Students freshen up their Scouting skills at university

Students embarking on further education at universities across the UK this month are finding new opportunities to continue, or even begin, their Scouting adventures while studying.

Berkshire Scouts’ Volunteer Development Officers have been at Reading University Freshers’ Week to offer students advice and guidance on how to further their Scouting locally, finding new groups where their support is greatly welcomed.

“As a youth-led movement, we are keen to engage with young people 18-25 to help inform our work and what better place to find them than at University,” explained Volunteering Development Officer Becky Eytle. “We have groups close to the University that have student volunteers meaning that students have fantastic opportunities to get involved on their doorstep.”

Becky adds: “Each year, we see more students who want to continue their Scouting journey whilst at university. The great thing is, they often bring non-Scouting friends with them who hear their enthusiasm, as well as how Scouting can support your career aspirations as well as provide valuable life skills. We welcome all students whether they have experience in Scouting or not and know that they will bring their own skills and passions to young people locally.”

The movement of students across the country creates new opportunities for groups in all counties to strengthen their adult volunteer teams. From those who joined the movement as Beavers to those looking to explore Scouting for the first time, starting university doesn’t mean the end of Scouting; on the contrary, it can even mean a renewed chapter as an adult.

Jonathan Charmley moved to Reading in 2019 from 4th Guernsey Air Scouts to study archaeology. Jonathan unearthed the chance to join 73rd Park Scouts in the town shortly before the pandemic.

“I had gone through the Scouting system, starting as a Cub and working my way up to Explorers,” he said. “I really enjoyed being a young leader and I wanted to graduate to an adult leader when I turned 18, which I did in Guernsey. Being a leader was a chance to escape and do something different, and enjoyable, getting to make good friends and unique memories.”

The onset of the Covid pandemic afforded Jonathan the opportunity to continue supporting his home group, as well as his new friends in Reading, through online Scouting. He even became District Youth Commissioner for Reading Central but was forced to relinquish that role just a few months later after he was diagnosed with a brain tumour.

The tumour turned Jonathan’s life upside down, but he cited Scouts as an important constant as he underwent treatment back in Guernsey. He was awarded the Cornwell Scout badge, one of the association’s rarest awards, given to those under the age of 25 who have demonstrated great heroism, courage, or endurance.

Since returning to Reading for his studies, Jonathan has resumed his Scouting and is using his tough experiences to educate young people in Reading and Guernsey. “My tumour is now under control, and I have been able to return to both university and Scouting, even if it has left me severely visually impaired. I now do some interesting and entertaining sight loss awareness sessions for the Scouts.”

Student movements are a two-way street with a new influx of potential adult volunteers offset by a departure of others from Berkshire to pastures new. Daniel Price started studying biology in Swansea in 2021, and recognised the role played by the Swansea University Guides and Scouts, or SUGS for short.

“I was keen to continue my Scouting journey that had started in Beavers, and continued through to being a Young Leader, and then Beaver Leader at Greenham Scout Group in Kennet District,” he said.

“I joined SUGS as soon as I met them at Freshers’ Fayre. They are a part of the Student Scout and Guide Organisation (SSAGO), who have branches across the country, as well as independent members. This is one of the most welcoming organisations I have ever been part of, and I look forward to all our socials, events, and camps.”

Daniel picked up in Swansea where he left off in Kennet District, taking on a role at Beavers – and other sections, too. He appreciates the opportunity to mix his studies with something non-academic away from campus life.

“Personally, I have enjoyed having a commitment for an hour or so a week that is not directly connected to the university, as it allows me to leave the university ‘bubble’ for a bit. I have also been able to put my degree studies to good use by running scientific activities, including an experiment night and bug hunt.”

He remains faithful to his home group, whenever the university term permits, and for key events such as Remembrance Day or St George’s Day parades. Such is Daniel’s commitment to student Scouting that he will also take on a role this academic year as SUGS event manager. Ideas already in the pipeline include a visit to a castle, and possibly a weekend on the Gower Peninsula.

The soft toys are our mascots. They are a big part of SSAGO – don’t ask me why though! Derek (sheep) is one of our club mascots !

Daniel Price (pictured above)

Jon Aspinox moved from Berkshire to Leeds over ten years ago but has since returned to active Scouting in the county after becoming a dad of two. The Student Scout and Guide Society also influenced his time at university.

“I was at Leeds University Union Scouts and Guides (LUUSAG) during my time at uni, and it was amazing,” he said. “Each society has its own programme of events. At Leeds that included a weekly pub lunch, but also more adventurous activities – just like you’d do in Network. Your society will also likely have links with local Scouting and Guiding districts, so they can help you find a group to help at, while you are at uni. On top of that, SSAGO holds three rallies (weekend activity camps) and one black tie ball every year. Some of my best memories from uni came from rallies!”

Freshers who continue their Scouting journeys can often find a mutual bond from fellow Scouts who are also seeking new friendships. Jon explains: “University is a melting pot of different people, cultures, and attitudes. In my first week, it was great to know that I’d found a group of individuals who had a similar world view to me, but who – at the same time – were vastly different. It was at once comforting and an eye-opening experience. The friends I made in LUUSAG became my housemates after first year, and I still speak to many of them now.”

He concluded: “SSAGO helped keep me connected to Scouting at university, which I don’t think I would have done otherwise. It can feel very difficult to get out of ‘student land’ and into the community to do some scout leading. As a result of my experiences, I have continued my volunteering, travelled the world, helped to shape Scouting policies, and had the courage and self-reliance to start working for myself, giving me more time for myself and my family.”

University can also herald the start of a student’s Scouting journey, as evidenced by Daniel, who said: “University is the perfect time for students not involved in Scouting to get involved. One of the members of SUGS only joined halfway through last year, having not done any Scouting, and already wants to become a leader. It’s easier to get started within the framework of SSAGO clubs, but I’ve found that Scout groups are always keen for new members.”

For those interested in pursuing their Scouting at university, the opportunities are endless. “The sky is the limit,” says Becky. “The opportunity to learn a host of new skills including teamwork, communication, leadership, problem solving, planning is endless. Aside from working with young people, there are also opportunities available at District and County level and of course support roles behind the scenes. We aim to find out what the students enjoy and would like to pursue and see how we can incorporate that into their Scouting experience. We support flexible volunteering and are keen that students can get involved in a way that fits in with their schedule.”

If you’d like to find out more about Scouting at university, or finding a group close to you, please contact Becky. To find out where SSAGO has a presence, please visit their website.

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