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.



Another year in pictures…

I was at the cinema with two of my fellow leaders last week, and on the car ride home J was surprised to realise we are about to go into our 4th year in Senior Section. For Guide unit I’m currently Assistant Leader for, it will be my 5th year with them – it was the summer of 2011 that I contacted Girlguiding Edinburgh about volunteering with them again after an almost nine year hiatus.

In a few weeks we will start a new school year. I can’t believe it was a year ago that I started back choked with the cold and having old members returning to us – I’m almost convinced it was just so they could chuck the buckets of ice and water over us leaders. 😉 So here is a year in the life of a Girlguiding volunteer…

Why do I volunteer with Girlguiding?

Why is it that on my day off when I *should* be filling in job applications or writing my final university assignment, I am writing up a draft press release and panicking that the charity our Guides voted on to fundraise for apparently closed down last month and they just never bothered to shut down their website?

I wrote last year about why I volunteer with Girlguiding. This year, I’m up to three groups of girls (two Senior Section groups and the Guide unit). Last term I finally got my Leadership Qualification badge – and at the same time stood with four new Senior Section members and two trainee leaders (who are becoming good friends of mine) making their promise.


I love these moments.

Why do I love them so much?

The truth is that volunteering is work. And these moments remind me why I stick it out through the tougher days when it isn’t all silly selfies, eating cake and dressing up!

There are months when you watch girls rip each other and themselves apart, and then you watch them get to a place where they are cheering and encouraging one another on. And doing something nice for each other.

Starting the year by celebrating several birthdays

Starting the year by celebrating several birthdays

It requires you to do a tour of supermarkets, pound shops, specialist shops, retail parks looking for the things you need for an event or project your unit wants to work on. It requires your friends and colleagues to collect magazines, toilet rolls, yoghurt pots, empty glass jars or lend you CDs, costumes and salwar suits

IMG_4619Every year you have the panic of searching every jacket and bag you’ve had for the previous few months for the active kids vouchers you have been handed by lovely friends, relatives, Guides and colleagues as you’ve been saying goodbye or in the middle of doing something else (or is that just me?!). And then you spend a few hours counting them, on the Active Kids helpline because their website isn’t working and vowing you’re never doing it again…


until of course the stuff arrives, the girls get excited, you see it put to good use…

The girls and leaders collected Active Kids Vouchers and we spent them!

The girls and leaders collected Active Kids Vouchers and we spent them!

…and by the time the vouchers appear in shops and the girls and your friends ask you ‘Are you collecting the vouchers again?‘ you find yourself saying ‘yes‘.

Active Kids Vouchers 2013

It is work to get up on a drizzly Saturday morning at the crack of dawn when you’ve not slept for two days due to being choked with a cold, or you’ve been off work and on antibiotics all week with a chest infection and do a 5k with coloured cornflour being chucked at you…


But it’s worth it to hear from parents how much their daughters loved it and hear the girls planning their ideas for how we can do it ‘even better’ next year.

And it’s draining when you care so much, and hear the girls say statements like ‘there’s nothing good about me‘ or ‘Why would anyone care what I have to say?‘ or ‘But I’m fat‘ or ‘I don’t know, I’m stupid‘ or ‘How could I inspire anyone?‘. You will ask advice from fellow leaders, come up with ideas, try to create opportunities and give them encouragement…anything you can think of that you hope will prove to them that they do have value, that people do care what they have to say, that they aren’t fat (and that body size shouldn’t stop them giving things a go anyway), that they aren’t dumb and that they can inspire other people just by being themselves.




because when you see one of the girls overcome something…the exhaustion and frustration you’ve felt knowing that they could do it but them not seeing it doesn’t matter anymore.

The bottom line is this…

Volunteering is hard work.

But it’s mostly a lot of fun.

And it is definitely worth it.

