Guided Along the Way: My Journey with Girlguiding

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Today is World Thinking Day. Celebrated annually on 22 February, it is an international day of friendship for Girl Guides and Girl Scouts around the world to speak out on issues that affect girls and young women and fundraise for those members that are less fortunate. It dawned on me a while back that this year I will have been a member of this wonderful organisation for 21 years and so it is probably high time I shared with you my experience of being part of the guiding family.

My journey with Girlguiding began shortly after I started secondary school. I used to get the bus with a girl called Susan and we became friends. As you do when you’re getting to know someone we talked about what we liked to do outside of school and she told me all about how she was a Guide. I wasn’t very outdoorsy back then (I’m still not really), but she said they did loads of fun stuff apart from camping and I could go to a meeting with her if I wanted to. I decided to do just that and haven’t really looked back.

When I joined 1st Swanley Guides in 1996 I became part of the Swallow Patrol of which, if I remember correctly, Susan was the Patrol Leader at the time. In the first few weeks I really enjoyed getting my uniform and working through the Pre-Promises Challenges in my copy of The Guide Handbook. Back then Guides had eight different programme areas like The Senior Section still do and we had to complete a challenge from each area before making our Promise. We also had to learn the Guide Law and Promise.

I still remember my Promise Ceremony now. It was very traditional, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. We all marched into horseshoe and ten girls would be selected to go and light a candle while reciting one of the laws (it was changed to six laws while I was a Guide). Then my Patrol Leader escorted me to the opening of the horseshoe where Mandi (AKA Jay) our Leader would stand. She asked if I was ready to make my Promise as a Guide. I was. I really, really was. Once I recited my Promise, Mandi pinned my Promise badge on to my uniform and I made the Guide Sign to Mandi, the unit flag and the rest of the unit. I was then officially welcomed with a chorus of Oggy Oggy Oggy.

I loved every moment of being a Guide. I loved taking part in the Gala and Remembrance Parades and feeling honoured if I was asked to carry the flag. I loved taking part in our own version of The Generation Game as it meant Mum would also come to the meeting and join in the fun. I loved the water games nights that we would have at the end of the summer term. I loved working towards my Interpreter badge with my French tutor and my Chess badge with my uncle. Learning new things from people I already had good relationships with and who had a passion for those things.

When I working towards my GCSEs I decided to take a break from guiding to concentrate on the coursework, revision and mocks that I seemed to be constantly passed between like a ball. It didn’t last for long though. When I joined sixth form we were asked to take on a volunteering role. We could sign up and be allocated a role, but I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to become a Young Leader at my old unit.

Over the next two years I worked toward the Leadership Qualification. I had my first experience of attending a section training where I found out all about the new Guide programme which now had five programme areas and new resources called Go For Its! I started going to Division meetings and finding out about how guiding worked locally. I helped to plan the unit programme and outings to London. I loved being a Leader as much as I had being a Guide. For me being a Leader gives you that excuse to do all the fun stuff that you’re “too old” to do as an adult. And it’s perfect because if the girls see you’re having fun, they are likely to have fun too.

In September 2002 I went off to study Combined Languages at the University of Surrey. Knowing I was going to be going off on placement in my second and third years, I didn’t bother trying to find a unit to work with, but I kept in touch with 1st Swanley Guides and went to meeting whenever I was home for the holidays. In my third year I had a job as a receptionist at a Sports Centre. One day Lin, the bar manager, came down to see me and said she had noticed from my CV that I was a Guide Leader. It turns out that she was also a Guide Leader and wondered if I would like to help at her unit. Hell yeah! Unfortunately it wasn't long before I went off to work as a Language Assistant in a French school, but as soon as I was back in the UK I contacted her and asked if I could come and help. And so I became a Leader at 1st Send Guides for nearly a year.

I would say my last year at university is when I really got into guiding to be honest. A few of us got the old SSAGO (Student Scout and Guide Organisation) Society going again and I also started working towards my Queen’s Guide Award. Unfortunately it’s something I never completed, but I don’t regret trying because it led to so many wonderful opportunities. Because of the Queen’s Guide Award I attended a 4 Basic Training in Buckfastleigh and became a Peer Educator which then led to me joining the 4 Coordination and Support Team. I went to Innovate and attended association workshops where we discussed ideas for the future of Girlguiding and personal development workshops like self defence and sign language. I went camping for my first time ever to a week long international camp (NorJam) in Norfolk where I didn’t know anyone.

