2020 started with Explorers doing all the things they usually do, like a visit to Lochgoilhead by Wildfire, a Pentland District treasure hunt round the New Town, and a ski trip to France by Greenbank.
Wildfire Explorer Scout Unit
However, thanks to the imagination and effort put in by leaders, there has been a lot of Exploring this year, adapted to fit into the constantly changing constraints imposed by the pandemic. Activity moved online, with Zoom providing a platform for Unit meetings and training, and this continues to form part of a hybrid model as some face-to-face Scouting becomes possible again.
Involvement of young people to provide ideas and run online sessions
Expeditions for 59 Explorers in the Pentlands and a group preparing for Silver and Gold canoeing
New Units including Longcraig ESU
Moving on from Scouts to Explorers, including completion of CSA Gold
Network and adult roles encouraged, with input from Explorers
Above all, however, we should highlight the fact that there are still a lot of Explorers actively involved, and this is down to the commitment and effort of many leaders and young people. Many thanks to all, and let’s hope that the report on 2021 will be much more normal.
During the Covid pandemic there have been many challenges to continuing Young Leader (YL) training – it’s not possible to hold face 2 face meetings as normal; leaders have been under additional personal demands/pressures and don’t have the same time available; in larger geographic districts it’s not practical to travel longer distances for District training, Explorers have been locked down at home.
There have been a couple of very creative approaches in Braid/Pentland and Craigalmond to continue to support a Top Award and valuable leadership skills training for Explorers, which are outlined below. Given the ongoing uncertainty around how Scouting can take place, it is important that we continue to offer the best possible experience to all our young people, including Young Leaders and the sections they support. The key to delivering YL training has to be flexibility, using online technology to supplement or replace traditional f2f sessions while providing as much interaction as possible – for instance, by using older YLs to lead breakout sessions. It could be that we end up with better methods of delivery than before! Grateful thanks are due to all those who have managed to keep YL training going. Leaders from other Districts are welcome to get in touch with John Buchanan to discuss YL training: firstname.lastname@example.org
Craigalmond – Using Zoom and Explorers who have completed their YL Belt training to facilitate online workshops
With the start of the lockdown in March the Craigalmond YL team wanted to help the 100 Young Leaders in the District to progress with their Modules when much of their normal activities and Scouting was impacted, with online training via Zoom as our preferred option, but with the challenge of keeping as many of the positives of face-face training where Young Leaders from different Units work together in teams on practical groupwork, and there is the opportunity for discussion, Q&A and feedback throughout the session.
After a pilot Zoom session, the detailed feedback from Young Leaders was very positive, with 87% agreeing it was as effective as previous training, 93% that the group exercises worked, 99% that the trainer provided the right amount of support during the session, and 87% felt more confident understanding their section.
Based on this, a total of 5 weekly sessions ran in June/July, with an average of 20 Young Leaders attending each session, with 97 Modules completed in all. A majority (38%) preferred the Zoom-based training which surprised us, with 29% favouring the usual face-face training, and the remainder with no strong preference.
While we could have simply used the original training course, there are three things put in place to encourage interactivity and engagement even though we weren’t all meeting face-face:
Reduce sessions to 1 ¼ hours maximum – as it is difficult concentrate online for as long as a face-face session
Send out information and exercises before the session that can be completed individually beforehand and capture the inputs for the session on Google forms so we could focus on interactive activities during the Zoom session.
Ask five of our most experienced Young Leaders to facilitate Breakout sessions where the newer Young Leaders could work in small groups of 5 on exercises and examples with their input and guidance
From this experience, when we return to face-face training there are improvements we can make based on our experience:
Continue to involve our most experienced Young Leaders in peer-led training- they have a lot of great experience, and can relate this effectively to the Young Leaders, as well as sharing ideas and tips on completing missions with their sections.
There are some parts of the training where Zoom provides a better and more convenient forum – and we will aim to use it alongside face-face training.
We’ll provide some training and exercises for Young Leaders to complete individually at a time when it’s convenient and they can easily access tools and information online, rather than use time during face-face sessions.
Pentland and Braid’s use of OSM looks promising as it can be difficult to support Young Leaders progressing with their missions given they volunteer with many different Sections across the District and may not be in regular face-face contact with the leaders who support them.
And finally, a very big thank you to our most experienced Young Leaders Niamh, James, Angus, Rory, Calum, Sandy and Callum who volunteered to help, for their enthusiasm, energy and help in running the Breakout rooms.
2. The Braid and Pentland Young Leader Website
In April 2020, the Braid District Young Leader Team alongside the Pentland District Young Leader Team started the project of putting Young Leaders online. This project was driven through consultation with Young Leaders from both districts, which provided us with the purpose of providing information on how Young Leaders can achieve their Modules at home and work towards their Missions in the background of their time being a Young Leader. The website can be found here at youngleadertraining.online
The Team of 5 Leaders working together with a shared objective, with all Leaders fulfilling different roles from web-development to module writing. In August 2020, the Team received feedback from Scouts UK which resulted in an official endorsement which can be seen on the Scouts UK website. Over the last 6 months which the website has been active, the website has generated over 3000 visits from all over the UK which has been a fantastic achievement for the Team.