Discovering Brownie Archives…

Last weekend I got an e-mail from one of the leaders who does Guides in the same location as our Ranger/Senior Section unit to say that the church had discovered woodworm in the Guides cupboard, and could we please clear it out. One cupboard we didn’t even realise belonged to us. There was no Ranger meeting that week, so I went down to meet her and one of the church elders to see what the deal was with no idea that we were about to discover a lot of junk plus a lot of archive treasures!



IMG_4471Most of what we found was Brownie stuff, and it just happened that day I was wearing my ‘I was a Brownie’ t-shirt. I was squealing with excitement to find the two Brownie handbooks I’d been given when I joined Brownies to help me learn the Brownie story, promise, law and motto. I came into Brownies just as the new “Jeff Banks” uniform was introduced so I was sad I wouldn’t get to wear the brown dress I’d seen all the Brownies I looked up to wear, but this jumper that one of the other Guide leaders found after we managed to break open a Patrol box no one has a key for…



We also found wooden boxes with lamps and morse code for Guides to practise signalling. Even an old telephone for when Brownies would practise how to make emergency calls. There were Brownie cut out dolls, old First Aid manuals, books with flags and pictures of Girlguiding uniforms from all over the world. We even found the very first Look Wider folder from the 90s! It was wonderful to find a scrapbook from one of the Brownie Packs logging their adventures from 1992-95 that actually featured one of our Guide leaders, and we had a giggle at seeing pictures of her on a Pack holiday. We found old annual reports and county registers – one reporting a girl I knew from high school gaining her Baden-Powell Award. IMG_4475

The most special thing we found was a certificate from The Guide Association, signed by Olave Baden-Powell from when a third Brownie Pack was opened at the hall in 1974. I’m guessing they don’t give certificates for the opening of new units any more, as we didn’t get one when we opened the Ranger unit in 2012.



It seems such a shame that these things, which gave us so much excitement, and I’m sure would be fascinating to others who were part of Guiding when they were little too, just collect dust in cupboards. So we’re now thinking of investigating the possibility of setting up a temporary ‘museum’ for a weekend for the local area of all the archives we have from the different units. We are already aware that other units also have archives in church cupboards and under stages.

What happens with the archives in your area, and how do we preserve the history of Girlguiding for future generations to rediscover?

A Guide to Qualifications for Young Leaders

Well it’s been a tumultuous, frustrating and challenging week as a Senior Section leader as less than two weeks after going through the Young Leadership Qualification and giving packs to all the girls…Girlguiding changed the syllabus. At least a few Leaders in our area had not realised that there was a Young Leadership Qualification the girls could do when they were 14 and that it was not just ‘Module 1’ of the Adult Leadership Qualification (which seems to now be called simply ‘Leadership Qualification’).

So. I thought I’d share my knowledge after spending almost every evening this week undoing the work of the last 6 months-year, which was spent trying to get the correct information and correct packs to the girls who are Young Leaders. Plus I know there are other Leaders out there who are confused about what the girls can and can’t do.

All our girls who are under 18 have decided they want to do their Young Leadership Qualification before going on to do the Adult version.

Young Leadership Qualification

Girls can start their YOUNG Leadership Qualification when they are 14 if they are volunteering at a Rainbow, Brownie or Guide unit.

The new syllabus in a downloadable workbook format can be found if you click here.

The girls do not need a mentor who has done mentor training like they do for the adult version. Any leader can be their ‘supporter‘ (which is the equivalent of the mentor role). This can be one of their Senior Section leaders, one of the Leaders of the Unit they volunteer with or their Young Leader Adviser. I would probably recommend encouraging the girls to choose someone they get on well with and has done or is going through a leadership qualification so they can give them good advice and understand what is involved.

Also, if you are a Young Leader Adviser/Senior Section Leader/District Commissioner, I would recommend encouraging any unit leaders with Young Leaders volunteering to check out this document from Girlguiding which is really helpful.

