"No Man is an Island" - well, no unit is either (even if there are times when it would be tempting . . . !) So here are some ideas for building and maintaining connections with the different sections in Guiding - for everyone's benefit. We'll also look at the joy of waiting lists, our role in our District, joint events - and the joy of coping with "The Joneses" down the road who always seem to be doing spectacular stuff - if it was skiing in Switzerland last week, then it'll be hang gliding in New Zealand this week, natch . . . !
I know - your first thought is to wonder why there would be much connection between Guides and Rainbows, given the obvious hurdle of the difference in ages. But, the obvious link is Rainbow Helpers. A Rainbow Helper is a Guide who, as well as attending Guide meetings each week, also regularly attends and helps at the Rainbow meetings of the unit she is attached to, and also at their outings and sleepovers. This can be an ideal role for a Guide who is considering becoming a Young Leader with Rainbows, but might equally be an option for a Guide with no such ambitions, but who is looking for a new challenge or a new interest. For the Rainbow unit, there is the advantage of an extra pair of hands to help out with running the activities, and someone a little closer in age to the Rainbows to be a sort of big sister to them. But - they are there to be leaders, not oversized Rainbows, so it is important for everyone's benefit that they and you realise that they are there to help run the activities and tidy up after them, normally they would be far too busy helping to get to do the activity themselves - joining in with games or crafts would be a very occasional priviledge which might be granted a few times a year, where it suited the Rainbow Leaders to offer it only - not a regular occurence.
And of course, as members of the same District, we would be involved in joint events with Rainbows, and there's no reason why Rainbow Leaders or Young Leaders who are assigned to help with Rainbows couldn't occasionally help us with Guide outings and residentials - the District should be a supportive team who help and back up each other, and ensure that people don't end up in 'section silos' . . . might the Rainbow Leader turn out to have useful outdoor experience or qualifications which the Guides could occasionally take advantage of? Maybe she's a keen hillwalker, did a lifesaving course the other year, has camp experience or loves campfire singing . . . just because she has chosen to work with Rainbows just now doesn't mean she has ruled out forever the possibility of having any contact with any other age groups!
And if your District Rainbows are having a funday, could the Guides offer to help? There are all sorts of little things even the youngest Guides could help with - helping with the putting on of coats and fastening of shoes, making and serving refreshments, helping the leaders to escort groups of Rainbows from place to place, and look after and cheer up any Rainbows who get temporarily separated from their group, or are unhappy, helping the Leaders who are running activities . . . and could you help the Rainbows with their sleepovers - by offering to help on the staff, or lending them useful equipment from your camp stores, or sharing your talents?
There are several reasons why we should work to maintain good, close relations with any Brownie units in our area.
The first and most obvious reason is in some ways a selfish one - the successful Brownie units will be supplying us with regular batches of potential Guide recruits which are available for us to draw on to fill the spaces in our Guide units, already part-trained in Guiding ways. They are producing girls who are already accustomed to living by the Promise and Law, working in small groups, taking on leadership roles, and potentially also having had experience of residentials within Guiding - after all, the aim and purpose of the Brownie unit is - to prepare girls for being Guides - and overall they usually do it very well, especially if we can help and support them. If you want your Guide unit to thrive, then of course you want to have a steady stream of keen recruits coming to join you each year, and the local Brownie units are the obvious first source to cultivate those keen recruits - but the word 'cultivate' is chosen deliberately - we need to work together with the Brownie Leaders in order to make the transition from Brownies to Guides a smooth one for all parties, it won't happen by accident, or by us giving the Brownie units lists of conditions about how we want it to be, with no thought to the Brownie unit's needs or wants (or indeed, the Brownie units telling us how it's going to be!).
The next is in terms of Brownie Helpers. A Brownie Helper is a Guide who, as well as attending Guide meetings regularly, also attends a Brownie unit's meetings to serve as a member of that Brownie unit's leadership team. She will help with all of the activities the Brownie unit does, but her special focus will be to work with the older Brownies, to help them learn about what Guides are and do (both in general and specifically locally), and to get them keen to become Guides as soon as ever they are old enough to. This can sometimes be an especially useful role for a Guide who is approaching 14 and doesn't have BP plans - sometimes they can feel a bit loose-ended if they feel they are just marking time until they can join Senior Section, and Guides isn't really offering the challenge it used to - being a Brownie Helper can be a way of keeping them connected, and giving them a new interest and a new challenge within Guiding (and who knows, may even lead to them considering becoming a YL and continuing their Guiding career in that direction). We need to keep giving the older Guides in our units new challenges and new opportunities to show them that Guiding still has more to offer them, and that means finding the right next step for each one . . .
