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1st Thedwastre Guides opened on 11 September 2023 with a meeting night held outside. The unit has been financially supported by our new unit grant and forms part of our Uniformed Youth Fund project. I caught up with their leaders, Claire and Tracy and commissioner, Viv to see what it’s like to open a new unit and what their highlights have been.

Viv, has there been a Guide unit in the area before? What made you think it would be a good idea to open one and how did you go about finding a leadership team?

Before opening Thedwastre Guides, there was 2 thriving units in the district that were full or nearly full. Looking at the numbers of Brownies in the district made me realise that the existing units would be full and there would be no places locally for Brownies to go once they got to 10. Knowing the amazing and varied opportunities that guiding gives girls, I was keen to find a way to increase capacity for Guides in the district. We had also had a district holiday in the May and all the Brownies units had attended. They saw the Guides camping and cooking their food on a fire and so we had a lot of very enthusiastic girls to accommodate!

Finding a leadership team fell into place naturally – I had a new leader join the district that had previously had a lot of experience with Guides and another leader who is a Snowy Owl at one of the Brownie units and was also keen to increase Guide spaces so it naturally worked and the two leaders made the leadership team for the new unit.

I heard that everything has fallen into place nicely but I’m sure there was a lot of activity and sensible decision making in the background to make this happen. Can you let us in on your secrets please?

Ha ha I’m not sure I have any secrets! What I do have however is relentless enthusiasm, a brilliant district and lots of Curly Wurlys! In all seriousness there genuinely aren’t any secrets – it started off as a mathematical exercise looking at the numbers of Brownies in our area that would be reaching 10 over the next year or two and then looking at how we could provide Guide spaces for them to go to. I soon realised that the answer would be opening a new unit and so from there it was a case of lots of conversations to find the right venue and right team to lead it.

Claire and Tracey – how did it feel on that first night and what did you get up to?

We were both very excited. We already knew all the girls because they had all be in our Brownie unit. Instead of a first meeting in our usual meeting place, we decided to open with a bang so arranged with Elmswell Guides to have a joint meeting for a campfire (what better way to open a new unit than with a few verses of ‘This Little Guiding Light of Mine’ and a s’more). However, because the weather has been exceedingly hot, we decided it was not a good idea go light a fire so we just played a variety of wide games with them, sang songs, taught the girls taps and how to march into a horseshoe – something which both units have enjoyed having a go at!

What have been your highlights so far?

There are too many to mention really. The girls are a great bunch, albeit very excitable at times. On the first week in our meeting place they decided whether they wanted neckers and what colour, which patrol names they wanted, who was going to be patrol leaders and what they were going to call us. The following week they started to plan their promise ceremony party, assigning each other different roles and came up with a list of Unit Guidelines. Claire’s dad made us some patrol boxes so the girls painted them with the help of Tracey’s Cricut machine making stencils for. This week we made pencil cases with them using our sewing machines, which they loved.

What would you say to other areas that are thinking of opening a new unit?

Go for it! It is not as difficult as you may think. We only finally decided at the beginning of the summer holidays that we were definitely going to open and were ready to go come September when they went back to school. We borrowed resources from another unit in our district to plan the terms activities and applied for grants to help with funding. I think it helped that we were both experienced leaders, both having run Guide units before but it is not difficult, especially if you get support from other unit leaders in your district as well as your local district or county commissioner. We were also lucky because we are both already involved with our local Brownie Unit so had access to those where were leaving at the end of the previous term, and with word of mouth from them to their friends who had already left our unit and moved onto Guides we had another three transfer to us from another unit in our district whose waiting list was already quite large. We started with 7 girls and have at least another 3 starting after Christmas.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today.

It’s so easy to think that success is the number of badges our young members earn or how big our unit is or how much fundraising we do. Actually, success is a whole range of girl-led activities – from s’mores to sewing, from making a horse shoe to making a patrol box! Thank you for all that you are doing for the girls in your unit, we really appreciate all the time that you give and the skills that you share.

If you’ve enjoyed this blog and would like to read more about the project that funded 1st Thedwastre Guides, do read our first blog or November’s edition.

Last month’s blog, next month’s blog.

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It’s been a busy couple of months since I wrote the last blog. If you didn’t catch that you can find it here – you’ll find an overview of the project and what we hope to achieve in the next year or so.

What’s happened since your last blog?

We’ve financially supported 3 new units via our new unit grant – welcome to 1st Chigwell Rangers, 5th Ely Guides and 1st Thedwastre Guides. Also a big shout out to 1st Wixhams Guides who first met in March 2023 and got in touch. I’ve been to two student freshers fairs and hopefully recruited about 12 new volunteers from these.

I said in my last blog that I was going to attend the commissioner and adviser day organised by Girlguiding Lincolnshire South. Sadly I was too sick to go but I’m still hoping to catch up with the county team soon. I was very sad not to be going as the day had a wide variety of sessions and talks and I was hoping to dip my ear in to some of them. They had everything from inclusion to GO and many topics in between.

What’s inspired you recently?

I’m loving the new girl recruitment materials from Girlguiding. The graphics for Rangers in particular are so fun and relaxed and remind me of my time as a Ranger. I have so many memories of camping and sharing new experiences with my friends. We know from our inclusion audit that Girlguiding is currently not representative of the UK population. Specifically, we struggle to attract and retain girls and volunteers of colour and lower socio-economic backgrounds. We want to do better at this. Our research shows that girls and volunteers want to see more role models with lived experiences that are similar to their own. The new images show a wider variety of people and the Ranger images are my favourite.

The recruitment kit for adult volunteers also includes social media content that is specific to the section that you want to recruit for volunteers. We know that different things motivate different people to volunteer so the suggested wording reflects this and points them to a section that lets them do that.

We’ve seen Girlguiding’s impact report for 2023 is now out, give us your highlight.

It wasn’t a surprise to me that UK girls report lower confidence than UK boys. There’s no denying that girls face more challenges and many of these are explored in the Girls’ attitudes survey. What really surprised me is how much Girlguiding makes a difference.

Girlguiding girls are up to 23% more confident than the UK girls’ average.

What’s even better is that the influence of Girlguiding on girls’ confidence almost triples between early and mid-adolescence. This is the age range that I’m hoping to create more spaces for. Early to mid-adolescence is around 11-15 so Guides and Rangers to us! Guide and Ranger leaders, you are doing a fantastic job. If you need any help or support to increase the number of girls in your unit, do let me know.

Last month’s blog, next month’s blog.

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