09:00AM, Thursday 26 March 2020
Girlguiding nationally has closed until further notice in light of the coronavirus, but before this measure was taken, I joined Bray 1st Brownies at their meeting in Bray Village Hall on Tuesday, March 10.
The group offers girls aged seven to 10 an opportunity to learn new skills, earn badges, contribute to their communities, go on trips away, make friends and have fun.
In the words of the joint commissioner for Maidenhead Girlguiding, Angela Berkowitz, it is ‘that safe place to explore’ in which ‘they literally do everything’.
But the survival of Girlguiding groups – which includes Rainbows for five to seven-year-olds, Guides for girls aged 10 to 14, and Rangers for those aged 14-18 – is not guaranteed.
When the unit leaders who run groups move away, or decide to step down, they leave holes difficult to fill.
In a best-case scenario each guiding session would have two unit leaders and two assistant leaders, or young leaders – volunteer members of Girlguiding aged 14 to 18.
Groups in Maidenhead which have lost leaders are managing to scrape by, thanks to the help of parents and leaders, like Angela, who are facilitating more than one unit – but the situation is not ideal.
“We’re continually finding cover,” said Angela. “We’re always short.”
For this reason Angela is appeal-ing for people to get involved with Girlguiding, when it starts again, to help ensure healthy units in the town can be maintained.
As a former Brownie I wanted to be reminded why the survival of these groups is so important, and I was.
With every girl that filtered into the hall on that Tuesday the buzz of excitement grew, and it was instantly apparent that over the many intervening years only one thing had changed – the uniform.
Still in a distinct yellow and brown, the culottes and sashes have been replaced with leggings and hoodies, but the atmosphere was just the same.
The meeting was still the highlight of the week for many, if not all, Bray 1st Brownies – just as it had been for me.
An opportunity outside of school and home to enjoy social interaction with friends through fun crafts, activities and games.
As the girls set about finding a seat and settled down to stitch their bunting from the previous week, I could not wait to pull up a pew beside them and join in.
I sat with a small group and lent a hand knotting cotton and threading needles while enjoying listening to – and joining in with – their conversations on topics including school and the coronavirus.
They were each a breath of fresh air after a long day at work and it is easy to see what Angela means when she says ‘you get a lot out of it’.
“It’s just the joy of being a child again and looking at things with an inquiring mind,” she said. “It just gives you a completely new perspective on life looking at it though that lens.”
Sophie Boycott, 19, was a leader in training (assistant leader) at Bray 1st Brownies but took over as leader in January.
The move followed the departure of one group leader who moved out of the area and another who felt it was the right time for them to step away from Girlguiding.
Sophie has been through every section of Girlguiding which she says gives girls ‘a pathway in life’ and ‘teaches them how to grow and be independent’.
“Some girls come in and they’re really shy,” she said. “And then they leave three years later and they’re a completely different child, and you think ‘well, I’ve actually helped to transform them’ which is a really nice feeling.”
Angela said that not everybody wants to volunteer with the children but from administration to marketing there are dozens of roles to fill.
“There really is something for everybody,” she said.
“We can use everything from half an hour a week to however much time you’ve got free, you can’t give too little.”
During the closure of Girlguiding groups Angela said: “We will work with girls offline to continue badges and some bits and pieces that can be done at home.”
To find out more about volunteering in the future email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to the Girlguiding website at tinyurl.com/v9osbnw or Maidenhead Girlguiding at girlguidingmaidenhead.org.uk/
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