Skills for Life – one year on

By Tim Kidd, UK Chief Commissioner

The last 12 months have seen great change as well as significant progress – a new strategy and new brand while reaching key milestones. Our early years pilots are underway and now we’re launching some new digital tools that will make programme planning easier – and that’s just for starters.

The 15 May marks exactly a year since our skills for life strategy went live. Never have I known a busier Tuesday. For both volunteers and staff, sleep was in short supply the night before.

To me, it felt like one of those great leaps forward, which prove that we are truly a movement of change. At the time we knew we had an exciting plan: one that was ambitious but realistic; far reaching but inclusive; beneficial to our young people and supportive to our volunteers. What we didn’t know was just how enthusiastically it would be embraced by our members, or how much progress would be achieved in just one year.

How we’re growing and becoming more inclusive

We have so much to be proud of, opening more units in areas of deprivation offering opportunities to the young people who need them most. This was so central to Scouting for All and remains at the heart of our Skills For Life plan. Remember, we are aiming to open Scout units in 500 more areas of deprivation by 2023.

Overall membership is up this year (including 1.2% more leaders) and today we have more girls and young women than ever (girls aged 6-18 are up by 4% this year). We now have over 18,000 Young Leaders – (up by 2.8%) which is fantastic news, helping young people get their first taste of volunteer leadership. The Young Leaders’ Scheme is such a success story and bodes so well, not only for the personal development of these amazing young people, but for the future of our movement.

How we can continue our success

But now’s not the time to rest on our laurels. We know there is work to do welcoming more young people into our Cub and Beaver sections where we have capacity. Let’s work together to help those young people off waiting lists and into the movement. As ever, we need to attract more adult volunteers to make this possible.

It’s also worth reflecting on the journey we’ve come on together. Our total membership has grown by 155,000 (over 32%) over the last ten years while youth membership (6-25) is up by 84,000 (over 21%) over the same period. This year alone, an incredible 4.4 million badges were sent out by Scout Store – think of the incredible achievement that represents.

We continue to help other people too. Community impact is now fully embedded in our programme and opportunities for social action have been taken up by a quarter of a million Scouts across a range of themes. To cite just one example, we’re proud to say that 22,000 Scouts are now trained as Dementia Friends.

How we’re innovating as we deliver our strategy

Our early years pilots have launched – with six Scout led pilots already up and running, four more to open before the summer, and four more family-based models to follow. This is something new for us and of course no decisions have yet been made on whether it will go forward. But we know the pilots are already making a positive impact on the lives of young people and their families in areas of deprivation. The visit from HRH The Duchess of Cambridge to Gilwell in April to see one of these pilots in action was a huge boost for us. We know she is a great believer in supporting young people at this early stage in their development.

How we’re supporting our volunteers

The beta version of the new digital programme planning tool we are building for Cub leaders is now online. Content for Beaver leaders will be next, with support for other sections to follow after that. This is such a key moment for us – making life easier for the people who make Scouts happen while helping more young people enjoy a varied, balanced programme and achieve their top awards. You can find out more about this brilliant new tool here and my sincere thanks to the volunteers and staff who have worked together so well to deliver this. True teamwork in action.

Digital transformation is continuing as the programme planning tool will sit within the new beta Scouts website. This will also make it easier for volunteers to find what they need.

Better training, resources and communications

We’re also offering easier training – and I know the specialist training on autism awareness has been well received, with more on the way. Regular webinars are now in place to support all members and volunteer managers to promote two way communication. Both myself and Team UK truly value these as a way to identify how we can better support our volunteers.

Our new brand and focus on skills for life as the key benefit of Scouts is also paying dividends. We’re shifting perceptions and becoming more relevant and visible, locally and nationally. Thanks so much to the Groups, Districts, Counties/Areas and Regions who have updated their print and digital materials since the brand launch, ahead of the May 2020 transition deadline. The brand has helped unify us – showing that we are truly a single family with shared values and a common aim to prepare young people with skills for life. There’s a true power in togetherness and sharing the sense of belonging which makes Scouts so special.

Our inspiring Chief Scout and 11 amazing Scout Ambassadors have also helped us shift perceptions. Whether that’s Tim Peake helping launch the new Scientist Badge on the BBC or Bear chatting about empathy with Chris Evans on his breakfast show, it’s helping drive the message that young people are developing skills for life.

Helping young people find their place in the world

This one year anniversary for our strategy is a moment for celebration, but it’s also a moment for reflection. Scouts is needed today more than ever. Twelve months ago our society felt polarised, both politically and socially, and I’m afraid it still does today. At a time when communities are becoming more divided, we bring people together.

Over the past 12 months we have also heard more appalling stories of knife crime, including the tragic death of Jodie Chesney, the Explorer Scout who represented us so brilliantly at last year’s Remembrance Day at the Royal Albert Hall. She was the victim of a random knife attack in Romford, Essex.

When many young people are struggling to find purpose and belonging (perhaps contributing to this increase in gang culture, violence and crime) Scouts helps them develop skills, confidence and a sense of hope. The best way we can honour Jodie’s memory is by continue to provide opportunities in our communities and keep expanding our reach.

So let’s keep up this brilliant momentum. We’re inspiring brighter futures, building a more cohesive society and most of all, helping young people find their place in the world.

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