A Million Hands - and why I became a member of the Scouts in my sixties

A Million Hands - and why I became a member of the Scouts in my sixties

Yesterday I was interviewed on Woman’s Hour – the iconic (at least for me) Radio 4 programme that has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. The reason for this - well last month I was elected as the first female Chair of The Scout Association UK – the organisation founded in 1907 by Robert Baden-Powell and described by our current Chief Scout, Bear Grylls, as ‘the largest youth movement on the planet!’  Becoming a member of the worldwide movement of Scouts was an occasion for exploration, adventure, and enormous fun for me - as Scouting is every day for over half a million young people in the movement in this country.

It's a huge honour and an immense privilege to be given this opportunity to join the Scouts in my early sixties - because when I was six years old, back in the 1950's, this wasn't an option!

If you were born in inner city Manchester in 1953, and lived in Moss Side, as I did, becoming a Cub was not something girls did – and Beavers didn’t even exist then!  Even joining the Brownies - which I did when we moved out to the semi rural hinterland of Hazel Grove - was a definite act of social mobility only made possible by the fact that our new ‘middle class’ neighbour, Mrs Marsh, was Brown Owl and was also one of my primary school teachers. She had two young daughters of her own and wanted 2nd Hazel Grove Brownies to flourish so her own children could benefit and she invited me to join. I loved it and when I flew up - got my wings - and entered 1st Norbury Girl Guides, I had the time of my life and even became a Queen's Guide.

A tomboy at heart however, I always secretly coveted the green and yellow uniform of cubs! Next year, 2016, it’s the centenary of Cub Scouts and I shall be playing my part in fulfilling our strategy to 2018, Scouting for All, making sure the movement does as much as we can to encourage all young girls and boys to take part in the kind of practical social action and community service that all those years ago did so much to develop my own self esteem, confidence, resilience and ability to work with and lead others.

The Scout movement is based on a belief in ‘being prepared for everyday fun and adventure’ and as a Quaker ‘living adventurously’ characterises my own attitude to life. Scout values of respect, integrity, cooperation, care and exploring beliefs, attitudes and faiths align easily with my own Quaker values and Quaker testimonies. Both Scouts and Quakers also share a focus on practical social action and concern for others and for the environment, and our ambition is to create a more inclusive and integrated movement by growing and diversifying membership across all religious groups and amongst people of all faiths and none. At my recent investiture therefore it felt entirely appropriate for me, as a Quaker, to take the Scout alternative promise ‘to uphold Scout values’.

I’m also delighted to be taking on this role at a time when Scouts have embarked upon another period of transformation particularly through extensive engagement in large-scale life-changing community projects - such as Better Prepared and A Million Hands. 

Better Prepared is a campaign backed by the Duchess of Cambridge to reach out to young people in the 200 most deprived communities in the country helping them to develop leadership and team work skills and build self confidence and resilience. This is one manifestation of the significant modernisation that is taking place across Scouting today as well as being a fitting echo of Baden-Powell’s founding motivation in establishing the movement - to enhance the life chances of young boys from the East End of London by getting them out of the inner city to learn new skills together in the open air.

When the Scout Association asked young people what social issues most concerned them, the answers that came back were dementia, disability, mental health, and the availability of clean water and sanitation. This gave rise to A Million Hands  - a nationwide social action campaign enabling scout groups to engage in a range of informal learning activities related to those four issues, at the same time as encouraging a million volunteers to support the work of the six major UK charities devoted to those concerns - namely The Alzheimer’s Society, Guide Dogs, Leonard Cheshire, Mind, WaterAid and The Canal & River Trust. Together with these charities, and with the Prince of Wales’s ‘Step Up to Serve’ programme, the Scout Association hopes to achieve lasting community impact by involving a million young people in vital social action projects in their localities and by inspiring tens of thousands more adults to commit to some form of voluntary work.

A recent article in The Observer referring to my appointment made much of the fact that I was the first woman to take on this position and as such could be considered a role model for more girls and young woman to join the Scouting movement. In fact Scout groups have admitted girls for over thirty years and during the last ten years our youth membership overall has steadily increased, so that today 43% of our volunteer leadership are women and 20% of our youth membership are young women. The time was perhaps right then to have a woman Chair of the Board of Trustees and I’d certainly be delighted if by the end of my term of office in 2021, we’d increased the number of young people involved in scouting  – whether they are girls or boys. What’s important to me personally is to undertake some adult volunteering. It was Baden-Powell himself who observed that ‘there’s nothing more impressive for a child than to see unselfish behaviour in an adult’.  I’ve been involved in Quaker social action both locally and nationally for over 20 years now and so for me this wonderful opportunity to lead The Scout Association is simply another a way of putting my Quaker beliefs into action - and offering my life skills and experience as an adult volunteer to a movement, that as a Brownie and Guide, profoundly changed my life!

To acknowledge this memorable occasion for me personally, and to record a landmark moment for the Scout Association, I cycled 60 miles from Buckingham Palace to Windsor Castle to raise money for The Prince’s Trust, in recognition of our joint work on The Prince of Wales’ ‘Step Up to Serve’ campaign. In turn, one of my dearest friends, Lynne Sedgmore, celebrating her special birthday today, , inspired by my investiture and developing an idea suggested by one of my other dearest friends, Kirstie Donnelly, wrote a poem about the occasion. I am blessed they are in my life and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to serve the worldwide movement of Scouts.

New Chair of Scouts Investiture

(An Investiture poem for Dr Ann Limb CBE DL September 2015 by Dr Lynne Sedgmore
CBE poet and priestess)

A world with myriad complexities each day
Needs timeless truths, as signs, to show the way.
On wild and windy paths, and paths well known
Scouts walk together - their values continually shown.
Fostering the power, grace and nobility of youth
Serving a vision they live collectively in truth.

Honouring Baden-Powell, the traditions they hold
In Dyb Dob Dyb, in adventures both new and old.
The hiking and camping and learning of skills
Personal development that deeply fulfils.
Wearing scout badges accomplished with pride
Our Million Hands extend both far and wide.

Today Ann pledges allegiance from the depths of her soul
As new Chair of Scouts in this honoured new role.
Serving with Chief Scout Bear Grylls, through integrity, humility and care
Providing stability for Scouts to continue to dream - and to dare.
Encouraging soaring heights, enabling depths new and vast
But always learning wisdom from Scout history and past.

Ann as a woman who leads and consults through spirit of grace
May God and the Queen bless and inspire in your new leadership space.

Dr Lynne Sedgmore CBE

Posted on: 23/10/2015