When you meet your hero and they are even better, more heroic in person…Yeah, that.

Guest blog by Ellen, 1st Colerne Guides

Before any of this had happened, I was simply a young Guide who had decided to earn my Sports badge. Part of this was to get and complete a target (to get county times was mine) in a chosen sport (swimming), and to do a presentation about a professional athlete (I chose local swimmer Stephanie Millward) in that sport. My mum thought that Stephanie’s autobiographical book Paying the Price would help with my presentation; however, she couldn’t get it out from the library as my sister and I had used up all the space on her card, and it was unavailable in the bookshops. Somebody working in one of the shops suggested that she contact Stephanie directly; so she did! They met up at Bath University and, having got the book, my mum talked to Stephanie for a while and mentioned my target. As she is such a lovely person, Stephanie immediately offered to help! So, a few days later, she gave me a coaching session. Afterwards, she even gave me one of her Team GB swimming hats!

Stephanie is a Paralympic swimmer. She was originally on the able-bodied swimming team and, having already swum for Great Britain several times, was going to go to the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Unfortunately MS got in the way. MS stands for Multiple Sclerosis which means `many scars’ and is basically where the body’s immune system attacks the body. There is no known cause or cure. Symptoms include: fatigue, blindness, paralysis and poor balance. Stephanie’s life was very bad for a while when she got MS, but different forms of medication and her family helped her. Gradually, her life improved and she started swimming again, like a phoenix rising from the ashes of her previous life. I feel that this was an incredible act of perseverance and courage.

Stephanie has a long list of achievements – I won’t list them all but they include world records, World champion and of course Paralympic champion. She broke the British record for the 100 meter backstroke aged just 15. At her most recent Paralympics she got gold for the 100 meter backstroke and 4 x 100 meter medley relay, silver for the 200m individual medley, and bronze for the 400m freestyle and 100m freestyle.

Stephanie is a kind, funny, clever and amazingly brave person who wants to do the best she can at everything she does and inspire others to become great swimmers. Even whilst her MS was quite bad, she coached children in swimming. In fact, she met her husband when one of his friends asked her to help him (her husband) with swimming!


Getting ready to go into the pool

Understandably, I was very excited when I found out that Stephanie was going to coach me. The session felt a little strange at first, but I got used to it after a little while. As it was a public session, there were other people in the pool as well as me and Stephanie. It was rather awkward because lots of people were doing widths whilst we were doing lengths for our medleys. Then we started doing widths so they wouldn’t get in our way and they started doing lengths! We both found this rather amusing.

After the swimming session, I was lucky enough to get to have an interview with Stephanie.

Me interviewing Stephanie

It went something like this:

Me: What was Rio like?

Stephanie: It was perfect! There was lots of transport, which was helpful.

Me: What is your favourite memory of Rio?

Stephanie: Winning my first gold in 100m backstroke. I knew I could win it, but I still hurt my hand on the bar.

Me: Do you have any regrets?

Stephanie: Only hurting my hand on the bar!

Me: Do you have any more ambitions?

Stephanie: Getting into the Olympics/Paralympics and getting a gold medal was my main ambition, but I still want to inspire people and children to be better people.

Me: What is your daily routine?

Stephanie: After I get up, I go down to the pool and do some pre-pool exercises (activation exercises or warm up).I then do a 2hr swim before stretching. When I get home, I eat and rest. At 2pm I have a gym session, some more pre-pool exercises, another 2hr swim and ½ an hour of stretching (cool down). After that, I have more food! I swim about 50,000 metres each week and roughly 6-7000 metres every day. Each week I have nine swim sessions and four gym sessions.

Me: What is your favourite kind of cake?

Stephanie: Oooh….Chocolate cake…or maybe all cake. Yes. Cake.

I completely agree with her on this!

She also gave me a few tips swimmer to swimmer on hair care and the best brand of swimming costumes.

I hope you all enjoyed this blog. I myself enjoyed doing it and meeting Stephanie. I would like to thank Stephanie for just being the lovely, kind person she is and for being an amazing inspiration, not just in sport, but for showing that getting an illness such as MS is not the end of your life and that you can still be a thoroughly good person.

