Some of you may be new to this blog and not realise how little spare time I actually have, if you read some of the old posts and the All about me link the you will see that my life is very full on and spare time is something of a premium in my world. But being involved in Girl Guiding is something very important to me and so I make time for it.
Actually, thinking about it my experience as a Girl Guide has really shaped a lot of my approach to life although maybe I didn't know it at the time. Like many women my age I was a Brownie (no Rainbows in my day) and once I turned 10 I moved up to Guides. Those who know me well will not be surprised to learn that I embraced everything about Guiding, I did every badge I could, I entered every competition, I read my Guiding Handbook from cover to cover and I achieved the ultimate Guiding accolade - The Queen's Guide Award.
Yes, I have kept my old Guide uniform!
I loved the camping, I loved the badges, I loved the camaraderie - it was just great to be with other teenage girls and just have fun and learn some useful life skills at the same time. And that was why when she was old enough I sent Xanthe to Rainbow Guides, so that she could have the same experience that I had. Daisy was a Rainbow for a while but sadly her medical demands mean that an evening meeting at Brownies is just too much for her to handle...
When Xanthe started Guides, Daisy had just come home after a 12 month stint in hospital. I really felt that I had missed out on so much time with my other children that when she came home to say the Guide Unit was at risk of closure as the Guide Leader was leaving I decided to make time to volunteer as the new leader and keep the unit open.
So every Tuesday evening for the past three years I spend two hours of my time with 24 girls aged between 10 & 14 . Then there are the trips, camps, extra meetings, planning, shopping for resources. Yes, it eats into my family time but once again Guiding has given me so much. It gives me time when I am me - not Daisy's or Theo's or any of the children's mum, I have got to know some lovely girls who are all keen to just enjoy the girl's only space guiding allows, where they can just let their hair down and have fun. There are so many pressures on girls these days to conform to fashion, look good, say the right thing, at least when they come to Guides they are allowed to be their own person.
Guiding has changed and adapted over the year since I was a little girl. The uniform is very different and so are the badges and programmes. I'm sure my Guide leader didn't have the forms to fill and paperwork to complete which seems to be par for the course with anything these days, but I have learned and done so much as a result of my involvement with Guiding. We have run sessions on a huge range of things, from Fairtrade to Beekeeping, we have had Indian and African Evenings, talked about self image and airbrushing in women's magazines, learned to make Pizza, gone climbing, canoeing and spent time doing Zumba & Yoga. The girls love making up plays and cooking so they will always find a way to incorporate this into any activity - even doing their first aid badge involved some very dramatic scenarios!
I have been away with the girls, we've had campfires and sing songs and had the opportunity to visit some great places from seeing Meercats at a Zoo to singing along to Olly Murs at GirlGuiding's Big Gig at the Birmingham NEC to visiting Cadbury World. I have gained as much out of it as the girls.
And this is the point of volunteering. It's a two way street - I hope I am giving the Guides experiences and equipping them with skills that they will take with them through life and I am having fun too. I run the group with another leader, Ruth. Last year Ruth spent her summer in Malawi training young women to become Guide Leaders and grow guiding in their country. She's going back there this summer. Guiding relies on thousands of volunteers like Ruth and I to do what we do - either in a little church hall in the suburbs of London or thousands of miles away in Africa.
Without the women who ran the Brownie and Guide units I was a part of when growing up I would not have had some of the experiences that have shaped my approach to life and how I deal with the situations I find myself in as a parent with a very complicated family mix. Pressures on my family time mean that from September I am going to have to scale back on some of my Guiding commitments, but I am not giving them up, I'm just going to use my skills differently. So I'll help Ruth behind the scenes more with the planning side and only attend a couple of meetings a term, but I also hope to help advise other units on disability issues and how to support girls with additional needs who join Guiding.
It's National Volunteers Week in the UK and I'm raising my glass to all the people I know personally who volunteer in so many ways; through Guiding and Scouting, in our hospice, Young Carers groups, Charity Shops, helping to keep our local library open, as Special Police Officers, Army Cadets, St John Ambulance, at the local City Farm, running the local youth club, the Parent teacher's Organisation, School Governors, organising the local Park Run, running rugby and football teams.....the list goes on and on. Thank you for making a difference.
And for those of you who keep meaning to get involved in something remember that volunteering is a two way street, you may give your time, but you get so much back.