JTwo Sundays ago, I brought a group of filthy, tired, slightly soggy Cubs home to their families. Smelling campfire smoke, with melted marshmallows in their hair and only about half the gear they had arrived with, they were heading home after a long weekend at camp. Climbing walls had been conquered, arrows had been thrown at targets, new friendships had been forged and a Wellerman dance routine learned by heart. It had been a jubilee weekend well spent.
Going to camp is a highlight of being a Scout and must be one of the reasons so many people want to enroll their children to join the movement. Last week it emerged that demand was at its highest since World War II, with 90,000 children on waiting lists across the country.
The Cub Scout pack I lead in Tottenham, North London, doesn’t have a waiting list, but we’ve seen a huge jump in interest since face-to-face meetings resumed last April. This was a huge relief – we had added members before Covid hit and took our momentum away, and as the Cubs transitioned to scouts our numbers dwindled.
Like other groups, we had continued with Zoom meetings and we did some brilliant things. We decorated and filled canvas bags to give away to older people who were still stuck at home and we could now relate to in isolation. We had cooks – one, making Maori bread – helping parents talked about what the same recipe was called in their home country and how it was served. But real scouting is about being together, and during those locked-down days no one reached out to ask if they could join.
But now we’re busy again, and I don’t know why I doubted things would bounce back, because it offers so much to the members.
Since becoming an akela, I’ve seen Cubs achieve things they never imagined they would achieve. Those who shook at the bottom of the climbing walls, then half an hour later waved, smiling, from above or near the top. Those who told me that they “can’t make flint and steel work”, before making a spark and lighting a fire. Those who worried about staying away from home went on to earn numerous “Nights Away” badges.
It’s not that schools don’t do these things, but the performance requirements mean that, for some children, the opportunity for adventure has been squeezed out of a regular week. Scouting gives them the chance to do things that might not contribute to a ranking in the leaderboard, but will help them in the years to come – the focus is on learning skills for life.
Yes, we still teach them traditional knots, campfire cooking and – my favorite – tracking, but these are useful and fun. And we also cook in real kitchens, and learn how to change light bulbs and iron. Last year our pack set up a bird table for the Environmental Conservation Badge – understanding and following flat pack instructions are definitely skills for life.
Even the less structured parts of meetings, or the times when they chat on a hike or in tents, are learning experiences – opportunities to meet people from different schools and backgrounds.
As an adult, I didn’t want to join Scouts – I started helping when my son was a Beaver and fell into Cub Scouts when the leader changed roles in the organization – but I’m happy with it. ‘have done. I used to do yoga on Tuesday nights, but found it hard to disconnect from my job as a reporter. I would rewrite news in my head during guided meditation, or find myself thinking about mortgage rates or offshore companies while doing a downward dog. Now I’m in Cubs instead, and I have to live in the moment – no matter what I’m planning, I can never guess exactly what they’ll ask, what could go wrong, or what they’re going to do with it. could really engage. There’s no way I can think of anything outside of the scouts hut.
I’ve met some fantastic people and made some great friends – nothing helps you bond with someone like cooking breakfast in a field for 30+ kids waking you up at 5am or learn how to inflate a tent.
The Scout Association organizes many trainings and at the beginning of each session the person who shows up usually says something like “I started Scouting about 30 years ago”. Once people enter it, they can’t stop. I hope that a maximum of these 90,000 children will have the chance to start.