I would also suggest encouraging the girls to keep evidence of what they’ve done  – especially if they are showing signs of wanting to continue onto the Leadership Qualification. This way they have already put the evidence keeping skills into practice, and I imagine it would be easy to use some of their YLQ stuff to count towards their Leadership Qualification where applicable. But that’s just my own opinion!

Leadership Qualification

Girls can start working on their (adult) Leadership Qualification from the age of 16.

Elements of their Young Leadership Qualification can count towards their (adult) Leadership Qualification as long as there has not been too long a gap between finishing their YLQ to starting their adult one. Much of the Young Leadership Qualification has the same principle elements as Module 1 and bits of Module 2 of the (adult) Leadership Qualification.

They will need to speak to their District Commissioner to get their Disclosure/PVG check done, their leadership qualification booklet and a mentor.

They will not be awarded the qualification until they are 18. Once they are 18 they can wear the ‘Adult Member’ uniform if they wish and become an Assistant or Unit Leader.

You can find some more information on the Senior Section website here.

**Please also note that the girls can use what they do as part of both these qualifications towards the Leadership Octant of the Look Wider programme**

I’m hoping this will be helpful to other Leaders around the UK (especially those who are in the position that Jenny and I were in when we first began Senior Section in an area where no one really knew what Senior Section did and we were fairly new volunteers). Good luck, and if you have anything helpful to add, please leave a comment! 🙂

Guiding interruptus

Guides started back this week (Senior Section having started back last week). And I was going to write about it. Only I got home from Guides at about 10 p.m., and 10 hours later I was standing on a station platform as I do every morning after Guides waiting for the train to Glasgow.


The reason for the non-writing, non-finishing and non-publishing of blog posts I have in mind is because at the moment when I have a day off work that isn’t filled with Guiding I have a bed or a table in a café that looks like something like this (imagine a bag full of books or pile of books on the floor next to me).


My experience working with a Guide unit in Leith when I was 16 got me a job as a Youth Advice worker when I was 19 and still had plans to become a Geography teacher. Instead, I discovered that there was another job that suited me much better called a ‘Community Education Worker’ (now more commonly known as a Community Learning or Community Development Worker). After spending  6 years working in counselling and health education, last year I finally got the resources I needed (inspiration, finances and a course timetable that was doable while continuing in employment and girlguiding) to start doing my postgraduate qualification in Community Learning and Development.

In a few weeks I head out to Germany where I’m going to be part of a lifelong learning winter school intensive programme with students from other universities around Europe. Exciting stuff!

It’s not been easy juggling everything, but so far I’ve done better than I thought. And I’m now considering the possibility of upgrading my Diploma to a Masters of Education. The reason being is that I’m realising that uniformed youth organisations like Girlguiding and the Scouts often get a bad rap from outsiders. At one of the biggest international community education conferences in the world, Girlguiding is not participating – likely because the organisers don’t consider the work we do to be community development.

But the more I’m learning, the more I’m realising that Girlguiding fits right into the principles of community learning and development.

And so some thoughts are percolating into how I can use my degree to help me be a better Girlguiding leader, but also to show how Girlguiding can be a great tool and forum for community development and lifelong learning models.

For now though, I’ve got to finish some research and a paper due in for Monday. And some work due in for Tuesday. Because I spent today being a godmother to try and make up for my lack of godmothering in the midst of this crazy season of my life juggling work, church life, girlguiding and university.

Don’t worry though. I’m pretty sure that procrastination from university work will lead to plenty of posts here over the next couple of months. I mean this post gives excellent evidence to that possibility. 😉

Parents, Guiding and all the extra stuff…

Volunteers quote

This little image has been doing the rounds on Facebook (and if it’s yours, I hope you don’t mind me using it…I don’t know where it originated from to be able to properly give it credit!)

Every day, many Girlguiding leaders turn to our sort of self-run closed facebook group to share ideas and questions about our activities. What makes me sad is that several times a week during term time a leader comes on very discouraged or upset because of parents making their life as a volunteer very difficult.

