Scouting through COVID – We take a look back at the challenges of 2020.

The Christmas period always seems to bring a period of reflection, where those involved in scouting often take a flick back through the photos and reminisce over the amazing adventures we’ve had – it’s partly what keeps us all going. We know we are not alone, when we say that 2020 was ‘challenging’… for want of a better word! 1st Lightwater Scouts closed its doors in March 2020, with the Scout and Explorer sections (10-18 years) continuing with ‘Zoom’ sessions. The online meetings are of course no replacement for the energetic ‘hands on’ activities we usually undertake, but the feedback has been very generous and we know the sessions have been appreciated.

Recently our Chief Executive, Matt Hyde, and UK Chief Commissioner, Tim Kidd, talked about the pressures on the movement as a whole, flagging the difficult decisions and how ‘scouting optimism, generosity, resilience and spirit in adversity’ has been the lifeline. They, as do we, feel it’s important to keep everything in perspective. Nothing is more important than the safety and wellbeing of our families and friends. We give thanks to all key workers for the incredible work they do. However, there is an overwhelming opinion that ‘Scouting is simply too important to risk and we must adapt to survive’.

In the past 5 years 1,280 new sections have opened nationally, often in the most deprived communities; with a recent survey highlighting that many of these now find themselves at threat of closure. There’s no existing pool of money at Headquarters to distribute. So the movement is in discussion with Government, Community Fund, trusts, foundations and other funding bodies.

Picture: Part of the Chefs badge, via zoom

So, just how bad is it?

The movement aims to keep Scouts affordable (and not for profit), currently £40 a term (plus the cost of camps) at 1st Lightwater. We have not charged any fees throughout the duration of COVID due to varying degrees of closure. The main reason for fees being such good value is that we’ve been lucky to have incredible village support in our fundraising activities; the village bonfire and fireworks, the May fete stall, the Jumble Sales, the Xmas post, all of which have been impacted. We should also flag that even before the crisis hit, demands made on UK Headquarters were outstripping income and fundraising was increasingly vital at this level too.

In spite of action, Scouting as a whole ended 2018-19 with a c. £2.5m deficit and is likely facing a minimum of a £3.5m deficit for 2020-21, but it could be a lot more. The Head Office fee is £29 per youth member, per year (prompt payment discount to £28.50). 60% of this fee in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland is retained by the Nation Headquarters (40% goes to UK Headquarters). c. £21m is spent. c. £12m comes from membership contributions and the difference c.£9m is sought from commercial and fundraising income contributions such as (Scout Store, World Scout Shop, six Scout Adventures centres, Unity insurance, Conference centres, fundraising and investments). Alongside all this, the costs are rising in areas such as;

  • Investment in safeguarding services and safety support to keep young people safe. Fundamental and no compromise here.
  • Legal costs continue to mount, with a dramatic increase in the cost of claims. What’s unique to Scouts (and very few other national charities) is that these substantial claims are being met at the centre (Headquarters) even if an incident has taken place locally.
  • A rise in the number of complaints reaching headquarters, which are often complex with significant legal costs.

Figure: Where Scouting Headquarters distributes funds (2020)

Headquarters have been incredibly supportive and have made some significant changes in order for us to be in the best position to succeed, including;

  • A Grant Fund has been set up for those seeking help. Those local groups with a business account have been encouraged to seek support from Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund. Locally we more strongly encourage members to enable us to receive gift aid on any termly fees.
  • 56% of 337 national staff are furloughed on 80% of their salary, and utilising the Government grant to cover most staff costs. Staff kept on include those from the Safeguarding and Vetting, Finance, Legal and Communications Teams.
  • Stopped all but essential spending and recruitment, including stopping the production of Scoutingmagazine (with July 2020 being the last edition) which leads to a saving of £400,000 a year.
  • ‘Hike to the Moon’ raised an astonishing £320,000 for BBC Children in Need and Comic Relief, which will be match funded by the government, supporting the communities that need it most.
  • ‘Race around the world’ raised over £180,000, with Scouts fundraising by running a distance (Lightwater raised £189).
  • The Great Indoors’ was launched to support Scouts and families at home with over 150 fun, free activities. We use this in Lightwater to support our online sessions.
  • Scouts at Home’ was created to support online meetings and many Scout ambassadors (often celebrities) have taken part in live broadcasts via Facebook.
  • The Scout Insurance broker, Unity, has supported Scouts impacted by cancelled events.
  • Advice and support to stay safe and ways to safely help others has been created. Regularly updating FAQs – org.uk/coronavirus.
  • Some software has been made more readily available for local use.
  • Surrey County ran an online summer camp – ‘roar’, which Lightwater attended.
  • The ‘Great weekender’ was a national camp which Lightwater also joined in with.

Picture: Major Robinson helps us to understand the Army and we make Remembrance crosses using square lashings

The future of Scouting

At this stage (end of 2020) nothing is certain, other than costs will continue to increase and borrowing will happen at a national level. 1st Lightwater continues to use the small reserve it had saved from fundraising (let’s hope nothing happens to our hall or minibus!). It is expected local membership fees will go up in the coming years. However, we’re looking carefully at how we can minimise the impact and continue to engage and consult frequently before hard choices are made.

Bottom line – we have to find a way through as Scouting is too important to lose. Scouting has a history of pulling together for the national effort (since 1907) backed by our Chief Commissioner, who says ‘We will work together as a movement, do things differently if we need to, and support each other, because that is the strength of the movement’.

Finally, a big thank you for everything you do to support us, whether that’s watching a few of our fireworks or using our Xmas post service. You make a big difference and we wish you a happy and healthy 2021.

Picture: Investing some of our new scouts online (we always use our right hand to salute, but screen images have been mixed up here – oops!)