Guides rising to the challenge…

A long, long time ago we decided that our unit would do the Rise to the Challenge badge in the second half of the spring term. The challenge badge involves 5 challenges under the themes of

  • Nature
  • Creating
  • Survival skills
  • Construction and Engineering
  • Baking

I really can’t take credit for organising any of this. It was all the other leaders. I was present, and helped tidy, made sure people stayed alive and took lots of pictures but I’m so grateful for the other leaders giving me some downtime this last term while I’ve been facilitating Senior Section solo. The themed nights also gave a great opportunity for each of our three young leaders to take charge of facilitating and organising a meeting solo (obviously with our support, but they were the ones taking the lead). This is something they have to do as part of their Young Leadership Qualification which we are supporting them through with the intention of them completing it before they start S6 and doing UCAS applications.

It enabled everyone to use their skills too. Our unit helper has green fingers, so was super helpful person to have with the Nature night as they made their own gardens in strange recepticles!

One of our young leaders is really into Science, so was a perfect fit for the Construction/Engineering night, where we brought lots of recyclable materials for each patrol to build their own bridges.

Another young leader loves to bake, and actually got me pretending to be Sue Perkins when she did a ‘technical challenge’ bake off competition for our Ranger unit. She took charge of baking night as each patrol baked rock cakes, each with different fillings in halved oranges. They used the orange juice to make icing. And I must say being a baking judge is such a difficult challenge…to have to try each of those yummy bakes was just one of those things you have to do as a leader. ūüėČ

The girls designed Guide uniform accessories for their ‘Create’ challenge. And I believe there may be a plan to take this one step further and try and make them…

And our first Young Leader who loves the outdoors took on the survival night. Tins with holes, a pile of tealights to make pancakes with different toppings. I was super sad I ended up ill and unable to go that night.


Units, Leaders and Trefoil Guild groups can still take part in the Rise to the Challenge badge all through the summer term. I believe there’s a big day out at Glamis Castle at the end of the summer holidays.

If you’re interested, download the activity pack here.


The Camp Blanket

When I was a Guide, we all had camp blankets to take on camp. We were taught in the Guide Handbook how to make your bedding roll Рblanket underneath, sleeping bag on top, camp blanket on top of that pinned to the underneath blanket with kilt pins. My first sleeping bag was this horrible thing made for indoor use only really (not great when you live in Scotland!) patterned black and purple. And so when I was about 15 I got some black fleece and purple fleece to make two blankets. The purple one became my camp blanket.IMG_6541

However, I could not sew if my life depended on it. The badges I sewed on fell off pretty quick, so I did what I started doing when my Mum told me I needed to sew on my own badges to my Guide sash. I invested in a bottle of fabric glue.

The problem? Your badges are stuck in that position. FOREVER. And now I’m older and struggling to remember what badge came when, and realise it would be helpful to have them less spread out and more in ‘order’ (and have room for more) I discovered that my fabric glue was so good this is what happens when you try to remove the badges from your blanket.


I got a temporary job at Christmas that has become a permanent one, building bears. I did warn the manager at my interview that sewing isn’t my strong point. I do believe I even confessed my ballet teacher gave me a lifelong ban of sewing when I was 15 (no, really – and for good reason). They have however patiently (with minimal laughing at some of the sewing pickles I’ve managed to get myself into with a piece of thread and a needle) taught me how to stitch up bears and I decided to use this transferable skill to make a new camp blanket.

On Thinking Day my Mum and I went off to the same shop I got my original blanket from, but this time I wanted the colour to be more of a shout out to my life as a Guide and Senior Section leader. And then our lovely unit helper who is an excellent dressmaker and has this special machine called an overlocker let me come round to her house and she taught me how to use it. Amazingly it wasn’t a disaster, though don’t look at my blanket too closely as you’ll discover the sides are slightly squint. That’s how you know I’ve done it myself! ūüėČ


And on nights when I’ve given up on doing my university work, I’ve undertaken what I like to call some ‘productive procrastination’ by sewing the badges. A few need to be redone as they are very squint, a few that have gone missing that need replaced and there’s still a lot of my badges I’ve collected and earned as a Ranger and an Adult volunteer still to go on, but I really, really love my blanket.


