This year, all over the UK, we’ve celebrated and reflected on the centenary of some women gaining the vote. The suffrage campaigners paved the way for so many women and girls to have their voices heard at the highest levels, and we’re very much in their debt. We continue to walk the path towards equal rights for women and in June we will join thousands across the country in processions of purple, green and white to mark the centenary celebrations, and the role girls and young women are still playing in making change happen.
1918 was a special year for guiding for another reason. It was the year that the first chief guide, Olave Baden Powell, was appointed - a role to which I was elected earlier this year. This Volunteers’ Week, I’m thinking of the role that all volunteers have played in our charity over the past one hundred years. Today there are 100,000 of us generously donating our time each week to change the lives of girls all over the UK.
I wonder what Olave Baden-Powell would have made of Girlguiding today. I’m sure she’d think that quite a lot has changed. For one thing, we have a very different uniform to the formal skirts and berets that she and the first guiding leaders wore, with sweatshirts and trainers being as popular as sashes and neckerchiefs – and a lot more useful when it comes to helping girls have adventures, whatever the weather! And many of the activities girls do in guiding have changed over the years too- indeed later this year, we’ll be revealing a whole new programme of over 800 activities and badges to keep Girlguiding more relevant to girls than ever.
'So much has stayed the same'
But, so much has stayed the same. Just like a century ago, our leaders give girls the space to be themselves, build their confidence and have fun. Our leaders show girls they can make a difference – whether that’s by bandaging the wounded in World War Two, to forging links across their communities, to campaigning to end period poverty. Our leaders show girls that not even the sky is a limit to what they can achieve, be it astronaut, adventurer or activist.
But it’s not just the girls who benefit. I know how much volunteering has given me – from my beginnings as a Brownie to my role as chief guide. Who could forget that first time the seven-year-old who was terrified of heights reaches the top of the climbing wall? Or the young woman who is offered her first-choice university place thanks to the interviewing and confidence skills she’s learnt at Girlguiding? Or the presentation I gave at a national IT systems conference that went well because of all the skills I had developed as a trainer of adult volunteers in Girlguiding? Every time I think of how much I give to guiding, I realise that I reap it back a hundred times over.
So this Volunteers’ Week, I want to celebrate the impact volunteering for Girlguiding has on not just girls, but on the volunteers themselves. This incredible movement of brave, brilliant, and dedicated people who give their all to improving the lives of thousands of girls, encouraging them to be empowered to be the change they want to see in the world.
Please take time this week to thank someone you know who volunteers for any of the youth organisations.
Our very first Chief Guide, Olave Baden Powell, said it best: “Happiness comes not from what we have but from what we give and what we share.”
You could be part of the great adventure and open a world of opportunities for even more girls. Our recruitment campaign last year was a great success, but we need more and more volunteers to keep up with the demand – why not be one of them?