Doing all of these things helped my confidence and knowledge of Girlguiding to grow, so while I may not have gained my Queen’s Guide Award, it has definitely helped to shape the person that I am today and it definitely gave me the international bug.

In 2007 I went on my first international guiding trip to Croatia with Kent West County. Although I wasn’t brave enough to go scuba diving, I did go snorkelling and couldn’t believe how clear the water was. In 2009 our Division went to Paris for Capital Jig, a special event for the Girlguiding Centenary. My highlight of that trip was giving Mickey Mouse a special Centenary Promise badge when we were at Disneyland. In 2012 I went on another County trip, this time to Switzerland. We were short a Leader so I volunteered my mum knowing that she would love to go there to see where her granddad came from. I had a real mountain top moment when I received my 10 year long service award at the top of the Schilthorn. I went back to Switzerland two years later, this time on a Division trip. It really does feel like a home away from home. On my second trip we went up the Jungfrau and stood at the top of Europe. It was beautiful!

In 2010 I was selected to be a member of the team going on a GOLD (Guiding Overseas Linked with Development) project to Russia. In the summer of 2011 six of us spent three weeks working with members of the Russian Association of Girl Scouts. We trained them on predominantly on Leadership Development and PR and Recruitment, but they taught us so much too. The three weeks went by in a blur, but can you image my amazement when I heard the word NorJam in amongst all the Russian. I was on camp with Scouts that had been just a few pitches down from my unit when we went to NorJam the previous year. It really is a small world in guiding!

Through Girlguiding I have volunteered at the Philip Lawrence Awards and met Sir Trevor McDonald. I have volunteered backstage at Wembley Arena and chilled out with Sam and Mark and JLS. I visited a Guide unit when I went on holiday to Australia. I volunteered as an interpreter and translator at the Young Women’s World Forum where delegates attended from across the world. I attended the Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall and wore my uniform and poppy with pride as I remembered my granddad and all his comrades.

In 2010 I turned 26 and ended my time in The Senior Section and started looking for a new challenge. Peer Education has become a big part of my life and I was encouraged on a number of occasions by various people to become a Trainer so I started working towards my qualification. When I was at school the thought of taking assembly filled me with dread, but put me in front of a room of Leaders and I will gush about guiding for however long you give me. The feeling I get when I receive feedback that they feel more confident or can’t wait to try new ideas with their girls is better than being given the biggest bar of Galaxy and being told you won’t put on weight if you eat it all! I especially love residential trainings. They are exhausting, but seeing the change in participants as the weekend progresses is so rewarding.

Towards the end of last year I made the decision to leave my Ranger unit and start helping out at a Rainbow unit much closer to home. It also happens to be run by my old Guide Leader and one of my old Guides who, like me, got the guiding bug big time! Also on the team is another Leader and a Young Leader (who also happens to be one of my old Guides). Having such a strong Leadership team is great because if one of us can't make it (usually me if I'm off training) then there are enough of us to keep things going.

At the beginning of this year I took on a couple of roles in my old Division which can be done mainly from a distance. The first is Young Leader Adviser which I am enjoying as it means I get to keep in touch with some of my old Rangers. My first event for them is coming up in a couple of weeks and I'm really looking forward to working with them. The second is Division Mentor. I find this links really well with training as it's supporting Leaders while they work on their Leadership Qualification. I'm pleased to have found roles that really utilise my skills and help me keep in touch with my old area.

Even with everything that I have done in guiding, I think being a Leader and Trainer will always be my favourite. I have seen so many of my Guides grow into beautiful, strong, empowered women. I felt so old when I found out that one of my former Guides was going to become a mummy. I guess it can be likened to how a mum must feel as her children grow up. They will always be your Guides (or Rainbows or Brownies) and you will worry about them and celebrate with them during different times in their lives, but that doesn’t change the fact that you are so proud of who they become as adults especially when they too become Leaders and work alongside you to inspire the next generation of the guiding family.

When I look back at what guiding has done for me over the last 20 years it makes me excited for the next 20. I think about everything that has changed and all the girls that have come and gone. What changes are on the horizon and who will I encounter along the way?
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