Tag Archives: community service

Community Action

Library poster

Do click on it: it’ll get even larger and more legible.

This week I nabbed my local Trefoil Guild branch and spoke to them about the Community Action part of my Queen’s Guide Award.

It was…ahaha…not my finest performance ever.  I need a lot of practice and preparation to be a decent speaker, and I did not do enough practice or preparation.  I would rather have led them in some campfire songs.  On reflection, perhaps I should have taught everyone a song explaining all my findings about volunteers in public libraries.

Things started off woodenly, but got a bit better once I gave everyone a sheet with statements to consider and the rest of the time turned into a discussion/conversation rather than me rambling at them.  Everyone was very nice about it, and said things like “it’s not easy”.  I felt 15, not 25.

But that doesn’t matter.  It’s done, and that’s another bit of my QG book signed off (or will be when I get the book back).  And my Trefoils are some of the kindest, wisest, brightest, most inspirational women I know, and I’m sure what I know of them is only the tip of the iceberg.  I’m privileged to have spent an afternoon in their company, and part of me wishes I could take time off work to join them every month!

Marathon Challenge 2014

Back in November, I helped at an incident hike run by my old university Scout and Guide Club.

For those interested in incident hikes, I highly recommend Marathon.  I am of course biased, and I’ve never been to any other incident hikes (oh, apart from the Malvern Challenge, now I come to think of it), but every year it’s well-run and well-attended.  It’s open to Scouting and Guiding teams aged 14+, including adults.  Essentially, teams are given grid references for 26 checkpoints (hence the name “Marathon”) and have 9 hours to visit as many as they wish, to win as many points as they can.

It’s a bit strategic: if a team doesn’t plan to visit all the checkpoints (which would usually mean walking about 25-30 miles), they have to decide whether to go for ones that are closer to HQ but worth fewer points, or ones that are further away and worth more points.  There are also four manned checkpoints, where they can do an activity to win more points, scored for teamwork as well as completion of the challenge.

It takes a lot of volunteers to run an event like this: helpers are needed to brief and debrief the teams at HQ, monitor the radios, keep track of scores, man the checkpoints, drive minibuses and cars, and cook dinner for everyone.  I didn’t realise it when I was a student, but seeing it now, it really is a huge achievement for students who you might expect not to have the time, resources or experience to run a complex large-scale event.  (Gratuitous plug: they run another hike in spring for 10-14-year-olds.)  Having co-ordinated it myself a few years ago, I know all too well how much they rely on alumni (aka “fogies”) coming back to help and pass on the dubious benefit of their wisdom (and their cars), so I try to go back as much as I can.

This year I was based on a checkpoint, along with a couple of other fogies whom I already knew, and an amicable first year whom I hope we didn’t frighten too much.  Our task was to set ourselves up in the designated place, wait for teams, and offer them water refills, hot drinks, and the chance to do a challenge.  When there were no teams (i.e. most of the day: on average we got a couple of teams every hour) we sat, chatted, cooked on a stove, and generally entertained ourselves.  I always find it very peaceful to spend the day resting in the outdoors and knowing you don’t need to be doing anything else.  When I was a student, I really appreciated it as a calm interlude in the middle of an intense term, and a chance to break out of the city bubble into the “real world” and see some of the local countryside.

We were lucky to have dry, relatively mild weather.  We were given a tent, but decided not to put it up, since we weren’t likely to need shelter and it would just be a pain to take down at the end of the day when we were tired.

The challenge at our checkpoint was “sheep herding”.  Everyone in the team was blindfold, except for one member who had to guide them through a course using only a whistle.  As fast as possible.


We set up the course with ropes tied round trees – it included a hairpin bend, a slalom around logs, and a tight passage between some bushes.  When it got dark, we put glowsticks on the ropes to help the sheepdogs.


It was interesting to see the different teams’ techniques.  They tended to either work out a complex signalling system (“one whistle blast for left, two for right, three for stop, four for duck…”) or go for a simple “follow the sound” approach.  Both approaches worked well for some teams and less well for others.  I winced at times, when the sheepdog herded his or her teammates into the logs, through branches, or into a complete U-turn!


Altogether it was a most enjoyable day – everything seemed to run smoothly as usual, with no disasters for helpers or teams, which as I recall is the main objective.



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

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!

Bag packing

Shopping trolley full of packed bags

Time for some fundraising!  My Guides went bag packing in our local Sainsbury’s from 9am-1pm one Saturday.  Altogether, 7 Guides and 4 adults helped, and by chance we managed to have quite even coverage over the morning, with some arriving as others left.  Not loads of people, but more than we expected based on uptake the week before.  It was enough to have a definite presence, with one person to every 2 or 3 checkouts.  We also had an adult “floating” near the exit, keeping an eye on our pile of coats and bags and handing out flyers for forthcoming events.

Everyone who helped was a credit to guiding, and for a fairly small number of people in just 4 hours, we did very well to raise £300, plus lots of Active Kids vouchers.  Hurrah for the generous shoppers and accommodating Sainsbury’s employees!  The money will be divided between our unit’s camp funds and one Guide’s international trip.

Shopping trolley full of packed bags

One of our forthcoming events is a tea party for anyone local who has ever been a Brownie (anywhere) to celebrate the Big Brownie Birthday, so we tried to ask all the female customers whether they had been Brownies, and if so we told them about the party and directed them to the leader with the flyers.  For some customers, enough to make it worthwhile, this question opened up some nice little bits of conversation, e.g.

“Yes, and I loved my uniform with the brown dress and bobble hat.”

“Yes, I was Sixer of the Imps.”

“Yes, and I still have my camp blanket!”

“No, but I was a Brown Owl!”

“No, but my granddaughters are and they love it.”

It showed how being a Brownie is often a very formative experience and really sticks in the mind decades later.