10 Tuesday: Top 10 reasons to volunteer for Girlguiding

Written by Sarah Burne James

This blog was originally posted on Sarah's LinkedIn page here. She has very kindly let us repost it on The Hive!

For about 18 months now, I have been volunteering at a Brownie unit close to my home in Tooting. I am currently a leader-in-training, and will soon complete my qualification to officially become a Brownie leader. I had wanted to get involved in Brownies for a while, but kept putting it off, giving myself all sorts of excuses like I was too busy, or I wouldn’t be very good at it. The thing is, I have had such a fun, rewarding time since becoming a Brownie leader that I really wish I had done so sooner! So, for any women out there who have been thinking the same sort of thing (or even if you aren’t) I have put together a list of reasons why you should volunteer, to help you get started quicker than I did!

  1. It's fun

I have really enjoyed having the opportunity to do activities I wouldn’t normally do in my everyday life. I used to love arts and crafts, but hadn’t found much time for them in adult life. I have loved making everything from pop-up cards to origami pigs (and helping the Brownies make their own too, of course). We sing lots of songs and play games, which is something else I don’t do enough these days; our unit's current favourite song is about taxis. Our Brownies also love acting out any scenario they can, and their plays seem to hilariously incorporate some very over-enthusiastic news reporters, whatever the topic.

2. It’s a stress buster - forget work and just be present

Brownies don’t care if you have had a stressful day at work. They aren’t interested in what somebody said to you in that meeting, or when your next deadline is. This is a great thing; it means that you have to be present for them, and disconnect from whatever worries you had when you walked through the door. They want your help and support now, with whatever activity you are doing today. I’ve found that it is a great way to keep things in perspective, and leave the stress of the office behind. Whatever mood I am in when I turn up at our weekly meetings, I always walk out feeling energised and with a smile on my face - it also ensures I always leave the office punctually on a Monday evening!

3. You get to learn new skills, or brush up on old ones

This year, I have refreshed my map and compass-reading skills and learnt what a sextant is. I have also been on a comprehensive first aid course, learned to make ice cream in a freezer bag, and made rockets out of film canisters. I now know a whole host of new games, and how to get (and keep) the attention of a group of 26 Brownies! We even had a beekeeper visit us to explain what she does. In Girlguiding London South West county, there are different training sessions available every term on a wide range of topics.

4. It will help you challenge your thinking

As an adult, without much opportunity to interact with children in my ordinary life, I had forgotten the joy and challenge of responding to a child’s perspective. I’ve been asked to explain what a ditch is (“like a hole, only longer”) and why you always have to leave gates how you find them in the countryside. Discussing the Brownie promise, it was also amazing to explore the line "[I promise] To be true to myself and develop my beliefs" with a group of seven year olds, and see how readily they took on board the idea that different people in the group had different beliefs, and that that was okay.

Explaining things to children is a great way of uncovering some of the assumptions we make as adults, and to check that you really understand something. I am endlessly surprised by the things that I think are mundane that the girls find incredibly exciting - such as our recent walk from the meeting place to the high street (and back), where we learnt how to look after tired feet. It's something that has made me stop and appreciate the smaller things a lot more.

5. You can make new friends and get to know more people in your local community

I hadn’t been in Tooting long when I started volunteering, but now I get to wave hello to people on the way to work, and bump into familiar faces at the supermarket. I love feeling rooted and involved in my local community, particularly in London which can sometimes feel like a very big place. The other volunteers in my unit are now good friends, and our planning meetings in the pub usually turn into fun socials - once we have sorted out the important Brownie business, of course!

6. You can have adventures

Beyond the weekly meetings, there are all sorts of opportunities to have adventures (with or without the girls). One leader in my unit went on a trip to work with Girlguiding members in Zambia, and came back with a host of new songs and games to share with our Brownies. There are plenty of events you could attend closer to home, or you could go with your unit on a trip somewhere, just for the day or for longer. Being with Girlguiding gives you an excuse to ask for tours to places you might not otherwise get to see, so if you fancy a tour of the local fire station, or anywhere really, this is your chance to ask! Girlguiding even run their own music festival, Wellies and Wristbands, for Guides and Rangers.

7. You can help girls and young women gain confidence and life skills

This is an important one for me. When I was a Brownie myself, I started off incredibly shy, but gradually gained confidence. I have loved seeing girls join us as quiet seven year olds, and grow into boisterous, self-assured nine and ten year olds. Having a space where girls can really be themselves helps with this; I think having just girls in the group allows them to explore activities that might be seen as stereotypically male without being put off. Given my work in technology, I have definitely been encouraging them to get excited about STEM skills, for example by inviting a scientist friend to come in for a Q&A. Having only girls also gives us a space where we can discuss issues that are important to them. I found participating in the Future Girl badge particularly rewarding, as we got to ask the Brownies their views on topical issues, which we then fed back into Girlguiding to inform their advocacy work.

8. You support each other and can do your best - at your own comfort level

I was really nervous when I first started volunteering, and the first time I planned an activity I pitched it at completely the wrong level; the Brownies were trying to build towers out of spaghetti, but the challenge I had set them was just a bit too hard. There was also a big sticky mess of spaghetti and marshmallows all over the floor! Far from being made to feel like a failure, the other leaders were so supportive, and made me feel great about having had a go and trying something out. There are always activities that don’t go to plan, but we are there to jump in and help each other out, or suggest ways to adapt activities. And on the many occasions when meetings go really well, we celebrate that together too. I have never felt that I was on my own, or that I had to take on more responsibility than I was comfortable with, but at the same time the other volunteers and my mentor have cheered me on to try doing things I wasn’t 100% sure about.

9. It's flexible

I volunteer as a Brownie leader, which means I turn up most weeks during term time, and plan some of the meeting activities. If you want to do something like that, that’s great. If that seems like too much, you could volunteer as a unit helper, which means you turn up and help out without the responsibility of planning. You could come every week, or just the weeks when it suits you; units are always happy to have an extra pair of hands, and the girls get really excited to meet new volunteers. If coming to meetings doesn’t work for you, there are also roles such as treasurer or adviser that you can do from home, or on a more ad-hoc basis.

10. There are loads of opportunities to explore

I am just at the beginning of my journey with Girlguiding. I am about to complete my Leadership Qualification and become a fully-fledged Brownie leader. There is another module I can complete to learn more about unit finances if I want to become the main leader for a unit, or I could train to lead another section (Rainbows, Guides or Rangers). I could go on a course to get a license to take the girls on residential trips. Beyond that, I could also become a trainer myself, or a mentor for new leaders, or get involved with organising events locally, nationally, or trips abroad. Eventually I could even become a commissioner to keep things running at district or county level.

So, having read all my reasons why you should get involved, it's easy to register your interest here and someone will get in touch with you.

Do you have any extra reasons to add to the list? Let us know on our Instagram and Facebook channels!

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