted and valued by my district.

Every time I use my keys, these happy thoughts go through my head.

*For example, if I were out in town the night before camp, I could excuse myself for an hour and nip round the corner to the hall to get together a pile of kit.  Hypothetically, you understand…

Big Brownie Birthday tea party

Tea party cakeOne fine Saturday afternoon, my division held a tea party to celebrate the Big Brownie Birthday, for anyone local who had ever been a Brownie.

We worked hard to publicise this event, with flyers, posters, press releases, social media, radio interviews, and lots of word of mouth. Our wonderful Division Commissioner managed to book the town hall free of charge, and get donations of yellow roses from local supermarkets and garden centres. But you just never know how many people will turn up on the day, so we were all very pleased and relieved that it was well-attended.

The flyers invited people to “drop in for tea, coffee and cake, share your memories of Brownies, and find out about the fun Brownies are having today!”

Tea party tableThe day began with meeting other leaders in the Guide hall and stripping it of any portable memorabilia.  We took it round to the town hall, met other leaders from the division with their memorabilia, and got to work setting up.  We were only allowed in an hour before the tea party started, and we were all surprised how much we achieved in that time – many hands make light work!

There were tables in the middle for sitting at (decorated with flowers, table cloths, puzzle sheets, pencils, and card Brownie hats on sticks to pose with), and tables round the edge for displays, refreshments, a raffle, a birthday cake, and selling badges. We were allowed to use the sound system and projector screen, so we had a slideshow of Brownie photos, gentle background music, and a microphone for making announcements. (It definitely helps that two leaders’ husbands run a disco/sound business!)

Tea party displayBetween us leaders and Trefoil Guilders, we rustled up a staggering amount of display stuff.  There were posters, photo albums, display boards, banners, bunting, balloons, uniforms, books, dolls, flags, camp blankets, badges, crafts, owls, toadstools, mirrors, nicknacks, Six emblems on sticks, certificates, shields, and a whole lot more. It was like a Brownie palace.  Some things were probably seeing the light of day for the first time in decades, so it’s great that it could be used.

What made me really happy was that it brought together leaders and Trefoils from all over the division. Because the venue was my district, we were concerned that we wouldn’t get so much support from the other districts. And yes, we were probably the best-represented, but lots of others came and helped and brought displays and chatted and were great.  I caught up with people I knew and met a few new leaders, too, and it was nice to have the time to do so without having to lead girls at the same time.

Tea party display boardsFortunately, plenty of other people came to the party too.  There were lots of present-day Brownies (many in uniform!), and a few Guides, Rainbows and Senior Section, with their families. I also spoke to several girls who were waiting to start Brownies, so I hope the party gave them and their parents a flavour of what it’s about.  There were a lot of friends-neighbours-and-relatives who’d been invited by word of mouth, but I think we also had quite a few visitors who came on the strength of the advertising. And the town mayor and the County Commissioner.

About halfway through, we cut a birthday cake and the Brownies who were there served slices to all the visitors (it went a surprisingly long way), and a Trefoil Guilder whom we all love was presented with a long service award.

Tea party rosesOn the way out, we asked everyone to write their memories of Brownies in a book (I’m looking forward to reading it), and presented them with a yellow rose (yellow for Brownies, a rose because they started as Rosebuds, and a random act of kindness which is part of the Big Birthday Challenge), which went down well.

I spent the afternoon taking photos, chatting to people, doing singing and games with the Brownies who were there, looking at the displays, and packing away, and it passed very quickly. I’m still on a bit of a high writing this, which is why I’m gushing a bit. It was just a very happy, celebratory event and I’m proud of everyone who made it happen.

Tea party owls

Fun and games (and bubbles)

This week at Guides, most of the leaders were expecting to be physically/mentally/emotionally exhausted for one reason or another, so we scheduled a low-preparation evening of games and initiative challenges.

We were blessed with a lovely warm sunny evening, so we took the Guides outside.  Our hall doesn’t have any outdoor space, but we have a longstanding agreement with the family just across the road, who very kindly let us use their large garden.

We played the big group games that the girls love but can’t play inside as our hall is too small, like Horses & Jockeys and Fruit Salad (aka Ladders).  We split into patrols and did some races passing hula hoops round a circle by climbing through them, and crossing the “shark-infested water” using hoops as stepping stones (quite a bit of cheating in that, but also a lot of laughter); we also played “make a scene” (I just made that name up), where I called out a scenario like a funfair/the dentist’s/on safari etc, and the patrols had 10 seconds to freeze in position in that scene.  They always seem to love doing drama, so they enjoyed that.  And we did initiative challenges like untangling a knot of hands into a circle, and lining up in various orders without talking.  It was interesting to see the big difference between the older Guides, who’ve done these challenges many times before at school, Guides, drama club etc., and the younger Guides who didn’t have much experience of them.

