The Scouts Association is the UK’s largest mixed youth organisation, enabling over half a million young people a year to participate in a diverse range of character building experiences and activities. By developing team work and leadership skills, and encouraging young people to contribute to society, Scouting provides opportunities for young people to make a positive impact and valuable difference to their communities, as well as having fun, making friends, getting outdoors and experiencing the wider world.
Unsurprisingly, more and more young people are keen to join the movement, and The Scout Association is struggling to keep up with demand. As part of Pears Foundation’s commitment to expanding opportunities for youth social action, we have partnered with The Scouts to explore how the organisation might remove some of the current barriers to participation, and achieve sustainable growth.
Through a pilot project in Avon, an innovative model is being tested to quickly establish new provision in focused areas. Now entering its third year, the project has already built a significant body of learning and achieved some excellent results. We asked Ben Powlesland, the Pears Project Manager, to reflect on some of the successes and challenges of the project so far.
The Scout Association and Pears Foundation have been working together for two years to test new methods of growing Scouting for young people from a wide range of backgrounds and communities across Avon (Bristol, Bath, South Gloucestershire, and North Somerset). As well as building new provision in this focused area, the project also aims to gather learning that can help grow Scouting and remove barriers to access nationally.
The primary model being used is a part-time staffing model, employing Interns to engage with young people in a community to establish provision, and to build and support a group of adult volunteers from that community who can then take over the running of the group. The project is now coming to the end of its second year in Avon, and initial results have already secured its continuation for a further two years, as well as its expansion into Gloucestershire where it can be tested in more rural areas.
As we embark on year three, the project team are busy reviewing the successes and learning from years one and two. For me, one of the main strengths of the project so far has been the time and space the funding from Pears Foundation has given the project staff to try new things and consolidate learning. This has allowed the team to form partnerships with outside organisations, consolidate and refine processes for opening new provision, and identify and start to overcome current barriers to young people joining Scouting.
So far the Pears Project has directly enabled around 600 new and sustainable Scouting places in Avon, supported by over 150 new volunteers. The project has worked with 42 new youth sections, 38 of which are now offering activities on a weekly basis to 9 communities in the region that did not previously have access to Scouting.
The model has proven particularly successful in traditionally hard-to-reach areas as it allows for concentrated specialist support to be given to a local area to help overcome the specific barriers for that community. The Interns are able to spend time getting to know people and identify potential Leaders, as well as helping them to understand the benefits that Scouting brings. It is this tailored approach that has enabled us to open a new Female Muslim Explorer unit of 20 members meeting at the Andalusia Academy, as well as a completely new Scout group in Knowle West, a Platinum area of Bristol with over 60 youth members staffed by volunteers from the community.
Such successes of The Pears Project are clear examples of how barriers to participation in Scouting are being removed within Avon. Now, with the body of learning we have gathered, the knowledge on how to achieve sustainable growth and remove barriers to participation, we hope to disseminate and share our leaning nationally. With The Pears Project having already helped the Scout Association offer opportunities to more young people across Avon, the sharing of learning nationwide could hopefully provide thousands more places to young people across the UK in the coming years.