INTOPS - May 2016

As anyone who knows me will know, Guiding is a massive part of my life, and always has been.  There are so many bits about it I like, mainly the variety of what 'volunteering' means to me.  I love the hour long weekly meetings with my Rainbows who think I'm 14 and therefore really old, I love helping to organise large scale events for Brownies, and Guide camps are excellent.  There is always something new to try, and so early this year I applied for SWE INTOPS (that's South West England International Opportunities).

The UK is divided into Girlguiding regions and I live in one (London and South East Region) and work in another (SWE).  This means that I have even more opportunities.  Every year the regions organise international trips but over the last few years I've never been available to attend the LaSER INTOPS weekends.  So when I realised a few months ago that I was free for the SWE weekend, I applied immediately!

An INTOPS weekend is to select the leaders who will run three international trips - two in Europe the following year, and one further afield the year after (as these trips take more time to plan and fundraise for).  The application process was straightforward, I had to write a little bit about why I wanted to attend the weekend and then my District Commissioner had to write a reference.  My County paid my fee to attend the weekend and I found out I was going on the weekend back in April.

The weekend was held at Foxlease, one of the Guiding Training and Activity Centres.  It's an absolutely beautiful location and we had great weather all weekend.

I didn't know a single other person going - there were 14 participants in total, and three leaders who would be selecting us.  I arrived in the Foxlease car park, straight from work, unloaded and took my stuff to the Lodge where we were staying.  Gradually people began to arrive and everyone was so friendly, we all just got on.  We were all there for the same reasons and we chatted, designed name badges, had dinner, chatted, laughed.

The point of the weekend is to see who is suitable to be a leader on an international trip - although as we were told many times, all of us just by being approved to attend the weekend were pretty much guaranteed to be suitable.  It is also a chance for the leaders running the weekend to put us into teams - who is going to work well together, that sort of thing.

The destinations of the trips remain a secret until Sunday morning - whilst this annoying (I want to know where I could go!) it's done so we don't try to influence anything.

Friday evening was spent doing icebreakers, generally laughing and more chatting - sharing ideas for what we've done in our units, and the odd whine about local Guiding politics!

We were in shared dorms, which were incredibly hot and stuffy, but it was lovely to be in a room with other people and we did yet more talking past what should have been a sensible bedtime.

A great thing being with just leaders is that jobs get done so quickly - the washing up and clearing away from Saturday breakfast was done in about fifteen minutes!  We then went outside for a logic puzzle (here's a great river, some of you are animals, some humans, some food, you've got to get all of you from one side to the other without the animals and food being eaten) and then we went through different scenarios - what would you do if a girl broke her leg in India?  What would you do if your luggage doesn't arrive?   - to see how much we have to plan and risk assess for, and also to realise that we're taking on quite a challenge.  This was followed by a Ready, Steady, Cook challenge, again outside.  The weather was glorious, and lunch prep was interrupted to go and put on suncream!  The activities would have been the same regardless of weather, so I am pleased the weather was lovely, cooking outside isn't much fun in pouring rain!

Each activity was in different groups - a chance to get to know the other adults a bit better, and for the organisers to see if teams were forming.  Individually, we had a half hour chat with one of the organisers, so they could get to know us better and for us to be honest about what we wanted from a trip and also if there were some people we didn't think we could get on with.  I felt a bit bad about it, but there was one lady's name I gave as I didn't think I could work with her - she is a lovely, lovely lady and we had some good chats and I think got on relatively well in the challenges, but I don't think I could spend at least a year planning a trip with her.  We were told time and time again to be honest, and I was.  We had also been asked to take in 10 objects in a small bag to represent 'all about me' - I took, among other things, a photo of my knitted fox head.  That's a good talking point!

Saturday afternoon involved more team challenges (competitive, me?), followed by dinner and then a campfire.  I do love campfires, and whilst they're great to do with my Brownies and Guides, there's something extra lovely in having a campfire with just a small group, where most leaders already know the words and actions, and we can do some proper singing.  I did learn a few new songs though, which I'm looking forward to passing on to my units!  After toasting marshmallows we headed back inside for more chatting, more tea, and then bed.

Sunday's breakfast was eggy bread (the best sort of breakfast, which is so much better when cooked on a Guiding event (even better when cooked over a fire, but we didn't have time for that)) and then we finally learned about the upcoming trips!  They all sound excellent, but I had a preference straight away.  A lady from the SWE region office was there and we talked through important things like paperwork, money, fundraising, how this is an amazing challenge and opportunity, but not one to be taken likely.  The day finished with us all completing a feedback form, saying where we wanted to go (if we still wanted to go somewhere) and what we thought we'd got from the event.  We were told we would find out if we'd been successful within a couple of weeks.

A couple of weeks?!

I am not patient generally, but thankfully I didn't have long to wait.  Kate, the chief organiser, emailed me on Monday saying she'd like to offer me a place on one of the trips, and she'd like me to be leader in charge - eeek!  (Apparently, we all fell into teams quite easily - she had us sorted out in her head on the Saturday night and was just waiting for our feedback forms to confirm what she hoped would work!).  I already have a licence to take girls away on residentials, so I 'just' need to add on my international module to take girls abroad.  The other three leaders in this team are quite a diverse bunch and I think we're going to work well together (the lady I said I didn't want to be with isn't one of them!).

It's not my first choice of trip, it's my second, but I am glad I get the opportunity to do my licence (which I'm not sure I would have done on either of the other two trips).  This means that (presuming I pass it) I'll be able to take girls abroad in the future and so give them even more opportunities.  The trip sounds amazing, a wide range of activities and locations and I am super excited about it!

I can't say where I'm going, or even what the other countries are, as we're sworn to secrecy.  The girls who have applied to be participants have their selection weekend next month and we don't want them to find out until the end of the weekend, just like on our weekend.  I have told quite a few people though, and everyone's been excited so far!  Friends who have been to this country before have told me how great it is, and the googling I've done of potential activities has shown me some utterly beautiful photos.  I've bought a new notebook to help with the planning, and also ordered some mini flag stickers - I've got my priorities sorted!

It's going to be a big challenge - we have the girls' selection weekend in June, a leaders' weekend in October (oh the joy of risk assessments!) and then two weekends before we go abroad, so there's a time commitment as well as the hundreds of other things I know I have to do, and the three hundred things I have to do but don't yet know about, or haven't thought about!  The 16 girls we're taking away with us will be aged 14-26 (although more likely to be towards the younger end) and this is an age group I don't have much experience with - so again, lots to learn!  The paperwork came through today, and I'm sending off my deposit cheque and signed acceptance letter this weekend.  So now it's full steam ahead and go go go!

I'm super excited about it all - and am so grateful that, once again, Guiding has given me (and the 19 other people I'm going to be responsible for!) this fantastic opportunity.

Plus, there was a badge.  There's always a badge.


  1. This is so fascinating! I loved my time as a Rainbow, Brownie and a Guide, but we never got to go on any camps at all, disappointingly. I have thought about volunteering for guiding, but I move about quite a bit so it's probably not wise until I'm settled somewhere. I'll just have to live vicariously through your adventures instead.

    Well done on being selected - can't wait to find out where you're off to!

    Rachel x
    The Inelegant Wench

  2. Hopefully, by the end of next year, you and I will have some of the same badges on our camp blankets. Fingers crossed, and happy planning!

  3. Sooo exciting, can't wait to hear more about this trip as it develops!

  4. This is super exciting, well done you!


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