‘Staying out for the Summer (playing games in the rain)’

(Dodgy, 1994)


After spending the winter months confined to our Guide hut and other indoor spaces, the cabin fever well and truly sets in. Our excitement and anticipation heads skywards as we eagerly await the clocks changing in March. From then on it’s The Great Outdoors for us, as we seek out Challenge badges, Interest badges and Go For Its that can be earned through al fresco activities. Often a case of the girls suggesting something they’d like to do and we Leaders trying to find a badge they can earn by doing it!

This spring and summer we’ve done the Outdoor Action Challenge, which our Leaders particularly enjoyed, as there were some ‘proper old skool’ guiding activities involved, rekindling our own memories of the fun we had as Guides. We made and flew our own kites, sent morse code and semaphore messages across a lake (in the rain), built shelters, lit fires, cooked dampers, pioneered flag poles and flew the Union flag, explored a local woodland, and followed Swindon’s network of cycle paths from the Oasis leisure centre to Lydiard Park.

Experience had taught us that our girls generally work better in their patrols or small groups, in a space where they can spread out and work together on a relatively short activity before swapping and trying something else. With this in mind, we did the Five Senses Go For It, spending a lovely sunny evening in the garden of a picturesque farm in Braydon, the home of one of our Guides. This was followed by a sensory walk along the towpath of the Wilts and Berks Canal we finished the GFI at Lydiard Park with a barbecue (in the rain) and various other activities. My particular favourite was ‘feel the potato’!

Still to come, we’re embracing the British summer and heading to Cirencester’s historic open-air swimming pool, and sailing at Coate Water as part of the Fastnet Challenge, we’re having a tour of Swindon Town Football Club’s stadium followed by a bit of footie on the training pitches, and we’ve got a weekend camp in deepest, darkest Gloucestershire, where we’ll be working on ‘I’m a survivor Girl Guide, get me out of here!’ Challenge.

We sometimes get asked by parents (usually the newbies) “Are we still meeting at <insert outdoor location> tonight? It’s raining!” and our answer is always “Yes, keep calm, put your waterproofs on, and carry on”. The British weather is too unpredictable to do anything else. They stop asking after a while.

So save your cooking (unless on a camp fire) and crafts (unless it’s the bush variety) for the cold, dark winter months. Get outside, make the most of light evenings, play games (in the rain if necessary) and get girls doing things they wouldn’t be doing if they were at home.

Inspire. Educate. Enjoy!


Heather Ponting-Bather, Liz Radford, Karen Rogers, Loren May, Nicola Lamb, Louise Radford and Laura Leighfield

The team at 1st Royal Wootton Bassett Guides


Flag waving to flag burning

Thanks to Rebecca Booth for this blog post!

On Saturday 16th of April, guide leaders from Wiltshire North, met at Chilton Farm Campsite to take part in some adult leader activities.  Astronomy, camp cooking, geocaching, slacklining and kayaking.  After lunch Pam Penney called us all down to the campfire to take part in a small ceremony.  After assembling in a small horseshoe around the fire an ancient Union flag, covered with darns and patches where it had been lovingly mended over the years, and a flag for the 1st Malmsbury unit, that no longer exists, which was also old and filled with small holes after years of storage.

To end the life of a flag we do not leave it alone to decay in a corner.  Its duty finished, the finality is to reduce it to ashes, as we do here.  Keep the ashes and perpetuate the memories through a campfire with friends and likeminded groups.

What are flags? What are they for?

Flags or umbrellas say “follow me! I will lead you” flags flying mean loyalty at a sporting challenge. Flags for identification of an area, or group of people.  Flags send messages, semaphore.  Flags in front of cars used to warn of their approach and show they do not travel at more than four miles an hour The Queen’s flag flies to show she is in residence.

Flags send out messages in times of war, or at times of truce to end fighting. To lead the soldiers to war and to escape when the going gets tough.  Our Union Flag depicts the union of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. We carry it, or fly it as a sign of union.

Our world flag is a union of guiding around the world. It is a constant when everything around us is changing, for whatever reason.

The trefoil for our threefold promise.  Blue and yellow for the sun, sea, and sky which joins us together.  The breaks in the trefoil to show we let others join our ever increasing numbers in guiding.


The flags were added to the fire one at a time and we stood over them until they had burned to ashes.  Some of the ashes from the flag were added to the ash box in the camp hut to be added to new fires in the future, connecting the fires the guides make today with the fires of the guides who have gone before them.

