[G]uiding is clearly in her blood: 24-year-old Rebecca Gabriel’s first encounter with the organisation which plays such an important role in her life was as a baby, when she accompanied her grandmother to Brownie meetings in her pram. “I joined Rainbows aged five and never left, going from Brownies to Guides to being a young leader, learning leadership and life skills along the way”.
Aged 23 and the first peer educator coordinator in Girlguiding Cumbria South, Rebecca was asked by County Commissioner Sue Gudgeon where she wished to be in five years.
When she said, tongue firmly in cheek, “in your role” she was taken seriously and encouraged to aim for just that. Rebecca was appointed District Commissioner for Ulverston District at the age of 23, one of the youngest people in the role, and hasn’t stood still: “There are so many opportunities – from going to every part of the county and helping in so many capacities to travelling to India in 2015 and working with people from all over the globe”.
Inspired by her own leaders and their passion, Rebecca would like to encourage all young people to consider volunteering in Girlguiding. “I wasn’t very confident but looked at other young women and thought that if they can be leaders then so can I.”
Volunteers and young leaders “receive a huge amount of support. There are immeasurable opportunities but also the advice of people with huge experience. You never have to struggle through anything on your own and there are always openings which allow you to progress within the organisation.”
“This is about empowering young women and helping them to believe in themselves, to realise their potential.” Rebecca is also keen to point out that many people have an outdated view of guiding: “We are a modern, hip and exciting organisation” and cites as an example the recent local Engineering Day where guides from all over Cumbria gained hands-on experience in a variety of engineering fields, heard women speakers who work in that area and gained careers advice from local employers such as BAE and Siemens. “Modern guiding is about gaining skills which enable you to get on in independent life and which you might not pick up at home or in school, but above all it allows each girl and young woman to be herself and to have fun.”
A much more recent recruit is Ayoe Hoff, a physicist and mathematician originally from Denmark who is still a senior researcher in Fishery Economics at the University of Copenhagen, that is when she doesn’t work as an animal consultant, training cats and dogs or their trainers, or help with the Hawkshead Guides. Having moved to the Lakes, she wanted to get more closely involved with her local community. “The Guides were looking for volunteers and I thought that would be interesting and fun, and I liked the idea of encouraging young women to explore their potential.”
She clearly enjoys her two or three evenings a month with the 1st Hawkshead Guide unit. “The girls are great. We have lots of laughs but also interesting challenges, such as sleepovers, where it is the leaders’ role to make things as exciting but also as safe as possible.” The best thing about volunteering? “Learning more about the community here in South Lakes, and being able to contribute to the guiding experience for the girls.”
Fellow volunteer Alan Thompson caused quite a stir when he attended a training event as the only male in a group of 300 delegates, some of whom didn’t know that men can be volunteers in the organisation. Alan wears his Girlguiding uniform with pride. It was his wife Janice, a unit leader herself, who encouraged him to help out at all sorts of guiding events, starting over 20 years ago. This led to First Aid training, and to acting, alongside Janice, as a trainer for First Aiders in Girlguiding Cumbria South. Alan, of Cark in Cartmel, is only the second male trainer within Girlguiding in the entire country.
He clearly enjoys what he is doing: “This is such a switched on organisation with so many fascinating people” which enables girls “to gain that edge – that’s what guiding is about”. He describes himself as “just one small cog in the system” but visibly gains a lot of satisfaction from enabling girls and their leaders to achieve vital First Aid skills. Asked what he enjoys most about his role he says that “it’s the buzz of working with so many interesting people and being part of a great community” as well as “showing people how to work for example a defibrillator and they realise how easy it is and hopefully gain the confidence to use it when it is needed – that’s my job done!”
He would like to encourage new volunteers: “It doesn’t matter who you are, whether maybe a mum or dad of a Brownie or Guide, or somebody with no connection to the organisation, you will definitely have some skills which will be of use.” He would advise anybody who is interested to fill in the volunteer contact form on the Girlguiding website and “somebody will get back to you and welcome you”.
Girlguiding Cumbria South will also have a tent at the County Show.