The purpose of this project was to enable all Young Leaders to continue their development in their own time, by ensuring that all activities can be achieved via working with a household member or themselves. Through utilising the system of Online Scout Manager, the team offered the submission of modules and missions via the badges at home section which allowed Young Leaders to submit their evidence and ask questions, whilst having the opportunity to receive feedback which was complying with all safeguarding requirements.
Both Braid and Pentland Districts have received great feedback from all users across the UK, however, most importantly both districts have received an increase in Young Leaders participating in their modules and mission developments.
Due to the demand from both districts’ Young Leaders, in September 2020 training restarted as another method of offering Young Leader Training via Zoom which is held twice a month at full capacity.
Please see below for testaments from Explorers, who have provided us feedback:
Arran (Explorer Young Leader) “I personally found the website easy to use and navigate round, to be honest it took a while to change to working through young leader stuff on a solo arrangement, but once I started, I got through easily enough!”
Rory (Explorer Young Leader) “I really enjoy participating in the modules online, I find them helpful and informative as I go through them!”
Sam (Explorer Young Leader) “The website is a very quick and easy way of completing the modules and working towards the missions. You gain so many valuable skills that can not only be used as a Young Leader, but in life!”
Chris (Explorer Young Leader) “I am a new Explorer Young Leader and through the website, I was able to complete four modules during the summer months which kept me busy. The website is good as it means you are not waiting for the module to be offered, so means you can get on with your training!”
As highlighted in last month’s newsletter, the Coronavirus lockdown hasn’t stopped a group of 16 Explorers from Craigalmond, Braid, Pentland and West Lothian Districts starting the training for their Duke of Edinburgh Award (DofE) expeditions by canoe…online. It came about from the chance encounter of a Leader with interests in enhancing the uptake of paddle sport in Scouting and an Assistant Regional Commissioner knowing about an unmet desire amongst Explorers to do their DofE expedition by some other means than hiking. After discussions with the Explorers’ DESCs over coffees and cake, a plan was agreed. Its lead, Steve Hankin, picks up with what’s been achieved despite coronavirus and the latest developments to enhance paddle expeditions across the Region…
Having got the go-ahead and the opportunity to work with a ready-made group of Explorers keen to do their Silver or Gold Award expeditions by canoe, the plan involved a mix of shore-based and on-water training & practice, covering all the aspects needed for an expedition by canoe. A number of elements (e.g. campcraft, first aid, navigation, route planning and risk assessment) were going to be done in conjunction with the hike-based training programmes for the DofE Awards running jointly between the Craigalmond, Braid and Pentland Districts. It was all coming together nicely. Then came lockdown.
Not wanting to lose the interest or momentum, and knowing that the DofE Training Frameworks have a substantive amount of knowledge development as well as skills development, we proposed to make good use of the time by delivering the knowledge-based aspects of the training programme through a series of 8 weekly online sessions using a mix of interactive and instructional activities.
Content for each week was developed to suit online meetings, using images & short videos, discussions captured on the Zoom Whiteboard, quiz questions and break-out rooms. Covering the basics about safety, equipment, parts of the canoe and even what the different paddling strokes look like, is intended to help the paddlers feel a little more prepared for getting on the water once face-to-face Scouting resumes. A Leader team made up of two DESCs, a DofE Leader and an Explorer Leader ensured online safeguarding and provided invaluable support to the sessions with input from their experiences on and off the water.
Having completed the initial knowledge training, feedback from the Explorers has been positive (“The sessions have been really enjoyable and built a good foundation of our paddling skills” Callum Smith, Cramond ESU) and interest in continuing sessions over the summer has been expressed by the majority taking part. The Explorers have put forward suggestions for further online meetings they want to do, including discussion of expedition food & menu planning, a quiz and a DofE Q&A session to give them some insight into what’s expected in the expedition’s assessment.
Getting the training underway during lockdown is intended to have numerous benefits, some obvious and some that are perhaps more subtle. The sessions have given the group (from six ESUs) the early opportunity to get to know each other and the Leader team, as well as helping them develop their knowledge of something that’s new to many of them. Whilst the Explorers all have different paddle sport abilities, they share a common goal of wanting a new challenge in how they do their DofE expeditions.
It’s very much hoped that this new initiative in training, practice and support for paddle expeditions and longer-term skills development, will encourage young people in Scouting to take up the opportunity to pass on their knowledge and skills to those embarking on paddle expeditions in the years ahead. To support this and establish a base for local DofE paddle expedition training, developments are underway to reactivate the Explorer Scout Unit based at Longcraig Scout Water Activity Centre over the coming months and establish a programme for Explorers to gain skills in paddle- and water-sports activities and leadership that can contribute towards their Top Awards and, in time, as part of the ESYL programme and the long-term sustainability of skills at Longcraig.
If you are interested in any of this, or have Explorers looking to do their expedition by canoe in 2021 and interested in training, get in touch!