The big connection lies with the "Brownies Go For It". This is a package of transition materials which appears at the back of the book which every Brownie should have received from her unit when she joined. It is designed so it can be used by Brownies to prepare for coming changes in life in general, whether they are fortunate enough to get the chance to join Guides or not, and gives them a chance to learn about with coping with transition in general, and about Guides in particular - and it is a compulsory clause in their last challenge badge. Our role comes in helping with the GFI - arranging for older Brownies to get to visit a Guide meeting or for a Guide or two to visit the Brownies at a meeting or event and chat to them, arranging to lend copies of GFIs, a G-File etc for the Brownies to get to see, giving them information about what sort of things the Guides have been doing recently so they've an idea of what to expect when they join (and please lets talk of when, rather than if, it shold be close to automatic). I know, we're busy with our own units and it isn't easy to find more time to visit Brownie units (even if they meet at a time we can manage) - but it's in our own interests to try. The more work we put into offering help and support with this, the better the chances that every older Brownie will give Guides a try - and most of those will make the move permanently. Unless we give them reasons to want to join us, why would they want to?
One thing which has been tried and found useful for transition in many areas is not to automatically hold District events by section - if you occasionally organise events for 5-8s, 9-11s and 12-16s instead, then you are enabling the older girls of each section to meet up with younger girls from the next, and find out about some of the fun things they do at their meetings - so Rainbows get to see that the Brownies aren't necessarily big and scary, so older Guides can get to chat to the local SS . . . with the added bonus that you automatically have more leaders available to help organise activities as leaders from both sections are there to accompany their girls - so the leaders from the different sections get to mix and meet up with each other too!
And of course, as members of the same District, we would be involved in joint events with Brownies, and there's no reason why Brownie Leaders or Young Leaders couldn't help with Guide outings and residentials - the District should be a supportive team who help and back up each other, sharing skills and talents to mutual advantage . . . might the Brownie Leader turn out to have useful outdoor experience or qualifications which you could be utilising to enhance your programme? Could you set up a super-duper coookout for the Brownies? They'd love to try some of the 'things you'll get to do when you're a Guide' and it's a great way of advertising the adventures to come when they reach that magic age of 10 . . . but of course, when they arrive, our programme has to live up to our advertising!
Yes, technically not another section, but we would be wise to see the neighbouring Guide units in our area as another section to cultivate too (I don't mean to poach their members, that wouldn't do!) for there are lots of areas where cooperation between neighbouring Guide units would bring mutual benefits to all.
Waiting Lists - does one unit have more names on their list than they'll ever be able to offer places to, does another have spaces unfilled, before you reject the recruits you can't fit in onto the other unit's list, could you call them up and see how they're placed? If you've both got spaces, you could recruit together, sharing the workload and avoiding any fear of treading on each others' toes. Join Us should encourage us to communicate, and not just reject unwanted requests onto the next unit . . .
Joint Events - it is the obvious topic, but would it make sense to share that great outing idea and fill the empty seats on the bus, making it cheaper for everyone? Would that great holiday venue be much more viable if all the beds were filled? If one unit's got residential qualifications and the other hasn't, isn't that just the place for neighbourliness rather than have some Guides never get the chance of a Guide camp or holiday? Doesn't 'A Guide is a Sister' start with the twin sister next door - or could you make it so in your area?
Sharing Resources - whether it's helping each other out with short-term staffing issues, arranging exchange visits for staff working on Leadership Qualifications to see another way of doing things, helping each other out with staff for outings or residentials, sharing the purchase cost and the use of expensive equipment such as camp gear, or just lending out your copy of a Go For It pack where they have two Patrols desparately wanting to do the same one this term . . . there are lots of simple options for working together with the neighbours, to mutual advantage. Don't let rivalries fester, or one unit be seen as 'the Joneses' and another as 'the poor relations'. The ideal is if you do have different styles of unit in an area, doing different types of activities, or having different atmospheres - so the girls can find the style of unit that suits them. There is more than one 'right' way of running a Guide unit . . .
The other section which it makes the most sense to stay in touch with - is Senior Section. The Guides in the unit now won't be staying with you forever (sorry to break it so brutally!) and just as we expect the Brownie leaders to work to promote Guides to their members, and to wave off their 10-year-olds with a fond farewell and the pack's best wishes as they hand them over to us for safe keeping - so it's important that we keep our Guides' eyes on the horizon, and do all we can to get them looking forward with enthusiasm to the next big adventure, which is waiting round the corner for them.
