I joined scouts when I was ten years of age, completely unequipped to pitch a tent, tie a square lashing or make a dinner for my camp mates on an open fire. Seven years on, I am still as hopeless. It’s not for lack of trying on my leaders part, I was just never interested in that side of things; I’d make my fellow scouts tea and tell them jokes as they set up site. In an ill-advised attempt to try to motivate me, my leaders even made me Patrol Leader of our shield team one year (a regional competition where you build your site from scratch and stay there for a weekend, cooking your own meals etc.), but I just made everyone take breaks and tell me their dreams as we sat on our wonky table.
So no, practical outdoor skills were not what I took from my years as a scout; but what this organisation gave me was so much better, so much more than knowing how to start a fire with flint and steel. Scouting gave me a home away from home, a family that is spread all over the country, all over the world. I had a place where I could be myself – very gay, very loud, very opinionated, a little bizarre – and still be taken seriously.
For instance, I got to work at Camp THREE this year as a mentor, a job which requires you to take a certain number of younger scouts into your care, to ensure that they’re not homesick or fighting each other, that they know where they’re supposed to be and when, and that their experience of camping is a positive one. It was an incredible opportunity, one you wouldn’t get any where else. It gave so many different people a chance to put their skills into use – we had Ventures acting in the opening ceremony, future filmmakers writing and directing said ceremony, budding make-up artists painting us all as the Undead (the theme of the camp was “Zombie Apocalypse”). But nobody was assigned jobs – we chose them for ourselves. We ran the show, a bunch of kids fifteen to seventeen years old, doing the administration and the marketing, setting up site and making the place look post-apocalyptic. We had free reign. We weren’t assigned roles, and responsibility wasn’t heaped upon us; we took responsibility ourselves, because we wanted to give back to the organisation we owed so much to, wanted to create a space where kids could build memories like the ones we had. We were allowed to empower ourselves, and we all did, in our own individual ways.
And now I’ve been given an opportunity to work on this blog. Let me rephrase; I took this position for myself. I asked if I could get on board as a sort of editor, ensuring that pieces are up to standard and relevant, and encouraging people to submit. And nobody really said yes – they just told me if I wanted to do it, do it. Don’t just talk about it. So I’ve organised a group of ventures to write a few pieces to kick things off, get the ball rolling, and now hopefully youth members from all over the country will send their stuff into us. But I must mention that I couldn’t have done it without the groundwork being beautifully laid by Eoghan Calnan, Niamh Donnelly, Stevie Oakes and Conor Quinlan, amongst others.
The basic manifesto of the blog is that it’s a representation of all the facets of scouting – the media is saturated with images of us building tents and going kayaking. The hope with Insight is that we can show you that, although the outdoor elements are a massive and very valid aspect of scouting, there are other sides to it. We want to tell you about how it feels to sit around a campfire and sing songs and sip hot chocolate and talk to a best friend you made four days ago about a girl you fell in love with four hours ago. We want to tell everyone how it feels to be empowered, to call shots and have your voice heard. We want to break down the stereotypes around scouting, and help to make people inside and outside the organisation understand what it’s about.And we need your help – youth members all over the country, please send us your poetry, your photography, your thoughts, your words, your doodles, your short films, whatever it is you can do. This is a platform we are building for ourselves, the sky is the limit. Please, please, please send all your brilliant ideas and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and add me on Facebook (Shane Morgan). Insight will not work without you. You are in control now of how to present yourself to the world, you can take charge over how you and this organisation is perceived.
Baden Powell founded scouts, not as an organisation primarily geared towards competition. It was never supposed to be The X-Factor of building spar gates. Fundamentally, it was about living and functioning as a community. We hope that we can give you some insight into that community; we’ll try our darnedest to convey how incredible and special a place it is, but that may prove to be a difficult task.