On 19th January, 30 explorer scouts and leaders from Pink Panthers Explorers and Cramond explorers chopped down, pulled up and burned the invasive Salmonberry from Corstorphine hill.
Salmonberry is an incredibly fast-growing invasive plant species which is native to the west coast of America from Alaska all the way to California, meaning it is very versatile and grows easily in very different climates. Salmonberry can become very woody and hard to manage if left to its own devices and sprouts can grow very quickly from the main roots. It may also become difficult for us and animals to walk through if allowed to grow too large. Salmonberry can end up killing the other plants around it as they no longer receive the sunlight they require to grow. It can also prevent plants from growing for the same reasons.
The Explorers spent the day tirelessly working to pull up these plants and large roots. Everyone got stuck in, especially when burning the Salmonberry!
They managed to clear a huge area of Corstorphine hill saving many of the native plants and wildlife from this invasive plant and encourages the woods to flourish. Halfway through the day there was a delicious BBQ prepared by the ASU which gave everyone the energy for a final push. Our explorers were rewarded for their efforts with a trip up Corstorphine tower. A huge thank you goes to the rangers and Friends of Corstorphine Hill for allowing us access to the tower itself.
Many of our explorers also used this project as an opportunity to achieve parts of their platinum or diamond chief scout awards. To achieve these top awards the explorers need to complete either bronze or silver DofE and also 2 or 4 activities on top of that from a list. This Salmonberry clear up gave our explorers the opportunity to research and participate in an environmental project that helps to improve their local environment. As a group we plan to make this project an annual event as although the explorers cleared a huge amount of the salmonberry there is still a lot to do before the incredibly invasive species that is salmonberry is almost completely eradicated, or a lot more tightly controlled, from Corstorphine hill. Hopefully as this gains traction even more young people and leaders from Cramond Explorers and Pink Panthers explorers will participate in this worthwhile event next year.
On Friday 4th October the 2nd Haddington Explorers ventured out to the idyllic location of Bolton Muir Woods, where we spent the weekend wild camping.
When everyone arrived, we spread out and found their ideal location to pitch their tents and hang their hammocks.
Task accomplished, we worked in collaboration to peg out a large parachute where we socialised and ate. Fulfilled, we went to bed.
Saturday morning bright and early we all made our way out of bed, where we ate breakfast and went over the itinerary for the day.
The main jobs for the day were building a table, prepping our meals, collecting/chopping firewood and creating a shelter where we would spend our second night.
The shelter took up the majority of our day as we built a structure out of wood and layered bracken over the top to make it more water resistant and add insulation.
After our achievement we dressed the game and prepped the veg for dinner. Once dinner was finished, we spent a cold and wet night in the shelter.
Once we woke up and finished breakfast, we packed our bags but left our tents for later.
Neville Kilkenny came and educated us about the different types of fungi and how to identify them. After we ventured further into the forest we chopped and cook the edible mushrooms we had collected and had them for our lunch. We didn’t have long left until we had to leave so we packed up the remaining of our equipment and left.
Scout Ambassadors Phoebe Smith & Dwayne Fields visited Edinburgh on 3 December while on a 1300km journey walking from Dunnet Head to Lizard Point. A group of Explorer Scouts and leaders gathered to hear their story. Their journey takes them from the most northern to the most southern points of mainland Britain over 40 days. Both are raising money and awareness for an expedition to the Antarctic in November 2020 in which they will take a group of disadvantaged young people on an expedition of a lifetime. Two Scouts will also be invited to join the expedition and the selection process will start soon.
Phoebe talked about her upbringing in North Wales. Despite growing up on the edge of Snowdonia National Park, it took a trip to Uluru in Australia to make her realise the value of wild camping and exploring the great outdoors. Phoebe writes books and articles for travel magazines about the joys of wild camping.
Dwayne grew up in Jamaica with his great-grandmother and lived a carefree life spent entirely outdoors as his house had no electricity. At the age of 6 he moved to London to live with his mother and he struggled to fit in. At school he was asked to draw his favourite TV character – but he had never seen TV! Fortunately he was placed at school next to a boy who became his friend and who one night was taken to Cubs by the boy’s mother while she was looking after Dwayne. The Cub leader refused to let Dwayne sit and watch so he joined in and from that point on Scouting changed his life. In a more dramatic twist, Dwayne recalls the moment he was shot at twice by a gang member in a dispute over a bike. It made Dwayne realise that he should spend less time conforming and more time pursuing his dreams. In 2010 Dwayne set himself his first of many challenges, becoming the first black Briton to walk over 400 miles to the magnetic North Pole.
Phoebe and Dwayne described their journey since leaving Dunnet Head on 18 November and the kindness and interesting experiences they have encountered on the way. They are now a third of the way into their journey which ends at Lizard Point on 1 January 2020.
Dwayne was keen to quiz each Explorer on their favourite badges and what they did to achieve them. He also wanted to know what expedition each Explorer is planning. Perhaps hearing about this amazing expedition will persuade those Explorers who attended to go on an amazing expedition of their own in the near future. As Dwayne and Phoebe themselves explained, it’s never too late to pursue your dreams!