The wise Senior Section unit will be eyeing up our older Guides coveteously anyway, long before our thoughts begin to wander towards thinking about whether Flossie might be turning 14 soon - and the wise DC will also be eyeing up our older Guides just as coveteously, to spot potential YLs and compare them to the vacancies on hand . . . even if she doesn't realise it, young Flossie, now she's a month short of 14, should be being coveted within the District and about to be very much in demand!
Our role lies in making the transition to Senior Section a smooth, natural progression, not a shock, a surprise, or something to be nervous about. The girls who have stayed in Guiding until they are 14, despite all the distractions, alternatives, and homework pressures, are our unit's success stories, and we want to encourage them towards staying on just a little longer and daring to take the next step to give SS a go. To do this, we need to stay in touch with the local Senior Section, making sure we have up-to-date information to share with the older Guides about what great SS opportunities there are locally, and what great things they'll get to do when they join SS in our area next term. We should have an eye to getting the older Guides invited to make one-off visits to SS meetings or events, we should look at the possibility of a joint older Guide/SS outing or residential, consider whether any of the SS would be willing to become a Young Leader with Guides, and help maintain a strong link between the Guides and the local SS unit, etc. If we have Guides past 14 who are 'hanging on' in the unit, especially if they don't have a good reason such as finishing off BP or waiting for pals just a few weeks younger to turn 14, then we can look at ways to tempt them to 'try before they buy' - often a chance to meet and chat to SS members informally and get answers to their questions about what SS is like and what they do - can ease nervousness about the unknown and leave the older Guides enthused and keen to move on, instead of scared of leaving the known and familiar.
Any Guides who are working on BP automatically have to have a chat with the District Commissioner about what they want to do next in Guiding, as part of the BP syllabus. This makes it all the more important that those Guides who opt not to do BP, and thus don't automatically have this conversation with the DC - don't 'slip through the net', and drift off from Guiding when thoughts turn towards school exam pressure - it's almost more valuable to make sure they get a 'Commissioner Chat' too. The ones who are still in Guiding at 14 should be cultivated regardless of whether they are the sort to gain the high awards or not, we must be careful not to leave those older girls who are not chasing BP or Camp Permit to hang around in Guides until they outgrow it, and then quietly drift away, unnoticed and un-missed.
Waiting Lists - the source of more upsets and disputes than anything else in Guiding, I would suggest! There is no one right answer as to how to organise and manage them, it has to depend on local circumstances which vary widely across the country, but . . .
Now we have 'Join Us' we have the advantage that there is a national system - it's up to the parents to put names on the waiting list and to choose which unit's list to put the name on - but - it will only work if we stick to the national system, and require parents to use the system, not accept scraps of paper thrust at you in the supermarket queue or verbal messages from wee Flossie in the Kelpies about her pal at school. There have been glitches from parents using different forms of the child's name in order to put them down on multiple lists (beware Flossie Jones, Flossie L Jones, and Flossie Louise Jones) - but Commissioners are being encouraged to watch for these tactics.
Next, having made these demands of the parents, you must make sure your own admin systems are in order! Check the waiting list regularly each term, keep an eye on GO for girls who are close to being of age to move on to the next section, check 'Join Us' to see if you have anyone who has requested a place in your unit, stay in touch with the Leaders of any feeder units to get an idea of how you are likely to be placed for recruits joining. Checking date of birth is vital as parents aren't always aware of what the the age limits are for each section, or conscious that they matter (they absolutely do!) If a girl is nearly outgrown the section they are being put down for (e.g. a girl being put on the Brownie list who is already 9), you can discuss with the parent whether or not it is worth the girl joining that section for what will only be a few months, or whether it would be better for her to wait and join the next section after her birthday. Given the expense of uniform, and the limits to how much programme can be covered in a few months, it usually isn't worth joining a section for any less than 6 months unless the parent insists . . . but if the parent absolutely wants her to join now regardless of these downsides, and you have the spaces, then do try to fit her in.
Particularly with 'Join Us' it is important to keep in regular touch with the neighbouring units, so you have an awareness of who has spaces, particularly if you are turning down a request for a place in your unit - you don't want to be sending a girl on a merry-go-round where she is rejected by every full unit after full unit, while time passes and her folks become frustrated about the delays and lack of progress.
