Sandra's Brownie unit at a line dancing evening
In 1960 at the age of seven I joined the Brownies and here I am 51 years later and still part of the Guiding movement, how did that happen? Boyfriends and a husband came and went, children grew up and became part of the unit for a while and then went on their way, coming back to help out from time to time, but through it all my passion for Brownies sustained me and, I like to think, has kept me young (in spirit if not in body!)
At the age of 12 having ‘flown up’ from Brownies to become a Guide I was asked to go and help out at the local Brownie Pack as a Pack Leader and I was seen as a ‘big sister’ to the 7 – 10 year olds. Dressed in my smart Guide uniform with a jaunty hat that (I thought) looked like an air hostess I would proudly show off my compass and penknife on a lanyard or regale them with stories of camping out in the open and cooking over an open fire. I would teach them games and songs and help them with various activities and somehow I just never gave up.
At 18 I became the youngest Brown Owl in Surrey and in 1974 I had my pack at my wedding – a sad day for them as they all knew that I was moving to Paignton and joining another unit. Two children later I came back up to Surrey and settled across the border in Sussex and once again found myself joining a pack who was desperate for help – nothing changes! I have stayed here first as Snowy Owl and now as Brown Owl.
It takes up my time, my house is constantly untidy because I am trying out things for the Brownies – making crafts, organising a Pack Holiday once a year, spending time researching things and putting ideas into practice. I am always on the look out for new things for the girls to do and see – recently they went on a Boeing aircraft simulator and into the Virgin cabin crew training facility as part of our ‘Round The World’ themed holiday; a work colleague happened to mention that her husband had a bee hive in the garden and within a few weeks the Brownies were looking at how a bee makes honey and making candles with beeswax. We have had themed weeks where different people have given up their time to talk to the girls and share some of their experiences – a helicopter winchman, a CBB TV presenter and an army nurse to name but a few. We have welcomed policemen and visited the cells in the local station, had the mayor for tea and squirted water from a fire engine. These are experiences that will live with them (and me). So many things to do and see, I am always looking for new experiences for them.
Why do I do it? Sometimes I feel as if I am an unpaid babysitter, especially when parents are late collecting their little ones, but the lows are out weighed by the highs. When a nervous little seven year old clinging to Mummy turns into a confident 10 year old leading a six and helping smaller ones, looking forward to starting life as a Guide, that is all the reward you need. When, years later, you meet an old Brownie by chance and they regale you with an experience or a memory that has stayed with them you feel both surprised and pleased. And now I have two old Brownies who have come back to start training as leaders, they have both got happy memories of being a Brownie, remembering the things that they have done and wanting to carry on that tradition for themselves.
It also gives me a lot of satisfaction – it has been a constant in my life and I have always set myself a high standard. My waiting list is always full and I care about my girls: they are all different and some are difficult but on the whole we can usually find a common ground. We have battles of wills where they haven’t been taught how to socialise with others, this is so evident when we go away and table manners are right out of the window! Most parents are appreciative of the time and effort spent on their daughters – we are all voluntary and the subs that they pay take care of the rent for the hall, badges, census money, craft supplies etc, but occasionally you come across a parent who is out to make your life as uncomfortable as possible – always a challenge!
I am also very lucky in that the people I have worked with have always been very supportive and some of them have even helped out at the meetings. All of my bosses without exception have allowed me to type up things, photocopy or even help me when visiting London by calling at Guide HQ and buying any supplies I might want. Various members of staff have come along to show the girls a new skill or craft or have taken things to show them – one colleague was very happy to come and talk about her time in Tanzania working with the orphans. The Brownies themselves have also helped others and recently we all brought in one toy to send out to Africa, we collect used stamps for the local Hospice and we helped to raise funds for our new church.
Brownies is not an old fashioned out dated organisation. We have moved with the times and most leaders have embraced that. It is the one place where girls can be girls and as leaders we are passing on our knowledge and expertise, and what we don’t know we find out or find someone who does. I have learnt so much as a leader and I am still learning. I can only be a leader until I am 65 and I hope that when the day comes that I have to hand over my unit to someone else they will get as much pleasure from it as I have done. The only piece of advice I can give is that you will only get as much out of the unit as you are prepared to put into it.
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