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.

Summertime…and the living is… smokey

One morning this weekend as I headed out for a run (I scared a hare and can attest that Aesop was wrong, hares are faster than tortoises!) I had a Proust/Madeleine moment. Mbelly senses took me to a different place. I could smell summer. The dew evaporating, the birds singing, the quality of the light. I suddenly yearned for camp.

When I was a Guide, camp was the highlight of the year. For a tween/teen a whole week away from parents was a dream in itself. But I loved the traditions and rituals: bedding rolls, brailings, knots and mallets. That first moment when you emerge from your tent in the morning and the camp is so still that rabbits are grazing. The sight of ridge tents and bell tents floating and flying with only their guy ropes to tether them to the ground. That in the middle of the night you had to go to the lats in pairs, and we were so scared of what might be in the woods that one would stand with their head stuck out of the toilet tent, singing loudly to give the other some privacy, because we couldn’t bear to be stood outside by ourselves.

As an adult, camp is different. It’s a lot more hard work. Filing forms. Planning. Sorting equipment to go; packing up equipment at the end. Weather forecasts are watched fanatically to understand the best window of opportunity to strike camp in the dry, otherwise we have to hang & rehang tents until they are dry. Am I selling this?

So why do I still love camp? You get to know the girls much better, see them develop leadership & teamwork skills, gain confidence, enjoy new experiences – from sleeping under the stars or abseiling to chopping an onion. I get to see my guiding friends, enjoying stories and camaraderie around the campfire. We get to eat food that only exists properly at camp: eggy bread and sponge pudding (not together, although once we did because the sponge pudding took days to cook).

But mostly because there is something about the sound of a tent zip, the scent of the dew, the early morning light, the smoke from getting the fire going and the silence of sleeping Guides that appeals. Those few minutes each morning truly feel like the impossible dream of  getting away from it all…

Never again…

Back in March, our unit organised a Mothers’ Day Brunch. Approximately 20 Rainbows & Brownies cooked muffins, prepared fruit salads and flipped pancakes for around 75 of their friends and family. In advance leaders weighed out ingredients, typed up & laminated recipes, ordered on-line groceries & borrowed kitchen equipment. On the day a dedicated team of adults supervised enthusiastic girls. We worked from 7:30am – 1pm. We were grateful for the use of Lucy’s oven on the other side of the park, when ours was not cooking quickly enough. We were at least as grateful for Gary’s flash frying of sausages when the oven was still not cooking quickly enough and people started to arrive. Parents had a marvellous time, “the best mothers’ day ever” and “like my birthday, I was spoilt rotten and surrounded by friends”. Leaders went home to put their feet up and have a drink of something stronger than tea whilst vowing never, ever to do it again. “Flower arranging next year” I said, thinking we could get some-one in to show us how…

This week, one of our Brownies left because her family is moving abroad. She sent us a thank you note. Her favourite experience at Brownies was the Brunch. Not going canoeing, the weekend away on Brownsea Island or the sleepover at the Soft Play Centre. Her mum told me that she had loved the independence & responsibility of being given the recipe for pancakes and then just left to get on with it. Something she had never had the opportunity to do before. Something she will remember for life. And that’s what this guiding adventure is all about really…

We’re still making posies for next year’s Mothers Day.

I don’t know how she does it…

We are lucky that the parents of girls in our village unit appreciate & support us. I hear “Thank you,” (you’re welcome) “I don’t know how you do it,” (sometimes neither do I) and “I’d love to help, but I just don’t have the time” (read on). Some parents think we are superheroes with special talents and skills that make us able to give our time  to empower, educate and enthuse the girls.

We are not. We are ordinary. We are just like you. We have families. We have jobs and careers. We have homes (which in my case might be a bit messier than yours). We juggle. Sometimes we drop a ball or two.

We believe. We believe in what Girlguiding stands for, because we benefited when we were younger and/or because we see our children benefiting. We believe that individuals can make a difference – to one person, to a small group of girls, to a community.