Now that there are no upper limits for unit size, you have to decide for yourself what your unit's upper limit will be - and then stick to it! So what is your unit's capacity - based on whichever factor is most pressing - amount of space in the hall for active games, number of staff you have week by week and their levels of experience/confidence, how many girls you can have and realistically still give each individual the time and attention they need, whether any girls need extra support or even a 1:1 helper - and whatever your limit is, be it high or low, stick firmly to that limit firmly regardless of all pleadings or arguments, unless or until your circumstances change.
Ages for moving section can be another source of friction. To start with, the facts are - the earliest age for starting each section is: Rainbows-5 (4 in Northern Ireland), Brownies-7, Guides-10, Senior Section-14. Not negotiable. The programme is so designed that it lasts exactly 2 years for Rainbows, 3 years for Brownies, 4 years for Guides, and up to 12 years for Senior Section. Therefore if a girl joins a Rainbow unit shortly after her 5th Birthday, and attends regularly, she should naturally be ready to move on to Brownies shortly after her 7th birthday, having completed the Rainbow programme - so it is unwise for her to stay beyond the 2 years if it can possibly be helped, she would just be wasting time. If a girl joins Brownies shortly after her 7th birthday and attends regularly, she should be ready to move on to Guides shortly after her 10th birthday, having completed both her Adventure and Adventure On badges, and the Brownie GFI - so there is no point in her hanging around any longer. If a girl joins Guides shortly after her 10th birthday and attends regularly, she should be ready to move on to Senior Section shortly after her 14th birthday, having completed all 4 Challenge Badges. There is more flexibility with Guides moving on if there is a reason - finishing off BP or waiting for a friend who is a few months short of 14 - even so, we should be starting to get the girls ready to move on as they approach 14, and should have a plan of when they will move before they turn 14, even if the plan is a term or so's delay on them moving on for sound reasons. The only exceptions should be for girls with special needs who may need a little longer before their mental age matches up.
As Leaders, we are responsible for 'keeping our eyes on the prize' - our role and purpose is to prepare the girls for the next section, ensuring all regular attenders complete their challenges in the time scale they are meant to (and encouraging those who can't attend regularly to finish the extra activities at home so as not to fall behind), not hanging on to girls after they are due to have moved up through a mistaken feeling of posessiveness. Otherwise, the girl is missing out on the fun and adventure of the next section, and that's us being selfish - we are loaned them for a certain number of years and no longer, then we must let them go and let them grow up, not try to hold back nature and keep them children beyond their time. Although the upper limit for all the sections (even Rainbows) is 26, again, that is really designed to allow for girls with special needs whose mental and physical ages do not match, or for special personal circumstances where it makes sense for moving to be delayed a few months on a one-off basis - it is not meant for general use, and I'd suggest 98% of girls in the Rainbow and Brownie age groups should move on within a few months of being old enough to do so, and at least 80% of Guides.
Transition between sections should be discussed and agreed on by both of the units involved, to find a mutually convenient system. The unit the girl is leaving should have spent her last few months before her 'special birthday' escalating the ongoing preparation for her big move - helping her to find a place in her next unit, doing activities such as GFI Guides or 'Move On Up' to help her find out about the unit she's moving to and what sort of things she will get to do there, if possible meeting some of the members so there are familiar faces to greet her when she actually moves. Transition to the next section shouldn't come as a shock or surprise to any of the girls, it should be part of the everyday programme almost from the time they join - 'when you join Rangers you'll get to . . . ' can be a regularly dropped comment, and the next step should be seen as natural, perhaps almost automatic - 'when' you join, not 'if'. Usually, it suits units to have girls move section at the start of term, so girls don't leave or join in the middle of an activity which is running over several weeks, and so arrangements for subs payments are straightforward. All this depends on Leaders staying in touch with each other and cooperating - it's not fair for the Brownie unit to kick girls out who haven't even done the GFI or similar preparation, and who are then left to flounder for their first few weeks with no idea of what Guides are or do, it's not fair for the Rainbow unit to automatically shunt girls out the week after they turn 7, leaving the Brownie pack faced with dribs and drabs of recruits turning up every few weeks, each needing 1:1 attention with their 'Becoming a Brownie' books such that one of the Brownie Leaders is almost permanently occupied with recruit teaching and nothing else - and it's not fair for some Brownies to not get to join Guides until they are nearly 11 due to clingy Brownie Leaders - only to find that by the time they've clocked up the two challenge badges needed to join their pals who have been doing BP for months, they've now only got 12 months to try to cram in doing it alongside schoolwork, or have to choose between finishing BP and joining SS with their pals, when the rest have finished BP comfortably and are ready to move up at the first chance - we have to think of the bigger picture . . .
