I'm a Brownie leader with a thriving unit - we have around 20 girls (could take a few more) and we have three qualified leaders (meaning we have all done our Girlguiding Adult Leadership Qualification, or LQ for short), a parent helper who comes weekly and a member of The Senior Section (TSS) who is a Young Leader and another teenager who is doing DofE.  We are part of a thriving district, all our units (one Rainbow, four Brownies, one Guide) are full or nearly full, we have waiting lists (mainly of girls not yet old enough to join that section) and we are incredibly active, doing a wide range of activities.

Girlguiding has been running a #GrowingGuiding campaign, to help grow Guiding (clue is in the name!).  Some areas have massive waiting lists and need more adult leaders to help existing units as well as to open new ones, some areas have smaller units and need more girls, other areas are thinking about the future, and what will happen in say five or ten years when lots of their leaders retire.  Other units are in areas dominated by students, so there is a quick turn over of leaders and often uncertainty about who will be running the unit in the next academic year.

I've always been passionate about recruiting new leaders - some of my closest friends I got involved in Guiding by inviting them to a Brownie meeting (just so they could see what I was always talking about) and then they just kept coming back! Or I'd rope them in by saying I really needed another adult to accompany us on a theatre trip, free ticket, oh look the girls think you're great, they're inviting you to be an owl, how can you resist them? 

To be a leader, you need to be aged 18 or over, for obvious reasons.  I know so many units across the country who need more adult leaders, there are regular pleas on different Facebook groups for an adult to help out at xyz unit or it will close next term, that sort of thing.

What is important to realise (and I am not saying these units don't realise this) is that adults were once teenagers - and if we can encourage leadership qualities from a younger age, we have a pool of competent young women who will one day turn that magic age of 18.

When I was a Guide I helped out at two local Brownie units - one a few minutes' walk from my house, another a bit further away cycling.  The former was my old unit, the latter was run by my Guide leader.  So three nights a week, I did Guiding, two evenings at Brownies and another at Guides.  I loved helping at Brownies, the girls really liked me, I led games with them, I helped out with crafts and activities, I was a link to the Guide unit.  I went on unit holidays with them and had a great time.

When I was about 13, my old Brownie unit (so not the one run by my Guide leader) asked me to stop attending.  They had another Guide interested in volunteering, and there wasn't room for us both. So they were asking me to stop so she could have a go.

I was quite upset by this.  Whilst I knew I hadn't done anything wrong, I was sad that the leaders thought there wasn't room for us both - it was a full unit with around 20 girls, or even if they hadn't wanted two teenagers there each week, maybe we could have alternated weeks.  I told my mum (who is involved in local Guiding) as well as other Guiding people, and all were appalled by how I was treated - you just don't ask a volunteer to stop attending, if they haven't done anything wrong.

Anyway, I stopped going as requested (after that week, I didn't exactly want to go back anyway) and continued with the other unit, where I helped throughout my GCSEs and A levels, right up until I left to go on my gap year and to university.  I went on a unit holiday with them which finished the day before my 18th birthday and they even threw a surprise birthday party for me, which was lovely (and a genuine surprise, which is quite impressive given how bad more Brownies are at keeping secrets!).  I like to think I made a significant contribution to the success of that Brownie unit.  I was keen, enthusiastic, competent and I genuinely loved helping.

In contrast, the new Guide at the other Brownie unit only helped for a term or so (co-incidentally, the minimum amount of time needed to earn the service badge which was around at that time, how very cynical of me) and the unit closed a few years later due to lack of leaders.  

As an organisation, we need to be planning for the future...and that means looking at Guides and members of TSS as they are the leaders of tomorrow.  One of the units in my district had three teenagers who wanted to volunteer - the leader in charge has nurtured them for a number of years, the girls are all turning 18 this academic year and so that unit will go from two leaders and three young leaders to five fully-qualified leaders.  Isn't that marvellous?

Okay, so these girls are likely to move away in the next few years, as is happening with 18 year olds across the country as they move to college, university, start careers.  But they will be going on their way fully qualified and as such will be a great asset to whichever unit they volunteer with. 