For me, my camp blanket is a bit like a photo album full of memories. Each badge has a story to tell and a memory attached to it. I can remember my Mum teaching me about the lemon cream Jif to clean the bathroom sink so I could earn my house orderly badge. The night my friend and her sister were sick all night after we did the Cook’s badge (her Mum thinks it was the sausages. I never ate them. Phew!). The badges a Guide in ?Australia? sent me after we sent letters to each other for the World Guiding badge. The burn I fell backwards into when my Guides went to stay in the Ranger bothy at Netherurd. Performing on stage with my Guide unit cheering me on in That’s Entertainment. The day me and my friend walked around Edinburgh in the pouring rain trying to find the Tourist Office we’d managed to walk past. Going to dance at the opening ceremony of Castle Ceilidh camp which then got flooded out and made the national news! The camp where I met the girls who invited me and my friend to come and join their Ranger unit. Jubilee Beacon night with my own Guide unit, who had never been to Trefoil before, and the annual campfires that came every summer after. Running down to the fire station to meet other Guides in the division to do my fire safety badge clutching the bargain dress I’d got reduced from ¬£45 to ¬£6 (yes I still remember the price of the dress…it was that amazing a bargain. I wore it to see in the new Millennium). The weekend¬†we went to the London HQ for the finals of the environmental competition and I’d forgotten to pack my pyjamas. Making my promise outside a house with a blue door in Notting Hill. Doing the test for my First Aid badge and having to perform CPR on¬†the farting resusi-Annie doll with St Andrew’s Ambulance. My 18 months volunteering with the Brownies to do my Service Flash. The Brownies¬†threw me a surprise Winnie the Pooh¬†party for my 16th birthday because they knew I loved Winnie the Pooh!

I could go on and on and on…

A few of my Guides and one of the Young Leaders are now starting their own camp blankets. Most of them are doing it for their World Guiding badge, others doing it so they can have a keepsake of their journey in Guiding.

Because there are some Guiding traditions we really should hold on to. Badges and camp blankets are two of them.


Earning badges from the cradle to the coffin

Two years ago, I went to Germany to share and compare research on lifelong learning with other education students from all over Europe. We had a phrase that we coined, that learning should be ‘from the cradle to the coffin’ (some things just get confused when you are translating from different languages…I’ll tell you about the presentation about the ‘farmers’ in Italy another day).


I left Girlguiding when I was 18. I was only 17 when I went to university, and was kept in guiding by a lovely Ranger leader who kept¬†communicating with me, and always left the door open to come back whenever I was at home and a Brownie Guider who picked me up from my relatively isolated student village. In my second year, I was all on my own. Our ranger unit became self run (and never got any new blood as a result with no qualified leader) there was no one to ask about the Queen’s Guide pack my leader had given me before she emigrated and I lived in a flat far away from the Brownie unit. They never trained me and never offered me a transfer to a closer unit.

And there were so many opportunities to learn for someone my age. I got to be a volunteer youth worker, I got music lessons when I sang in my church, people fed me every Sunday and offered me leftovers to take home, I was at university where there were so many societies to join giving access to try so many new things like underwater hockey, opera singing, trampolining, debating, first aid… it was amazing.

When I graduated at 22, I was straight into a workplace where there was so much to learn. How to do risk assessments, live up to standards of the Care Commissions and the education inspectors, child protection policies…I worked evenings and the occasional weekend…and by the time I was in a position where I had time to learn something outside of my workplace, I was 26 and it turned out I was deemed too old for everything.

The world seemed to say that once you were a grown up, your opportunities for learning were kinda done.

I came back to Girlguiding really to get involved in my local community. My friend Ashleigh (a fellow Girlguiding leader) put it best in a social media meme a few weeks ago. We got involved to “be who [we]¬†needed when [we]¬†were younger”. My Ranger leader had been a rock in a difficult two years of my life, and she had been someone who did not judge. She accepted me for who I was, accommodated me and encouraged me. Even to the point where she let me travel to our Venture Scout camp by train and picked me up from the station because I was too scared to travel with the Rangers and Scouts on the coach in case anyone got travelsick on the bus.

Although my Guide leader was an extremely stern ‘old school’ type of Guider, she was kind to me, and she encouraged me so much. She helped me get my first paid job when I was 15 and always passed on every Guiding opportunity to me. When me and my two friends got our¬†Baden-Powell Awards, she made a big deal for us. There was cake, an award from the County Commissioner, gifts and a party where we were allowed to invite our friends and family. (Yes to my own Guides and Senior Section, I totally copied her when it came to celebrating YOUR Baden-Powell and Chief Guide award achievements). I felt like I’d achieved something great. When I got into the County Show, she brought my unit along to cheer me on. I knew she had my back.

