County tries to recruit more scouts
By James Hore, Mark Heath and John HowardSCOUTS in Essex have launched a campaign to try to get more youngsters in the county involved in the youth movement.
By James Hore, Mark Heath and John Howard
SCOUTS in Essex have launched a campaign to try to get more youngsters in the county involved in the youth movement.
More than 20,000 yellow cards detailing what scouting offers and contact details for people interested in the movement have been produced and will be distributed in the summer.
The cards will be distributed throughout Essex as the Scouts look to add to their 13,220 young members in the county.
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The recruitment drive in Essex comes as scout leaders in Suffolk said the movement was enjoying renewed popularity in their county.
Bob Russell, the Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester and secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Scout Group, gave his backing to the attempt to get more youngsters in Essex involved in scouting.
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“I welcome greater involvement in any of our youth organisations and I applaud the scouts for being such a forward-looking organisation, constantly moving with the times.
“Scouting was good for my life and I would strongly recommend it to anyone. We need to target young members, but there is also a desperate shortage of leaders.
“It is a popular myth that you have to have been a scout to become a leader. My scout leader has retired after 46 years and he was never a scout.
“In today's society there is a shortage of volunteers. This is across the board, in the scouts, political parties, sports clubs, everything.”
Across the border in Suffolk, scout leaders said the movement was popular again after a few years in the wilderness.
John Mabb, Suffolk County Commissioner and a scouting veteran of more than 20 years, said this year's census had showed about 6,400 members in the county.
“In truth, if you look back to 20 or 30 years ago, scouting is not as popular in terms of numbers, but this year we have held on to our numbers, which I think is a terrific result,” he added.
“What is even better is that our 'scout age' numbers - children in the scouts - have actually increased.
“I think it's probably because the scouting programme that's now being offered is more exciting than it's been for a long time and that's the key to it - we do know that children who leave the movement do so because of lack of activities.”
Despite modern-day boys facing distractions including more school work and the video games phenomenon, Mr Mabb said he felt scouting had turned the corner.
“We are up against all of those things, but the new association recognises that and has a very flexible approach - for example, some meetings taking place fortnightly instead of weekly, which gives the children more time to do other things,” he added.
“I also think we've got less of an image of being nutters in shorts than we used to, and that is going to help.
“I see the latest figures as a victory - we have seen a gradual decline in numbers over the past few years, but I now hope we have seen the end of that.”
Ian Butcher, assistant district commissioner for Ipswich East, backed Mr Mabb and said he felt the introduction of the “explorer scouts” - a new group for youths aged between 14 and 18 - had played an important role.
“Scouting was knocked for six a few years ago when schools started to increase the amount of homework that children had to do, but now they have gradually got used to that and still find time to do other things,” he added.
“There's still a little bit of people looking at scouting as the old 'dib dib dib', but when kids see what we do, they realise how it has changed.”
Gerard Brewster, group leader for 1st Combs Scouts in Stowmarket, said it was the second largest group in the county with more than 154 members. “They want adventurous activities, it's about having a programme to keep their minds alert, we have canoeing, hiking, lots of camping,” he added.
“We are flourishing locally and we never need to advertise what we do - it would be very embarrassing if we did at the moment, the scout troop has grown so much that we could not take too many more.”
n Anyone aged between six and 25 and interested in becoming part of scouting should contact 0845 3001818 or visit www.essexscouts.org.uk.