What happened when my family were filmed for a BBC documentary!

Written by Helen Pierce, leader, 1st Tattenhams (St Marks) Guides

Guiding and Scouting has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Growing up overseas as an army child, I began as an honorary Cub at my parents’ Cub pack as a four year old in Cyprus. By seven years old I was a Brownie in Germany, and when we returned to the UK, I had a few final months as a Brownie before continuing onto Guides. This was only made possible by my mum taking over as my Guide leader, as the unit would otherwise have closed! I was a pack leader at Brownies and then a Ranger, eventually becoming a young leader with Guides before taking over as Guide leader myself when my mum retired from the position. Work took me overseas for a few years and no one came forward to run Guides in my absence, so on my return to the UK I re-opened the unit.

At that time, I was single and busy changing careers from diplomat to paramedic. Guiding and shift work was a tricky balance, but it was manageable. By the time I completed my three years of training as a paramedic, my single life was behind me and I was engaged to an old school friend with whom I had reconnected. Our first wedding anniversary was also the Christening day for our eight-week-old daughter, and we celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary on Remembrance Sunday in 2019. We now have five children - four girls and a boy - and balancing life with guiding (and Scouting for my husband, who runs the local Scout troop) has been tricky at times, but we make it work.

In late 2018, just around the time of my 12-week scan with our fifth baby, I saw an advert for parents-to-be who might like to take part in a BBC2 documentary. They were looking for both first-time parents and those who already had children, and applicants just had to write a little blurb about what they would bring to the programme. I prepared my pitch, talking about how we both work full-time and how, alongside the ever-expanding family, I was also running my own business teaching Spanish to children as well as doing a full-time degree in antenatal education. I also highlighted the voluntary work that both my husband and I do with local youth groups. Months passed and I hadn’t heard back. I hadn’t even mentioned the programme to my husband and in all honesty, I forgot I had ever applied!

At about 36 weeks pregnant, whilst rushing between the school run, a ballet class for my three-year-old and a speedy dinner before the Friday night Guide meeting, I had a phone call from the BBC asking if we would still like to be involved. They could hear on the phone just how hectic things were and whilst I thought that would put them right off, I think now it probably sold them on our story. The following week was a blur of phone calls, Skype chats and even face to face meetings with the Series Producer, and then they confirmed that they wanted to follow our story as part of the programme.

Given how close I was to my due date by then, they wanted to start filming straight away. Cameras were placed around the house and a small team of three moved into our summerhouse with a handheld camera. We were each given a microphone pack to wear every day that they filmed, and they followed us in every aspect of our daily lives as they gradually pieced together the diary management madness that is our reality. Three weeks after the cameras first started rolling, they filmed the birth of our fifth child, Abigail, and so continued the focus of the programme, looking at how a newborn affects the lives of the family they join.

The programme follows six families and looks at how a new baby (or babies! 😉) impacts on family life - though to be fair, in our case I think we pretty much stuck to our normal routine. A week after Abigail was born, I was back at Guides and my husband was back at Scouts. I have breastfed all five of our kiddies, and so they have all spent their early months attending Guide meetings, camps, Gang Shows and the like. The "TV adults", as they became known in our house, wanted to film my husband at Scouts and also me at Guides.

Nigel was filmed first, which was a double-edged sword. It was late June and we were both in summer camp preparation mode – as relieved as I was that Nigel would be filmed first and I could learn from his experience, he also got to run the easy programme night with tent pitching. I consulted the Guides, the parents, the commissioners and the Girlguiding PR team and the consensus was that it could be a really great spotlight on guiding, and to please try to showcase the new programme!

We already had bedding rolls on the programme – I am a camp purist in that regard! – and fortunately the girls had been showing a real interest in the Whittling badge, so we fed that interest with a session on whittling in hopes that a few more girls might want to do the badge afterwards. The filming itself went without a hitch and the Guides were as wonderful as I knew they would be.

Filming continued for another few weeks and when Abigail was about six weeks old, the "TV adults" packed up their cameras and left.

In October we welcomed the Series Producer back to our house and she let us watch a not-quite-polished version of the first episode. It is set to air on BBC2 from today for the four weeks leading up to Christmas.

I originally applied for the show as I thought it would make a fantastic piece of posterity for us as a family, enabling us to revisit life as we welcomed our fifth child. I still think it will be a wonderful thing for us to look back on, but inevitably our parenting choices and style will now be scrutinised by a nation, and we definitely feel a little nervous about what people will make of us. We have already been told to stay off social media when it airs because in a thousand positive comments there will be that one negative reaction which will be the one that sticks in our minds. I’m actually very relieved that we have a holiday planned around the time it will be on TV so any attention it might have drawn will hopefully have subsided by the time we return!

As we were only shown episode one, we don’t know yet which of the many moments they filmed will be in the programme and which will end up on the cutting room floor – there was a LOT of footage for what we think will amount to maybe 40 minutes of screen time once you take into account the other five families sharing four episodes of an hour each. We have been told that the Guide and Scout footage made the final cut which is great news as I think it is so important for people to see that volunteering is something you can make work if you want it to, even with busy lives and family needs. After all, it’s only a couple of hours a week, right….?!

I think it is so important for people to see that volunteering is something you can make work if you want it to, even with busy lives and family needs.

— Helen
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