So we promise to do our best, to keep laws about using our time and abilities wisely and about facing challenges.  We work together as teams to make more happen:

1) The outdoor boating team are organizing canoeing this weekend, all the unit leader has to do is collect consent forms & fees, thank you Heather & Mark!

2) This week our unit went to Pets at Home for their Friend to Animal badge. Not organised by me. Next week we have Guide Dogs for the Blind coming. Also not organised by me. Thank you Marianne & Katie!

3) We ran a Rainbow adventure afternoon in April. Every unit in the district brought along 2 activities, so each leader had only a little bit to do.

My belief that our daughters deserve every possible opportunity is not different from yours. What skills and time do you have? How could you help? There are many different roles that need volunteer help: as a charity all our accounts need to be checked, could you help? If DIY is your thing, many units or areas need help maintaining property – cutting grass, making minor repairs, building pizza ovens (thanks Matt Bather). Are you a web wizard or a social media guru? Could you show a group how to make sugarcraft roses or how to mend a puncture? Do you know your fungi from your mushrooms? Would you like to gain skills in any of these areas? Girlguiding has volunteer roles on offer from weekly to quarterly or annual commitments, from men, women, old, young, all backgrounds.

And what will you get back in return? Expenses covered, altruism, new skills, something for your CV. Better mental health. Better resilience to illness. Better self esteem. All proven benefits of volunteering for a cause you care about.

But also: New friends. Fun. Laughter. And having somebody think you are a superhero…

girl superhero

My Guiding Stars


Next week, 1-7 June, is National Volunteers’ Week. It’s designed both as an opportunity to thank the wonderful people who volunteer to make our community a better place, and to highlight the benefits and opportunities available through volunteering. And because I lack imagination, this blog will address the first goal, and a blog later in the week will attempt to explain why YOU(yes, you looking round hopefully for somebody else to step up, and you staring at your feet) should volunteer.

So, my list of guiding stars, the women who have made me who I am (for better and worse). Obviously my mum. My mum supported us in everything we did – she ran the local cub unit for 3 years; helped out at school events, jumble sales, coffee mornings and more. She taught me that being part of a community is to give and take, that we have a responsibility to create the community we want to live in.

I don’t remember my Brown Owl at all. I’m sure she was lovely. My Guide Captain, Chris Richards, was something else. In her care I learnt to camp, light fires, read maps, treat burns, make coconut ice, tie knots. I don’t remember her teaching me any of these things. I remember marching into a horseshoe, with Captain instructing us to salute or fall out. I remember singing. A lot. I sang those songs to lull my babies to sleep 25 years later. And with hindsight I see how special she was, to create a truly girl led space, where patrol leaders led and adults were almost invisible.

As part of my Baden-Powell trefoil, aged 14, I ran a survey of friends and family. In 1988 there was no Survey-Monkey, I wrote 20 copies of the questions out by hand. And discovered that my gran was a Guide in the 1920s, trailblazing by gaining her swimming badge. One aunt was a Guide through WWII, another gained her Queens Guide – she is still active in guiding today. They showed how guiding moves with the times, but also how our core values are constant.

My Ranger leaders were also pretty special. They gave us the support to organise our own programme and understood that life pressures limited our participation. I still have my Bere Forest Rangers sweatshirt and wear it with pride each camp.

Dawn Sedgley for showing me how to be a guider, before any mentor scheme existed. I still hope to be as good as you. One day.

And then a long list of now friends and inspirations, who over the years have shared my guiding adventures. The camping team, who now bring together Guides from Melksham, Purton & Woodside just because we can’t imagine camping with anyone else. Wiltshire North leaders, who are all so friendly and welcoming. My unit team, for bringing such enthusiasm as they start on their guiding adventure.

But most of all, my guiding stars now are the girls who amaze me with their energy, achievements, attitude and unalloyed joy.

Author: Elaine Cook

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