Finally, just because we fancied it, they made bubble liquid (mix 450ml washing up liquid*, 2l water and 2tsp sugar – all measurements approximate!) and blew bubbles with pipe cleaners and their hands.  We only left 10 minutes for this as we weren’t sure if the Guides would be too old for bubbles and lose interest quickly.  What were we thinking?!  They could easily have gone on for a bit longer.

Leader-wise, it was all very nice and mutual-supporty.  As the least knackered among us, I led most of the games (which was good for me because if I get out of practice then I get less confident and lean too much on others), while the other two leaders and Young Leader helped, watched, and did paperwork and beginning and end announcements.  I know they’d do they have done the same for me if I needed a less active evening.  We have next week off to recharge as it’s half term, and after that fingers crossed that the good weather continues!

*A Brownie leader friend tells me that the very cheapest Sainsbury’s basics stuff doesn’t work very well.  I used Tesco’s own brand but not basics, and that was fine.

Will you take my flyers?

I was on the publicity trail last Saturday, giving out flyers for my division’s Big Brownie Birthday tea party (more on which soon!) a week later.

My District Commissioner and I started out in the venue where the tea party is taking place.  They were having an open day to showcase all the things that happen there, so we took the opportunity to scatter our flyers on tables and chairs, in the café, in reception, and so on, and to chat and press them upon anyone who’d listen.

DC stayed to do more of that, and I took a stack of flyers and went around the shops in town asking the staff if they’d be willing to take a few for the counter, for customers to pick up.  I’ve put up lots of posters in my time but I’d never done this before, so I was pleasantly surprised that almost everywhere I asked was very happy to take them.

In fact, I only got two “no’s”,: one in a charity shop, where the cashier nicely said that they had a policy of only advertising their own things (I didn’t try any other big-name charity shops after this, as I suspect they would be the same), and another where the owner kindly explained that they didn’t have much counter space to display them and the nature of her interactions with customers was such that there wouldn’t be much chance to mention them – they’d tried it before with other advertising and it just hadn’t worked – and she even suggested a few other places to try, so still very positive.

In other shops, a couple had special tables where they put local flyers, some said they’d leave them on the counter or put one in the window, some said they’d put them in the staffroom, and some took them without much comment, possibly just wanting to get rid of me!  Many of these were independent shops: we’re lucky to have quite a few in town.  So there we go: I’ve learned about another way of publicising an event.

Other leaders in my District and Division have been working equally hard if not harder on publicity: with posters, on the radio, on social media, in clubs and societies and at church, by word of mouth to friends and acquaintances.  I’m writing this before the event, and we’re all crossing our fingers and toes that our efforts will pay off and we’ll have a good turnout!

Grow Wild!

flower trail (4)Another leader at Guides very thoughtfully managed to win us a Grow Wild pack.  I hadn’t heard of Grow Wild till she told me about it, but it’s a campaign to get people growing wild flowers around the UK, particularly to brighten up flowerless areas, and to generally boost communities and wellbeing in the process.

The pack included a packet of seeds for every Guide and leader, a few information booklets and bee house kits (here’s a video showing how to make them), and discount vouchers for Kew Gardens (which is supporting the campaign), enough for everyone.

We wanted a plant-themed evening that would get the Guides keen and knowing enough to want to go and plant their flowers, and between us we came up with one.

flower trail (11)The girls spent all evening working in their patrols.  Each patrol got a “flower” (a cup with paper petals taped on) to fill with as much “pollen” (Smarties) as possible, which they’d win by completing challenges:

  • A relay race collecting balls (“pollen”, yes I know we used that symbolism twice!) with velcro pads and passing them over heads and between legs down the line
  • A “match the pairs” game with pictures of the wildflowers in the packets they’d be getting.  This was meant to be a relay race with teams sending a member to collect a card until they’d all gone, then seeing who had the most pairs.  In fact it got a bit chaotic and the teams ended up swapping cards to help each other, which was nice of them!  So everyone got almost the same number of pollen points in the end.
  • A race to build 2 bee houses per patrol, using the instructions in the booklet (extra points for the patrol who went straight for the felt tips and decorated their houses with flowers!)
  • flower trail (16)A town plant trail to get them noticing plants in built-up areas, sometimes in unexpected places.  This one took a bit more preparation: a couple of days before, I’d gone round town taking close-up pictures of plants and flowers round the market place (like the ones in this post), including images/carvings of flowers to bulk it up.  I put them in a document and added simple questions like “What is the name of this shop?”.  The patrols had to find the plants in the photos and answer the questions, as many as possible in the 15 minutes we gave them.  They all managed to get most of the answers, so the right level of challenge, I think.  (NB the usual rules applied, like not going outside the boundaries we set, and only crossing at crossing places or on quiet roads.)