Going back to my roots

Last night was the first meeting for our new Guide unit. Nine girls aged 10 & 11 arrived at the hall. Four I knew from Brownies, I knew the others by sight or through their parents as we live in a small village with a small village school. Our other leader is new to the area and so knows none of the girls. Our agreed description of the new Guides = LOUD.

The girls unpacked the crate of things bought for them as a starter pack by the Brownies, screeching with excitement over tennis balls, a parachute, notebooks, pens, and even the washing up bowls, sponges & wipes. We rushed outside to use the parachute, playing cat & mouse, sharks, and any other parachute game the girls could think of in quick succession.

Back inside they embarked on decoupage & scrabble picture frames to inspire them and help them to think about their Promise. We enjoyed hot chocolate and giant marshmallows, and talked about what they would like to do this term. “Go to Hawaii” one shouted eagerly… We’re already booked on the STRATEGY weekend run by Gloucestershire Scouts & Guides, we talked about the Big Gig, and agreed that an overnight trip to Bristol to visit the Aquarium, @Bristol and the Zoo might be more achievable than Hawaii.

They’ve chosen their patrols & patrol names, chosen which Go For It project they will work on, chosen what they will do for the next few weeks (ice-cream hikes, cooking, pet evening, camp preparation) and how they would like to celebrate their Promise. They’ve all contributed to unit Guidelines which we’ll sign next week.

At the end of the evening it was hard to get them quiet to learn Taps. They were bubbling with excitement as they returned to their parents. One parent stopped me this morning to say how much her shy daughter had enjoyed herself – I had seen no sign of shyness from a girl who had organised the others into a game. I heard some of the girls talking to a friend at the school gate about all the things they are planning with Guides, the friend replied that she was doing the same thing. “No you’re not, you’re not a Guide” came the fierce response. I’m not sure about the “them & us” attitude, but am truly amazed and rewarded by the pride they already feel in their Guide unit.

I am a Guide leader. And the new Guides have reminded me why.

Who knew Rainbows weren’t rubbish?


Regular readers of this irregular blog will know that the “editor” is a Guide leader who accidentally holding the fort for six weeks at the village Rainbow & Brownie unit. That was three years ago. As another (lovely) guiding blog says “when life gives you Brownies, make Guides”. And so that is what I have done. I don’t always remember that Brownies are organised in Sixes not patrols. I don’t always remember that “tidy up” is not specific enough for Rainbows who need to be told to put lids on pens, pens in boxes, boxes in cupboard… I haven’t changed the activities I organise, although obviously expectations, end results and assistance required are adjusted to be age appropriate. I have got much better at risk assessments (last term’s activities were focused on fire. Only one Rainbow set fire to her hair.)

A couple of weeks ago we held a Rainbow sleepover. 16 of our 25 Rainbows came along. They had chosen a Minion* theme. They asked for a bouncy castle (we found a Minion branded bouncy castle). They chose party food for their lunch. We did a glow-stick trail round the park. We made minion versions of everything. They didn’t go to sleep until gone 11pm, and the littlest ones were up during the night needing support.

In the morning we asked them to get dressed and pack their things up. When we went into the sleeping room 10 minutes later, all were dressed, almost all had their things (including beds) packed away and the older ones were helping & organising the younger ones.

Later that morning, after breakfast, the girls were baking cupcakes to be decorated (as minion faces); spontaneously they started singing. In rounds. With no help from us. In my humble opinion, singing girls are happy girls. I was thrilled to see how the girls cooperated with each other.

A Guide leader friend commented “who knew Rainbows weren’t rubbish?” My experience is that if you consistently set high expectations, and offer support to make those expectations achievable, the girls usually deliver. I wouldn’t hesitate to organise another similar sleepover for the girls, and the leaders really enjoyed themselves too.

Of course the following Tuesday, the “simple”; “5 minute” craft I had organised went spectacularly wrong. But that’s a different blog. And is equally true for Guides as for Rainbows…


*Other brand names may be claimed as the property of others.


Facing her greatest fear

Guest blogger: Sharon Yeates

I had a great treat in store for the girls! As part of our Friends to Animals badge I had arranged for my friend to bring in one of her highly trained poodles. The girls would learn all about how to feed, groom and look after a dog. But the crowning glory was that this poodle has been trained to move to music. Celine the ‘dancing dog’ would perform her tricks. And the girls would be given the opportunity to put her through her paces!

