Almost 2,300 Bristolian kids are unable to join Scouts due to a volunteer shortage, according to a leading figure for the Avon division of the Scouts Association.
Despite the Scouts Association being considered the biggest mixed youth organisation in the United Kingdom, the waiting list for young people wanting to join has skyrocketed to 51,000, based on the most recent figures released on its website.
As the association requires a ratio of at least one Scout leader to every three children, the adult volunteer shortage has hit 17,000 in the whole country and Bristol is not the exception to the rule.
District Commissioner, Isabelle Mills says: “The waiting list for kids to join has never been that long. To bring the waiting list down we need more volunteers, but people think they are signed up for life and it is not like that. At this point your child might never get in, due to lack of volunteers.”
Katie Hobbs, 17, from Southmead, is a Beaver Young Leader who has been involved in Scouts activities since she was a baby, as she used to go to summer camp with her parents. She believes that Scouts should become adult volunteers after they turn 18, but this is rarely the case.
Hobbs says: “They need to stay involved and help the association expand more, because it gives children so many life skills and it helps them out a lot more than many other activities. So if we open up more, then more people can come in and then it attracts more, is just a cycle really.”
Graham Brant, County Commissioner for the Scouts in Bristol, considers that the main problem stems from the perception many people have of volunteering, as some believe it is not worth their time or effort.
Brant says: “Volunteering is not for everybody and life is complicated, but we also should focus on the positive: you get a lot out of volunteering and it is an opportunity to try things you have not done before.”
In order for the Scouts Association to get more people involved in volunteering they have made some changes to the requirements, such as having more flexible schedules – meaning that people can help in different ways and in different moments without a specific itinerary.
The organisation has also removed the age barrier and its religious affiliation. “People who are retired are the ones who have more time to give to Scouting. In the past we have lost some good people because they did not have a religion and now we think that as long as they have faith in human kind, they are welcome,” says Brant.
However, the criminal checking procedure that volunteers must go through before being hired may be a double-edged sword, especially for men willing to get involved.
Bristolian business man, Brendan Murphy – who is waiting to get into Scout adult volunteer programme – believes the DBS check may put people off when they try to volunteer: “It is a bureaucratic and slow process, so people can’t be bothered to go through that.”
Doug Waggett, 24, from Westbury on Trim, has been a Scout since he was a kid and when he turned 18 he became a volunteer and an adult leader for a Scout group in the area. “It was kind of a long process. There were a couple of months of DBS checks,” Waggett says.
Yet while many people who would like to join considers it a drawn-out process, some parents think background checks should be completed with even more scrutiny.
Jim Hira is a parent who volunteers as a football coach and has two kids in the Scouts. For him, the DBS checks are nothing but necessary: “I do not think is a deterrent; it must be part of the process. Parents need to feel comfortable that their children are going to a safe environment”.
County Comissioner, Graham Brant, adds: “We are looking to attract people of all walks of life to come and join us, whatever creed, sexuality, gender, race, etc. We work really close with Atlantic Data who process all our DBS and at the moment the waiting time is about 2 weeks.”
Isabelle Mills in her role as District Comissioner also plans to get more people involved through the use of social media and TV campaigns.
But the waiting list for kids to get into Scouts can definitely be shortened if parents proactively volunteer and call in other family members to do so as well.
Then, they may receive help with their children waiting process and also spend quality time with them.
Mills affirms: “When I contacted the group they said ‘there is no space, go to waiting list’ and at that time there was about 50 or 60 children waiting on that group so the only thing I could do was to volunteer and help.”