We had a couple more challenges for if there was time or if the weather was too wet to go out (like pictionary of places they could plant their seeds), but that was all we had time for in the end.  The night finished with them sharing and eating the Smarties they had won.  I do hope some of the seeds get planted!

flower trail (1)


Lots of music and no first aid

My list of “unexpected things I’ve done through guiding” is long and growing.  Some things that spring to mind are being a fairy in Santa’s grotto and doing catering at a wedding and an anniversary party.

Last weekend I added another to the list.  A leader in my District works with a gentleman who helps to organise a music festival where people (mainly children and teenagers) take part in masterclasses and perform in a concert at the end of the weekend.  This year, the venue demanded that they have trained first aiders present, so he called on his Guider colleague, and she called on other leaders to help.

Between three of us we covered the weekend, and very pleasant it was too.  We spent the time sitting in the foyer, reading, knitting and chatting with the people going past.  Save the Children volunteers provided us with refreshments, and we had the chance to wander around the beautiful grounds of the venue.  Fortunately no first aid was needed, not even a plaster, but we received thanks and a kind donation for being there.

I attended the final concert and I was very impressed by the talented performers.  It reminded me of my teenage days playing in orchestras and I feel inspired to pick up my cello a bit more often.  I was even more impressed by the organising committee, who work very hard all year round to make this happen, simply because they love music and want to foster that love in young people.  Hurrah for volunteers!

Pack holiday assessing 2

Another assessment, another chance to meet new leaders and Brownies and pick up some new ideas!

This pack holiday was in a venue that I’ve visited many times for trainings and other county events, but never for an overnight (though they happen a lot there), so it was good to see how they used the space.

The theme for the weekend was Oliver Twist and Victorians, chosen by the Brownies because a lot of them are doing Oliver as a school play.  I think it’s a great theme, and they seemed to have got lots of interesting activities out of it, from flower pressing to traditional games like hopscotch to a treasure hunt that seemed to involve picking the pockets of a many-pocketed coat that one of the leaders had made!  I must remember they’ve got that coat in case I ever need it…I can’t think why but you never know…

My co-assessor brought with her a tick-list of things to look for, which was helpful.  I’m going to ask her for a copy because without a list I tend to get a bit vague.  We stayed for nearly 2 hours, looking around, chatting to the Brownies and leaders, tasting the biscuits they’d made, and signed off a few parts of Brown Owl’s qualification book.  Now I’m back home, it’s rather nice to think that the Brownies are still out there having fun!

Mini campsites and mini Guides

Back to Guides after the Easter holidays!

We had almost a month off, and it was one of those meetings that was a bit hard to gear up to, but was great when it actually happened and we all got back into the routine.  We had three new Guides so there was a bit of pressure to make it extra fun.  I mean, I know every meeting should be enjoyable, but I think with new Guides coming straight from Brownies it’s important to bridge the gap with things that are familiar/guaranteed to be fun, rather than leap in with a more serious-going meeting where we don’t have time for games or jolly things.

We leaders had discussed a few things we needed to do this term, but hadn’t made a definite plan for this meeting, so I turned up with prep for a programme-planning activity and a few icebreaker games up my sleeve, and hoped someone else would come with ideas too.  Unit Leader turned up with a plan and equipment, so we got the Guides to choose patrols, then did programme planning while Unit Leader got everything ready, then did her activity, and no extra games were needed, and it all worked out nicely.

For programme planning, I gave each patrol a bunch of post-its with activities we usually do in the summer (e.g. cooking out and playing water games) and blanks to write other suggestions, and something the patrol would like to lead for everyone.  We leaders briefly explained each one, then each patrol arranged them on a piece of paper in order of preference, wrote their names, and we collected the pieces of paper.  We’ll use them to plan the programme for this term.

Then the Guides started working on a challenge/competition set by the local Trefoil Guild: essentially, the idea is to plan your ideal (but realistic) camp.  When we first read it, it was hard to know how to do this with the Guides, so Unit Leader thought she’d start to get them in the camp-planning zone by building mini camps.  Each patrol had half an hour to produce the following:

  • 5 watertight bedding rolls
  • a gadget to keep them off the floor
  • a flagpole with flag
  • a plan of their ideal campsite

using the equipment we gave them: a bit of bin liner (groundsheet), cotton wool ball (pillow), sanitary towel (sleeping bag), string, garden canes, a selection of fabric, paper, pens, scissors, glue.

An ingenious way to keep them off the floor. I wonder if it would work full-size?

We tested their bedding rolls by dropping them in a bowl of water.  Some were more watertight than others!

Then we gave them a selection of sweets and 10 minutes to build a campfire with them.  They were not allowed to eat anything until we had taken a photo of them “toasting” mini marshmallows over the fire.  We were very impressed by our youngest patrol, who had made a log pile of chocolate fingers to sit next to their fire.

Edible campfire

The evening saw the Guides having a say in their programme, working together, facing a bit of a challenge, learning something about camp skills, and having a tasty snack: a good first impression of Guides for the newbies, I think.