I reassured any girls that were nervous they could sit at a safe distance to watch proceedings. One parent had written to me to say her daughter would probably not attend as she is very frightened of dogs. So on the evening I was delighted to find that all the Brownies turned up, including the girl with the fear of dogs. We all enjoyed the demonstration and when the girls were asked if they wanted to come out one by one and command Celine, I was gobsmacked to find that every single Brownie did. Even the Brownie with the ‘big fear’.

I felt so proud of the Brownies, but most of all I was humbled by that 7-year old. It must have taken a lot of courage to not only come to the meeting, but to stand face to face with her biggest fear. She commanded the dog to do her tricks and at the end of the evening she even stroked her. It was an experience which she will hopefully carry with her for a long time and I was reminded how guiding can make a ‘positive difference’ to the girls’ lives and confidence.

I sent a note and photos to her mother to say how well it went and she sent me this reply.

“Thank-you so much for your email and the pictures, I cannot explain how nice it is to see that after years of panics and screaming from her (she even had hypnotherapy at one point as she refused to walk to school in case she saw a dog). She is better now but still very wary.

I am pleased she coped with it so well and thank you for supporting her (and the other girls) it looks like they really enjoyed it and she was certainly buzzing when she got home. “

That says it all, I think!!

Glad tidings of comfort and joy


Whilst Black Friday appeals to our base instinct for a bargain; most of the big retailers and their adverts at Christmas try to embody those wonderful lines from The Grinch ” What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!” (despite the obvious objective to get us to spend more at their stores and websites).

Think John Lewis’ Man on The Moon (buy an extra present to give to someone lonely); Sainsburys’ First World War advert last year (chocolate can solve all problems, even war); you might also have seen German supermarket Edeka’s guilt trip of an advert this year where a grandfather has to fake his own funeral to bring his family together or the Dolmio-style puppets advertising the Spanish lottery Christmas draw  (OK, these all made me cry).

For children this time of year is often filled with treats, Christmas parties, sparkling fairy lights and excitement. Trying to remind them that maybe Christmas means a little bit more can be an uphill battle.

At Rainbows, Brownies & Guides, as well as Christmas crafts, performing at the Scout & Guide Carol service (Collection for our local food bank), and our end of term celebrations, we wrapped soaps in flannels and decorated them as reindeer (Thanks Aldbourne Brownies for the idea). Next Friday we will deliver them to a local dementia care home. herdreindeer2

Other units have been asking girls to donate pocket money for those less fortunate, filling shoe boxes with small gifts for children impacted by domestic violence, carol singing to raise funds for charities and many other community action projects that remind the girls that not everyone is as lucky as them and that they can make a real difference.

So we can be proud that we offer our children a chance to understand the real meaning of Christmas. It’s not some over commercialised, overly sentimental, idealised version of family life. It’s not about turkey or goose, how crispy your roast potatoes are, or what we lovingly refer to at camp as SPS, sponge pudding syndrome, that bloated feeling you get after eating so much that you feel you may never move again. It’s not even about the wonder of small children as they realise Father Christmas really did visit, and the reindeer left carrot tops on the floor as proof. It’s a chance, not limited to Christmas, to help those less fortunate than ourselves and to spread a little happiness.

Fireworks and small children. What could possibly go wrong?


Risk assessment.

Two words that can strike fear and dread into even the most sensible minds and hearts.

This week at my Rainbow & Brownie unit we’re celebrating Bonfire Night. Which will involve real fire, and real sparklers, which glow at up to 2000 degrees Celsius. What could possibly go wrong?

There are two ways to look at risk. One, educate young people to understand risks and dangers, and how to offset, mitigate or manage those risks. Two, wrap yourself & your child in cotton wool, then bubble wrap, and stay inside forever. Although even then you have risks to consider – making sure airways are not covered by bubble wrap, that movement is not impeded  by cotton wool, that you can still fit through doorways etc. So really we’re left with option one – educate our young people to recognise and manage risks.

Fireworks Night is a great example of this. We could steer well clear. But actually few children get to experience sparklers or fireworks up close these days because most attend large public fireworks displays where sparklers are banned. There’s much less talk of the Fireworks Safety Code. So teaching about the dangers AND letting them experience the magic of those golden glowing sparklers is valuable.