Yes, the very mention of the words strikes fear into the hearts of many Guiders - especially those who've been involved in trying to organise these near-impossible events! I mean, they sound like such a great idea in theory, bring everyone together out of their section silos, create unity, all one Guiding family and all that, allow girls to mix with those from other units and other sections to get to know each other - it's all good stuff - in theory! In reality, a good District Event is almost impossible to achieve and few events manage to achieve all the great goals set for them . . .
The first thing to consider is the age groups. If it's a District event, then it should cater for all the age groups who are invited, as participants - 5-26 year olds - whether Rainbow, Brownie, Guide or Senior Section. (If Guides or SS are being invited as participants then they should get to be participants, and not be expected to help out, especially (but not exclusively) if they're paying the same participant fee as the rest!) So you need to make sure the activities will challenge, without overwhelming, the whole of the age range, most of the time. That invariably means having separate activities for each section - or the same activity done in different ways (e.g. the Rainbows icing bought biscuits using icing pens, the Brownies making the coloured water icing to spread on bought biscuits, the Guides making their biscuits and the icing to decorate them, the SS trying different biscuit recipes out or having a handmade icing competition for best decorated biscuit . . .). Of course, that automatically means it isn't really a 'joint' event, just sectional events which happen to be similar, and happen to be occurring at the same place and time. So it doesn't actually achieve the mixing and bringing everyone together aims entirely - but at least it's creating an event everyone can participate in at an appropriate level, and where they get to see everyone involved in Guiding, even if at a distance . . .
Another 'inclusion' factor is girls with special needs - it is important to get information on what girls there are with special needs who might attend, and what support would enable them to join in with as much of the event as can possibly be managed. Cultural inclusion is also a factor - it is important to be aware that if you do an event or an activity tied to a particular religion, you might be barring members of other religions from being able to participate, which in a multi-faith organisation such as ours, is something we have to be very aware of. Foodstuffs can be an issue with dietary or cultural needs too, potentially a major issue with some allergies or faith restrictions. The scheduling of the event can also be an issue if it is held on a holy day or clashes with the girls' regular attendances at their place of worship - although it can be hard to avoid everyone's obligations in that respect, we should try to find a way if we can.
Given we've acknowledged that one event to suit 5-26 year olds simultaneously is almost impossible, what sort of activities could we do jointly? Well, there are some things that can work. Things like dance routines can be taught to large mixed-age groups, and it is possible to do simple folk dancing too. Campfires can work, although they have to be quite limited in scope - you will have older Guides who are embarassed at doing some of the twee songs the Rainbows enjoy, and you will not be able to do some of the gross or slightly rude songs the Guides and Seniors would normally expect to have at a campfire, with them not being suitable for Rainbows and younger Brownies. Again discos can work for a broad range, but some of the Rainbows can find the volume and the dark upsetting, and the Guides will get bored if it's a non-stop diet of party games and 'censored' songs (with so many of the chart songs containing inappropriate language it's difficult for a DJ to balance the current songs the older ones naturally want with the need to censor what the little girls hear), and an eye needs to be kept so the Rainbows aren't being accidentally knocked over in the dark. If your numbers are manageable and you have a limited number of sections present rather than all four, then you can have them in mixed groups doing activities which would normally be the preserve of the older members of the group - sessions on things like backwoods cooking or making bivvys could be done by mixed Brownie/Guide Patrols - but only if the numbers were manageable, you had enough leaders to give the extra supervision this would need, and the older girls in each Patrol had the knowledge and patience to share out the work fairly. Otherwise, as above with the iced biscuit idea, you would have to have the age groups doing similar or linked activities, but each at their own level. What you must avoid at all costs is playing to the lowest denominator - choosing activities the Rainbows will be able to manage and then expecting the Brownies, Guides and Senior Section to join in happily with them all day. Yes, I have known of events where the 30-minute craft the Guides were faced with - was stapling the pre-cut pieces together to make a cute 'daisy sun visor' out of cardboard . . . it took them all of 2 minutes (including time spent waiting their turn for the two working staplers which were being shared amongst 20 folk), they were not impressed with the twee result, and they spent the remaining 28 minutes of the activity session sitting around bored.