It was sad to realise that in the years I’d been away from Guiding, I’d missed out on all the opportunities of Senior Section awards. And now there was nothing. Sure, I did my Leadership Qualification – but really the only thing I learned was how to use the Girlguiding admin systems. Everything else was pretty much skills I was transferring from the fact I was a¬†Community¬†Education Worker by trade already! I was very happy to qualify, but mostly for the fact it meant that I had checked the box to be able to do more with my units.

I get super jealous of the girls sometimes, for all the amazing things and badges they can achieve. Though I am sad for the Guides – there are fewer badges for them to achieve now compared to when I was a Guide, and no badge book which makes things more difficult.

But as we did Free Being Me, it got me thinking about something that had been bugging me for a while. We talk in the Free Being Me programme about the image myth. It was all about weight, skin colour, hair colour, texture, body shape. But not about age. And if there’s one thing I’ve noticed it’s that there are very few older women in our media. There are even fewer who are learning and embarking on new things. Have you noticed?

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Yes. This is what a whole full-time year of postgraduate study will get you. An E-mail.

I’m finding at 30 that there is little opportunity for learning and achieving. Heck, even two years of university and earning a qualification only got me an automated e-mail to say “Qualification Achieved”. At least I got a nice letter and a shiny badge from Girlguiding UK even if they did put not quite my name on my certificate when I got my Leadership Qualification. The only badges I get now are the ones I can simply buy from the Guide Shop, and it’s just not as fun or rewarding. Gone are the days where I learned Scottish Country Dancing for 4 weeks and showed what I’d learned in front of a tester. Or spent several evenings learning first aid and then showed off my skills on a resusci annie lying on a gym mat. I’m not trying to write poems or learn photography or the constellations of the sky. ¬†I can go to my local adult learning class for leisure, but there’s no badge at the end. When I did ballet as a teenager I got the opportunity to be examined and got a lovely certificate. Now I just turn up if I want to. It’s fun and I love my ballet teacher. But I kinda liked the certificates and knowing how I was progressing.

I thought I was the only person that felt the need for badges, but then Dotty Winters wrote this article for Standard Issue Magazine.¬†And I was like “YESSSS! I’ve been saying this for AGGEEESSSS! I want grown up badges too!!”

Yes, there’s a bit of selfishness in my quest for adult badges, but also something serious. What message does it send if we are telling young people that all their learning has to end at 25? Because really, that’s the current perspective¬†society is giving us. Not only does it send the subliminal message that you’ll have life sorted and sussed out by 25 (I was shocked to discover that it is not the case), but we are short changing everyone. The wisest people I know are the ones who not only have life experience but still want to learn new things. Like my friend who retired and the next week starting taking guitar lessons.

I’ve heard my own mother say she’s too old to learn, too old to start something new. I used to get annoyed, but now I understand. And I want to change that.

Guiding started as a way of extending learning beyond the classroom.

Let’s extend it beyond 25.


Learning about the History of The Girl Guides…

Guide magazine


With the new promise being introduced part way through this past term, we decided to do the ‘Traditions’ badge as a unit so we could help the girls understand and learn about the history of Guiding.

The badge has a whole ton of options, so we did a few things that we as leaders organised – which included visiting another unit close to us to learn about marching and flags. Now the girls often ask if we can do the horseshoe marching! It’s funny how you think that things that are ‘old fashioned’ will have no relevance or be of no interest to girls in this modern age of phones, computers and the rest – and be proven so wrong when you bother to teach them at the risk of seeming ‘uncool’.

We were also really blessed by a woman who runs the Girlguiding Edinburgh archives. I’d been in touch with her to see if we could visit, and it turns out we couldn’t. Noticing she lived not too far away from me I asked if perhaps there was an alternative. She generously took the time to look out a box of old handbooks and scrapbooks, many copies of ‘The Guide’ from the 1930s and 40s, and six uniforms from a century of Girlguiding.

We set up a stations for the girls to look all the scrapbooks and magazines, brought down my own guide camp blanket (which has most of my Brownie and Guide badges on it). One of the girls brought her Mum’s old badges and Brownie and Guide handbooks too. The girls also got to try on the different uniforms and we took pictures for their own scrapbooks. We had information stations about how Girl Guides started and how they kept going through the first and second world wars – even when in some places Girlguiding was banned by the Nazi regime.

On the other weeks the girls chose clauses to do in their patrols, and we finished off by having a History of Guiding quiz with a bit of competition between the patrols.

It was a great experience and showed the girls how much Guiding has changed with the times. A month later, we were representing Girlguiding at our local Remembrance Sunday services, and the girls seemed ¬†to understand a little more why it is that Guides and Scouts are part of it. One of the girls who was part of the colour party got up early to give herself a wee manicure…trefoil style!