Developing leadership skills is so important and young volunteers can develop other skills as well, in 'real' situations.  Take Brownies this week - I was in the kitchen with our 14 year old DofE volunteer and five Brownies.  We were making shortbread biscuits, and rolling and cutting out the dough before baking them.  Then we had a power cut and had to think on our feet in terms of how we were going to entertain the Brownies whilst a leader sorted out the tripped switches and reset the (complicated) oven, what we would then do when the power came back, was it worth carrying on with the biscuits, should we get half the girls to make some and do the rest next week, what is on the programme for next week and can we be flexible?  There was flour and biscuit dough everywhere (Brownies are not clean and tidy bakers) and we were making it up as we went along.  But between us, we were a great team and the Brownies barely knew anything was wrong.  So in that 90-minute Brownie meeting, our young volunteer learned about time management, how even the best made plans can go wrong, how to think on her feet, child safeguarding and that yes, even though you have asked the Brownies to roll up their sleeves, it is a much better idea to ask them to take off their jumpers entirely - flour gets everywhere.

Our plan is to gradually give our two teenage volunteers more and more responsibility - things like running games with the girls and taking small groups asides for different activities.  Then building on this, so perhaps contributing to planning meetings, ideas and suggestions, is there an activity they want to run, can they bring in the equipment for it, are they happy to lead it?  It's for them to see how much more there is to running a Brownie meeting than just turning up on a Monday night, but in easy small steps so they grow in confidence and ability all the way.

Sometimes it's hard to watch young leaders do a particular activity, as I feel that perhaps I could have explained it better, or they've missed out a key instruction, or I can see that Brownie over there isn't listening.  But it's all about developing and learning from mistakes - no leader (adult or otherwise) is perfect and we can all learn from the experiences of others.  The brilliant thing is when the young leader takes control of her activity and it is a success from start to finish - and I know that I've been a part in helping her to achieve that.

So #GrowingGuiding is not just about getting more leaders now to run help run units today.  It's about nurturing the children in our care, inspiring them to volunteer so that they can be the leaders of tomorrow.  Judging from the teenagers I've worked with recently, I think the future for Guiding is looking very bright indeed.

In related news, there was a 50p coin launched in 2010 to celebrate the centenary of Guiding.  I managed to find two, and Ben has turned them into earrings for me. The perfect addition to my uniform, I think!


  1. What an interesting read! Guiding has always been a bit of a mystery to me because it was not known in the areas that I grew up in (both in Germany and Bangladesh). I knew it was very popular in the US and only found out about it being known here as well when I met my boyfriend who used to be a Cub Scout. It sounds like such a great community to be part of with so much to learn.

    1. Guiding is brilliant...I could talk about it all day! It's a worldwide organisation, and it's interesting to hear about other people's experiences of it, or not as the case may be!

  2. I always enjoy reading your posts about Guiding. It's something I could see myself doing if I ever stopped teaching but for now, one lot of kids is enough for me!

    1. Thank you, I know what you mean - one lot of children probably is enough! I have a few friends who are teachers and do Guiding, but in very different areas so there is very little chance of their pupils being in their unit!

  3. A wonderful post Amy! It makes me really miss guides and my time training to be a leader there. It was a unit where the majority if not all leaders were university students so there was a reasonably high turnover. we did see guides become young leaders and it was great! The earrings are great too by the way!

    1. Girlguiding will always be there if ever you wish to return...!

  4. I'm nearing the end of my LQ, having been with a Brownies unit since September before last. Originally I didn't plan on doing so, but it kind of makes sense if I'm going to be helping out every week anyway. I enjoy being a Brownie leader, yes of course, but it is more work than one might expect, with the planning and the preparing and sourcing resources and the accounts and the weekends away. I am lucky in that my job and lifestyle allows me the time to be able to commit to a weekly meeting and all the stuff that goes with it, but I can see that for some people it may feel like more effort than it's worth and once you're in, it's hard to get away with just 'helping out' - it's likely you'll get roped in wherever they need people. With so few volunteers, there's more responsibility on the individuals and there seems to be a 'type' of person that is a guiding leader and I feel like I am an atypical example. Most of them are older than me and already work in schools or with children, I've found, which is not surprising, but kind of a shame as it means I don't really feel like I relate as well to them and it makes it difficult to be as involved as I perhaps could be...

    1. I know what you mean about a 'typical' Guiding leader, but I do think that's gradually changing. Considering just the three qualified leaders in my unit, we don't work in a school and we don't have children! I once went on a sleepover where I was the oldest leader there and I was about 23 at the time. One parent did ask if another adult was going with us - er, nope, I'm the one with the qualification and the other two leaders are the regular leaders of the unit - it's just going to be us! The parent did apologise when they picked their daughter up at the end, commenting on just how much fun the children seemed to have had. Yep, we knew what we were doing! Do you enjoy the unit you're with? Do you think you'd perhaps relate more to leaders in other units? Is there more stuff you specifically want to do? Is there anyone in your local area you could have an informal discussion with? Chances are there may be people feeling the same way as you! Good luck with the rest of your LQ!


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