1st January 2019
2018 has been another exciting, busy and challenging year for Somerset Scouts.
I hope that the Christmas season has afforded you all some kind of peaceful interlude amidst the often hectic demands of real life and Scouting.
The high points of the last year have been many and awesome, whilst some of the low points have again been exceptionally difficult. Throughout 2018, this rollercoaster ride as your CC has certainly continued, with no reduction in the speed, excitement or terror of the experience.
Nationally there has been a vast amount of work and focus on the development and launch of the Scout Association’s (Skills for Life) strategy. In Somerset, we have developed our new county plan (in line with the HQ strategy and Regional objectives) to support our amazing leaders to deliver an inspiring programme and prepare more young people with skills for life.
To support us to achieve our objectives, the movement has established three pillars of work for the regions, counties and districts to focus on between now and 2023 – Programme, Perception and People.
One good measure of the quality of programme delivered in our sections every week is growth – the recruitment and retention of members. 2018 began with good news, as we were thrilled to see increased numbers across the county for the second consecutive year. Somerset recorded 4,035 youth members supported by 1800 adult volunteers – and the figures keep rising. I look forward to this January’s census with great excitement.
Having been requested by young people over several years, the county all-section ‘Big Camp’ had a truly youth shaped feel. A large number of members from across Somerset came together to use the great facilities at the Bath and West showground for a weekend of extreme activities in extreme weather.
Following some extensive grant funding for campsite / activity equipment, there is now an even wider variety of county equipment (including our new tomahawk throwing kit) available to borrow from the county stores – to enhance your programme.
Another measure of quality programme is the achievement of top awards in each section. 2018 saw several more Somerset young people achieving the Queen’s Scout Award (in addition to the Gold DofE) – an outstanding achievement, which reflects not only their own exceptional endeavours but also the commitment and dedication of their leaders throughout every section. I’ve been out and about lots in recent months, presenting a large number of Chief Scout awards in younger sections – congratulations go both to the recipients and to their leaders.
Several areas of Moors and Coastal district have benefitted from our successful bid to the Youth Investment Fund. A team of paid interns are supporting local volunteers to develop existing provision and open new sections. The impact of the scheme is that increased numbers of young people can now be offered a place and start their Scouting adventure. In early 2019, the intern team will move on to begin a number of projects in Blackdown. Funding has been secured by the county to ensure that the legacy of the work they have already begun in Moors and Coastal will continue.
Scouting in Schools is an initiative which will bring our Programme to more young people, in creative ways. Sidcot School now has a Beaver colony and will soon have Cubs too. The growth and development team (supported by the HQ Regional Services Team) are working with a number of other schools in Somerset, which gives exciting, if daunting, opportunities.
In 2019, we look forward to a summer full of international experiences. A team from Somerset will attend the Mad19 expedition to Madagascar (undertaking a development project and exploring the beautiful and unique country). The county programme team are taking a group to Kenya (volunteering in 2 orphanage schools near Lake Nakuru). 27 Explorer Scouts (joined by nine from Wiltshire county) will travel to West Virginia, USA for the World Scout Jamboree. All the units are busy training, preparing and fund-raising for these extraordinary adventures.
The pillar of perception urges us to ensure that Scouting is understood, more visible, trusted, respected and widely seen as playing a key role in society today. Across the county, groups are becoming increasingly involved in their communities in a variety of ways. As a county, we are working to forge stronger links with partner organisations, with many positive results. We continue to identify funding streams for county initiatives that will support local Scouting. The media team is expanding successfully and at Big Camp we recorded over 200, 000 impressions during the course of the weekend. This means that people were looking at, commenting upon and liking what we were doing. Website development continues apace and I commend you to look at the new Adult Support section. We look forward to the imminent inclusion of an Induction folder (for line managers and new volunteers) and re-branding during the coming months.
The people strand of the new strategy will focus on recruiting, developing and valuing volunteers. Somerset leaders are particularly amazing. I believe that we all share a passion and belief in Scouting and the life skills that it offers to young people. In April, the County Celebration Event gave us an opportunity to celebrate some of those adults whose passion for Scouting has led to particular dedication and commitment over many years. I was proud to be able to present 39 adult awards, which included 2 Bars to the Award of Merit and 5 Silver Acorns. Janet Hall (DCC, Adult Support) was also recognised this year with the Silver Wolf, for many years distinguished service of a most exceptional nature.
An even greater privilege was to present John Volanthen with the Scout Association’s Bronze Cross Medal in September, in recognition of his bravery. John is our county caving co-ordinator, and was part of the team who helped rescue 12 boys and their football coach from a cave complex in Thailand last June. The presentation was made in a very low key ceremony at the end of a Cub meeting, at John’s request. He is an exceptional man, but (like most of us) he believes that what we do is always about the young people – about inspiring them to achieve, develop and learn. It is fantastic to hear that John has now been awarded the George Medal in the the New Year’s Honours List. I somehow doubt that Her Majesty the Queen will pop along to Cubs though!
Not all of our volunteers get national exposure – but to me, you’re all heroes. Collectively, we will make Scouting in Somerset bigger, stronger and have even greater impact. Thank you for remaining with me and my team on this journey, as we strive to develop and grow Scouting for our young people in this fabulous county.
I am very grateful to every member of my growing county team, the stalwart District Commissioners and their teams, and the leaders and adults in supporting roles in every Group across Somerset; our Scout Active Support Units, and our executive committees.
My genuine thanks to every one of you for your continuing dedication & hard work. Your time, effort, energy, skills, enthusiasm and commitment are much valued and appreciated. Thank you.
Best wishes for a very Happy New Year!
County Commissioner, Somerset Scouts