With District events, as with all large-scale events, you have to concentrate on how you will manage all of the logistics - a plan which is fine for a unit of 20 will not automatically multiply up to cover 60 just the same! The first and most important for any event is toilets - will you have enough (and near enough) to avoid long queues, and will they be easy to find? Will there be gaps in your programme to allow girls to go to the toilet between activities without missing out on the fun? Could you have staff available to escort groups of younger girls if the toilets are further away, and return them back to their unit groups, to cut down the risk of girls wandering around lost? How will you manage catering - will the girls be bringing packed food or will you be feeding them centrally? Will there be drinks (and cups/bottles) available or are you expecting them to carry water bottles with them from place to place? How will you manage lost children - will you have passes or badges for the participants to wear, will it be up to each leader to keep track of her own girls and move them from place to place? Do bear in mind that a lot of Brownies will only know their leader as 'Brown Owl' so it may take some questioning of an upset child to work out which unit she actually belongs to! The biggest question is often the effect inclement weather will have on your plans - if your event is outdoors, is there a dry shelter which can cope with the numbers attending, and will you be able to occupy everyone once they are in it - or do you need some alternate activities prepared just in case? If some activities are outdoor, can they carry on in the rain or not (or if the ground is still damp from earlier rain)? Will the girls have the clothes and footwear to cope with wet, muddy or cold weather? Would you be affected by cold temperatures or strong winds? Next up is transport - whether it is booking transport for the numbers, or working out how to manage the car drop-off zone to avoid jams between those arriving and leaving. And finally, there is dealing with the lost - with how to label the participants (name badges, coloured lanyards or whatever is appropriate to indicate which group they are from, as well as their name, for straightforward reuniting with their leaders - and lost property, which there will automatically be.
Joint events only work if you have enough staff. Beyond the minimal number for the ratios and to support any girls with special needs who require extra assistance, on top of that you must have some central staff who are not counted in anyone's ratio - as a minimum the co-ordinator in charge, the first aider and one other to be a general assistant dealing with issues as they arise, but you many also need instructors for each activity, a caterer (and perhaps catering assistants), someone to manage the car park and direct traffic, reception staff to greet and hand out information and IDs, staff to escort groups to and from the toilets then return the girls to where they are meant to be, etc. Possible sources of staff are leaders from other sections (if you only have certain sections at the event), Trefoil Guild, SSAGO, Senior Section (if they are not there as participants), Scouts (if they help us at our events we can offer to help them at theirs in return) and parents (although parent helpers would need to be paired with leaders unless Disclosured for Guiding).
The other option is a joint event for several units from the same section. In this case, it isn't so much divergence in age groups which has to be borne in mind, but divergence in unit programmes and styles. You may well find that one unit does a lot of camping and outdoor skills, one does a lot of arts, one does a lot of traditional skills, one is very formal, or whatever it happens to be - whatever the differences between the units are, you need to find activities which will be new, fun and challenging for as many of the individuals as possible, not ones which one unit will find boring because they are all things they've done before where another has the embarassment of looking hopeless because they are all new activities they've never tried. In this case the first thing to consider, and the thing to keep uppermost is - how will you arrange things to ensure the girls mix with those from the other units, and don't just stay in their unit groups all day? Can you find activities which will encourage cooperation, not inter-unit rivalry? Creating mixed groups can mean girls from different units using the different skills they've learned and sharing them with the group for everyone's benefit - maybe Flossie and Sue will naturally take the lead at the tent pitching race, but Jane and Wendy confidently organise making up the 'movement to music', and Lucy be able to guide the others through the origami craft, just because they are from different units which do different types of programmes, and thus they have different experiences to draw on - and they can learn from each other. That way it wouldn't just be a dominant performance from the 1st's Patrol Camp Permit holders, or the 4ths Campfire Leaders, or the 2nds Craft nuts, with the rest of the Guides left to feel like failures because they have tended to spend more time on other topics . . .
Once we've got girls in Guiding, we really do want to keep them in (keeping's easier than recruiting as many surveys have shown), and it is disappointing when individuals, who we feel could still get so much more out of what we're doing at Guides, choose to leave - but it happens, and will happen this year, next year and every year, in even the best-run units. Fact. To a certain extent it is inevitable - we can't please all the people all the time, and there are other opportunities which become available to them especially when they move to a new school with the new clubs it has to offer, sometimes new clubs opening up on the same night that they'd be tempted to try out, increasing homework pressures and the like meaning some hobbies have to be dropped and the girl has to choose which to give up - which can provide a spur to quit in girls who were starting to find Guide meetings and activities a bit samey. As the girls grow older their tastes change, and the things which thrilled them as a 10-year-old aren't necessarily so exciting when one is 13, especially if the programme offers few surprises or excitements in any given term and most weeks could be described as 'the usual'. As they get older they are starting to want to hang out with the boys from school, and that's an entirely natural and automatic stage which it would be daft to discourage. But - we shouldn't just be accepting that drift away from Guides is inevitable, we should be constantly looking at ways to encourage the Guides, and particularly the older Guides, to both join Guides, and to and stay on in the unit - and to move to SS when the time comes. What can we do?