So. Risk Assessment.

Sparklers spark. So wear gloves. Adults bring spare gloves just in case. And the first aid kit is out ready.

Sparklers get hot. Very hot. Even when they’ve fizzled out. So we put out lots of buckets of water. Sparklers are put into the water as soon as they are finished. Or if anyone is too frightened to hold theirs.

Sparklers get hot and could burn someone very easily. So we start in a large circle. The girls all extend their arms and make sure they cannot touch anybody else. Then we give them their sparklers.

Fireworks/sparklers are dangerous, so we up our adult to child ratio, each adult taking responsibility for lighting, supporting and extinguishing 4 or 5 Brownie sparklers. This also means we can encourage those who are nervous.

And some of them are nervous, especially after we’ve just given them a scary safety talk on how 3 sparklers have the same heat as a blowtorch – but the safety talk is another important part of the risk management.

If you’re reading this thinking “well that’s all just common sense”, that’s exactly what a risk assessment is. It’s about evaluating the benefit against the dangers of an activity and then applying common sense.

One of the aims of this blog is to inspire you to think that you could do this guiding thing too. Hopefully now a fear of risk assessments won’t stop you…

Sssshhhh – we’re in the library


I went into the library on Monday. It felt odd. Still. Quiet. Ordered and orderly.

At midnight on Saturday it felt anything but. Books were off shelves. Books were on the wrong shelves. Books were clutched by one hand and torches pointed by the other, illuminating narrow windows into other worlds, from Rainbow Magic fairies and Hogwarts wizards to Michael Morpugo’s portrayals of life through other eyes.

Sleeping bags rustled. Airbeds squeaked. 62 Brownies wriggled and giggled. Leaders shushed and caught up on Facebook, twitter, online shopping and e-mail. We got to bed at about 1:30am. The first Brownies woke up at 5:15am. In between there was an almost rhythmic appearance of sensor controlled lights as a steady stream of girls got up for a wee. I had foolishly billed this as a library sleepover. Please don’t tell advertising standards, as there was very little sleep involved.

We did spend the night surrounded by books. We made book marks and book covers. We made a giant book sculpture to show what you can find at the library. We had a scavenger hunt around the library and looked for answers in books. We shared books we loved and discovered new ones to cherish. We all took a book home, and even left some behind for the library. We met old friends and made new ones. We ate together. We shared together. We worked and learned and had fun together.

Our Promise talks about serving our community. So living as a community, playing a part in that community, learning the roles that need to be fulfilled in a community is vital for our young people. Even if that community was only 14 hours long… At every event I am always amazed at the number of girls who say they favourite bit was eating all together, or just being with their Rainbow/Brownie/Guide friends. Together is important.

And so, although I was so tired I fell asleep at 8pm without finishing my glass of wine, what I will take away is memories of the library not still, or quiet, or ordered, but full of life, inspiration, friendship, fun and sleeping bags. As more than one Brownie parent has put it in their lovely notes of thanks “memories to last a lifetime”.

And that’s probably why we do this game called guiding.

City Hop by Hannah Webb


Senior Section member Hannah describes this summer’s international trip.

After much planning and getting to know each other the day arrived when I and twelve  others set off for 10 days travelling across Europe. Having travelled by coach we got the Eurostar to our first destination Brussels. This was my first experience of youth hostelling. We also met a Guiding friend who informed us of good places to visit within the city. After spending the next day exploring Brussels we got the train to Amsterdam. After being unable to get into the Anne Frank museum we found a cheese museum in which we tried many varieties. Late that evening we got a train to Hamburg then on to Copenhagen the next day, where we spent 2 nights, therefore giving us lots of time to explore the city including visiting the little mermaid statue and eating Danish pastries, seeing as though we were in Denmark, and also do some laundry. The train journey to Stockholm, being 6 hours, was the longest journey of the trip. However the hostel in Stockholm was one of my favourites as it was on a boat in the harbour. Stockholm was the last destination where we slept in a hostel as for the next four nights we camped on a small Swedish scout island. While on the island we did many activities including sailing, building a shelter, swimming in the sea and of course a Swedish sauna. We shared the island with Scouts who were friendly and welcoming. Over all the City Hop 2015 was an amazing experience and I would like to thank everyone who helped me have the opportunity to attend the trip and the leaders who made it possible for us to go.