Most units charge about £25 per term these days. Out of that money we pay for…

-Guiding resources – like Promise certificates, badges, Go For It packs

-First Aid training which all qualified leaders must do (this costs £25 per leader, though I think refresher training afterwards is less?)

-Cost of hall hire

-Trips or subsidising of trips

-Equipment and craft supplies

And every year we have to pay a census for every girl and leader in our unit which in our area is about £30 (always joyful when you get  a bunch of girls starting RIGHT before census!).

This isn’t counting the squillions of times that other leaders and myself have paid for things out of our own pockets or unit funds. I think I spent about £100 on ink cartridges printing out letters, programmes and so on last year before my Mum’s printer officially packed in. Then there have been times when we’ve bought decorations, stuff for Hallowe’en parties (have you ever had to clear food out your fridge so you could have four mixing bowls filled with jelly and plastic frogs, eyes and bats?). And I’ve lost count how many times the girls have realised that they need some flour or a box of eggs or a carton of juice or ball of string they don’t have with them for whatever activity they have done and have had money from one of us to nip to the Sainsburys or Scotmid round the corner from our hall!

I have to say that the parents at both my guiding units have been great. I’ve only once in my 2.5 years had a parent really get into me about something, which we settled and actually that parent used to always make sure we knew how much she valued what we did for her daughter after that. There’s always a couple that forget subs and need several reminders. And yes, I dread trips which involve other units for impatient parents wanting to get home so grab their child before we have a chance to acknowledge that they are leaving with a parent and tick them off a sign in/out sheet so we know they are safe.

But when I see messages about parents grumping about a subs increase of a couple of pounds a term, or constantly being late, or not bothering to let leaders know if their daughter is taking up a place in the unit/going away for a month and then just coming back with no communication…

…I wonder if they realise how many hours we put in.

The tagline of this blog is ‘only one hour a week’ – a running joke because often it is the recruitment phrase that volunteering is just an hour a week of your time.

But truth is, we have to type letters, do training, go to the Guide shop, be a treasurer for the unit, post vouchers to Sainsbury’s, work out how the heck we can print off the resource Girlguiding has only created for download, plan programmes, attend meetings…

…and we don’t get paid a penny for it.

We do it because we love seeing the girls achieve things. We do it because we were once their age and know how challenging childhood and teenagehood can be. We do it because we want to give kids and young people in our community a great outlet to be productive citizens. We do it because we do have fun. We do it because we can make friendships for life in Girlguiding. We do it because we see it a privilege to watch these girls grow from little girls to inspiring, wise women.

And truth is, behind every leader of a growing and happy unit is probably a whole bunch of family and friends that have been supporting her. I know that none of us would be able to keep things going without husbands to print things out at work on the sly, or mothers that will turn up to be an extra pair of hands when the new leader fails to show up yet again or be an extra person on trips, or friends that will come to fundraisers or collect newspapers/magazines/glass jars/supermarket vouchers. People we share a home with getting used to cupboards/tables/rooms filled with Guiding stuff.

If you’re the parent of a child of guiding – please thank the leaders. Especially the young leaders – who are juggling teenagehood, school, part-time jobs, college/university applications, extra-curricular activities on top of the work they do volunteering with Girlguiding!  Find out if there’s something you can help with if there’s something you can offer (it could be as simple as offering up the use of a printer twice a term!). We get that you’re busy. Just remember that we’re leading busy lives too. We’re attempting to be good bosses, employees, wives, girlfriends, daughters, mothers, sisters and friends at the same time as attempting to be the best Girlguiding leaders we can be.

Thank you to the parents of the two units I’m part of. You are fantastic parents and working with your daughters is a lot of fun and a real privilege. 🙂

I’ll finish off with this great video a girlguiding member created and posted on National Volunteers Day last year.