The first and most obvious thing I'd be expexted to suggest is the awards - Baden Powell and Commonwealth Award. Now, please don't imagine for a minute that I'm knocking them when I say it but - they will only work as an extra spur with the girl who is already fairly keen and pretty committed to staying on in Guides anyway - they are of no use whatsoever with a waverer or switherer. I say that simply because of the amount of work and commitment it takes, to not just start working on these awards, but far more so, to stick with them until they are finished, and anyone who is not sufficiently enthusiastic and whole-hearted about getting going with them at the start - won't somehow miraculously find the drive to keep at them when the first few easy activities are by and it's time to do the ones which need to have some time and effort devoted to them - it just does not happen. Another option can be Patrol Camp Permit - if you are able to offer that opportunity then it can be an ideal challenge for the older Guides to take on, with the carrot dangled of being able to go camping by themselves and doing things their way - that's something new and exciting for sure - but again, it's a lot of work, so they have to already have the drive and enthusiasm that will see them through the paperwork and planning part of it, in order to get to the fun of being away by themselves, and which will keep them going through the chores which form as much a part of any camp as the fun does. It's also wise to consider International Selection - many Counties have a system for older Guides to go to be assessed with the possibility of them getting to an international camp in the UK, or perhaps even abroad, as a representative of UK Guiding - but it's not just a holiday, they will have to put the work into fundraising to pay for the trip, and once there they will have to be good representatives and face up to unfamiliar food, different activities, strange customs, and in many cases a language barrier, so again, the enthusiasm has to be there! For some Guides, the chance to become a Rainbow or Brownie Helper is a great spur, and just the thing to keep them in Guiding - but it means two meetings a week instead of one, so that again means making extra commitment.
But these aren't options for everyone, and they don't cater for those who are already eyeing other pastimes. So the next thing, and probably far more relevant, is to look at the unit's own weekly programme - what does it really have to offer the older Guides, week by week? I admit the Challenge Badges don't help much - with each one asking you to do the self-same challenges as the last one, and the one before for that matter - and the difficulty that by your third or fourth challenge badge, you've aleady done all the GFIs you fancied doing, and are left with the ones you didn't much fancy, the programme necessarily has to be a long round of 'Go For It weeks' twice a year, whatever else there is on the other weeks. So the Guiders need to make sure that the rest of the unit programme fills the gap of offering new excitement and new challenges to those who have done all the regular things before. So does your programme really vary enough from month to month and year to year, with lots of exciting new activities to try every term, and the repeats kept to a bare minimum (ideally only a few favourite games and songs, and the occasional refresher activity of skills like first aid, knots and the like previously learned, but presented in differing ways), and the occasional surprise item just to keep the Guides on their toes? Or have you got into a bit of a rut where the girls can more-or-less predict what will appear in the programme before the term ever starts - the same few games over and over, campfire guaranteed to start with 'campfire's burning' and sure to finish with 'Norwegian echo' and we could run a sweep on what programme will come in-between, December will be carol singing at the care home again followed by the annual chore of having to make dozens of those blooming Christingles for the church's children's service as 'Community Action'? How much democracy is there in the programme - do the PLs choose it, the Guiders choose it, or is there a mixture (having a lot of PL input is good, but they can only suggest things they've heard of, or already done before, so it is up to the Guiders to come up with the original and exciting ideas to slip into the programme to keep things fresh). Are there wee priviledges available to the older Guides - do they get to stay on a little later after meetings to chat over hot chocolate and biscuits, are there occasional outings or residentials just for them, or are they sometimes invited to special activities with the local SS unit, are they given responsibilities to plan and run activities within the unit, do they get the opportunity to become Pack Leaders or Rainbow Helpers, or to go to Rainbow or Brownie sleepovers as extra helpers? Does your County offer activities or opportunities for older Guides, whether as a group, or being invited to join in with SS events, and do you make time to go with them, help with transport or equipment, encourage them to go?
What are your relations like with the local SS units? Do you arrange for the 13+ Guides to receive occasional invitations to SS activities? Do the Guides know some of the SS members and have they ever had the chance to chat to them and find out what the local unit gets up to? Have you invited them to come and talk to the older Guides, or encouraged your YL to talk to the older Guides about what SS are and do? Does your county have events open to 13+ Guides and SS, or could you talk to the Guide Adviser about working together with the SS Adviser to run some? Do you ensure that your 13+ Guides are looking forward to when they can join SS?
Retaining older Guides doesn't just happen by chance, except in the rare exceptional case where a girl is determined to stay in Guides regardless of what happens - otherwise they need to be given a reason to stay in, and it's up to you to provide them with several reasons why it's worthwhile to stay in your unit for a third and fourth year, and then to head to SS afterwards . . .
The unit next door are not your rivals, they are your colleagues, your partners, your sisters in Guiding. No, really! The section below you should be the friends who are keen to supply you with your share of keen recruits, and the girls in your unit are yours only for a certain period of time - soon it will be time to hand them over to the next section, with a cheery wave and a proud look in your eye as they stride confidently forward to their next adventure . . . but your Guide neighbours will share many of the same plans and hopes and ambitions as you . . . yes, they really will!
There can be times when it feels like there is rivalry between neighbouring units. Or even where people try to create rivalry or seem to encourage it to breed. The truth is, different leaders and teams of leaders will have different skill sets. And different leaders are able to offer different amounts of time and levels of commitment to the role of unit leader or assistant leader, depending on what other calls there are on their time and attention - from work, from family, from other hobbies and activities. And leaders have different personalities and different ways of working. And leaders have different levels of support from unit teams - some have a lot of help and support, access to instructors in different topics, a steady supply of good capable YLs - others run units single handedly, which instantly limits the numbers they can cater for, and the ease of organising outings when extra staff have to be found every time there's a sunny evening crying out for outdoor activities. Some units may be different because they are restricted by their leaders' health, by leaders not being able to drive, by leaders' family circumstances and demands. Some units have lots of equipment and their Leaders have lots of qualifications, others don't. So other ways of doing things to the way you do them are not necessarily wrong, not necessarily inferior, they're just different. Only different. And thought there are many different ways to run a good unit, there is no one right way . . . so embrace and celebrate difference!
It is great that some units can have outings every month, 3 or 4 residentials a year, a trip abroad every other year etc. It really is, and I'm not knocking it. It's natural to admire a unit which seems to have a constant steady flow of BPs and Camp Permits, who are sure to turn out a crack Patrol for the County Camping Competition and are always the star turn of the District Show. Their succeses are obvious, they bring good publicity to local Guiding, and we shouldn't knock them for it. And you can find yourself looking up to those who appear to be such obvious success stories, perhaps struggling to hide that twinge of jealousy which naturally rises inside, if you feel your unit is being out-shone in some way, once again, because you can never be a match for them.
But it doesn't necessarily follow that the unit whose achievements aren't so obvious or public isn't a good unit - perhaps even a better unit than those who have enough trophies to justify investing in a larger cabinet, or whose pictures are seemingly automatically forwarded to 'Guiding' on the first of every month without fail. Maybe your unit is too busy learning first aid and homeskills to spend so much time on perfecting their song and dance routine for the District show. Maybe the older Guides prefer planning and running Patrol service projects to constant fundraising to pay for expensive outings. Maybe your Guides prize their annual weekend away because they've been looking forward to it so long and working on preparations for it all year - and it hasn't just beome 'the usual' or been taken for granted. Not wrong, just different priorities.
The other thing to consider is that - it isn't every 10-14 year old who wants outings and sporty adventures every week. Some would prefer a unit where they did more arts activities, or more homeskills, or more challenges and teambuilding, or more practical skills. Some like formality and knowing that what they have been told will happen next week will be what happens, others prefer to find out on the night what they will be doing, and having a more laid-back atmosphere. So having contrasting units within a locality allows the individual girls that choice - lets the individuals find the unit which is right for them. If all the units were camping every other weekend and jetting off abroad every year, they would leave a significant number of potentially good Guides unserved, just because that particular sort of programme doesn't appeal to everyone . . .
That's not to knock the units who are in a position to pack a lot into their programme. No, it's simply to suggest that everyone needs a balanced programme. Balanced between outdoor and indoor activity. Balanced between sport, arts, teamskills. Balanced between expensive activities and more affordable ones. Balanced between fun for ourselves and service to others. Is yours? Then don't worry about trophies or fame, continue doing the good job!