Last year the club donated some money to Scouts in Nantwich, who were attending an International camp, and I remember members asking what this entailed. Before I came to Nantwich I was involved in the Scout Movement, and had some experience of attending a range of international activities, so I thought that perhaps a talk on International Scouting would be of interest.
I was a member of the Scout Movement for over 60 years with over 50 years as a leader. My leadership roles started as a Scout Leader in Manchester, running weekly meetings and outdoor activities, I also later had local District leadership roles, including Leader training, and finally Deputy County Commissioner, in Greater Manchester North.
My interest in Scouting had always been supporting young people, and in particular outdoor activities such as camping and walking. But I was also very interested in the international aspect of Scouting. This was stimulated in 1957 when I visited the World Scout Jamboree at Sutton Park near Birmingham, to celebrate 50 years of the movement. I was not old enough to attend the camp, but visited with a group of other Scouts, and was amazed to see so many scouts from all over the world coming together to engage in a wide range of activities.
So, to begin, here is some brief information about Scouting. The Scout Movement was started in 1907 by Lt Gen Robert Baden-Powell, interestingly just 2 years after Rotary was founded, and grew rapidly, not just in the UK but all around the world. It now has over 25 million members covering most countries of the world, with ½ million in the UK with its HQ at Gilwell Park, which I will mention a little later. This means that there are a large number of opportunities for scouts to meet with other scouts from many parts of the world.
In most countries there are camps in which scouts from other countries can be involved, examples of this in the UK are the Peak camps at Chatsworth. There are International Centres such as Kandersteg in Switzerland, large International camps lasting a week to 10 days in various regions of the world, and every 4 years World Jamborees. I have been involved in various ways with some of these international activities, which I will describe to give you an idea of some of the great experiences involved for young people, and also for their leaders.
On the Chatsworth House Estate every 5 years there is a camp called Peak, lasting for 1 week, attended by over 5,000, including members of the Guide movement. This camp is often attended by people from overseas and involves a wide range of activities. My wife and I attended in 2000 and 2005 with our units, and, also as volunteers for activities on the camp.
The most famous campsite for Scouting is in the UK at Gilwell Park, near Epping Forest north of London. Founded by Baden-Powell as a training centre for leaders in 1919 it has been the centre to which all scouts are encouraged to visit. Over the years I have visited a number of times, for various events, such as training for the 2007 Jamboree, Chief Scouts award presentations, and to attend the annual Gilwell Reunion of leaders. But the first time I visited was in 1976 when as a leader I decided to book a week’s camp with my troop in late August and was accepted. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending how you look at it) this camp finished on the Saturday as the 50th Gilwell reunion of leaders from all over the world began, with leaders arriving from the previous Thursday. This event involves a range of activities, with opportunities for leaders to get new ideas and to make new contacts for future projects in Scouting. For our scouts this was great to be able to talk to a wide range of people and exchange badges etc, but for myself and the other leaders this was being in the spotlight, would we be a good advert for Scouting? The answer was yes, the scouts were really well behaved, and we received a Camping Award from the camp warden.
My next experiences of International Scouting were in 1982 and 1984 when our Scouts stayed at the International Scout Centre at Kandersteg in Switzerland. This is in the Bernese Oberland in a beautiful valley, surrounded by mountains, and on the main railway line at the entrance to the Lotschberg Tunnel, which makes travel to the site relatively easy. During our week long stay we, hiked and climbed in the mountains and engaged in a range of challenges such as swimming in a very cold alpine lake, as well as visiting local places of interest and meeting scouts from other countries. However, the most memorable experience was climbing from the Oeschinensee, an alpine lake, to the Frundenhutte, a Swiss Mountain Hut at 8,500ft. We stayed overnight and went on to the adjacent glacier at dawn, with superb views, before descending back to Kandersteg. This was a memory the Scouts, and leaders, will never forget.
So, what about Jamborees? These are large camps, usually lasting for around 10 days, and in the case of World Jamborees held every 4 years in various parts of the world. There have been 24 World Jamborees with the first being in London in 1920. These are now organised by the World Organisation of Scouting, with its HQ in Geneva, and are run by volunteers from various countries formed into International Service teams (IST). Individual countries send contingents led by their own leaders.
After my visit to the Jamboree in 1957, my next experience of a Jamboree was when my daughter attended the 18th World Jamboree near Droten in Holland in 1995. She was part of the UK contingent of 2,800 out of a total of 28,000 from all over the world. The young people are responsible for finding the money to attend, and usually arrange fund raising events and sponsorship, and my previous Rotary club usually provided help. This is probably why we were contacted by the local Scouts last year for financial help for their international camp. The cost for contingents from developed countries is usually higher, so that help can be given to less developed countries to send representatives. In addition, Scouts in the host, and neighbouring countries, are expected to provide Home Hospitality, known as HoHo, for scouts from overseas before or after the Jamboree. In our case it was two Japanese Scouts from the contingent visiting our area.
However, the event that brought all the experiences of international camping together was my wife and I volunteering for the International Service Team for the World Jamboree to celebrate the Centenary of Scouting in 2007. This was an enormous camp held at Hylands Park in Essex with over 40,000 attendees from 154 countries, 4,500 from the UK. The event took over 5 years in planning and the construction project involved 7,500 volunteers.
The IST comprised 8,000 members from 97 countries, including 1,500 from the UK. We had to attend training weekends, including one at Gilwell Park, and were put into teams depending upon our experiences, to arrange and run various activities, on and off site, as well as things such as health and welfare, ICT, ceremonies, site operations, etc. Ours was part of games and activities based on areas of the world, called World Villages. We needed to arrive at the Jamboree 4/ 5 days before the Scout contingents arrived and erect tents, set up equipment and finalise planning. We camped for nearly 3 weeks in total with our own equipment, but food was provided as part of our fees for attending.
The size of the event was amazing with a site at 574 acres and 1 mile by 1.75 miles. Over 7,500 volunteers from all over the world worked for 3 weeks prior to the jamboree to erect 20,000 tents and buildings, six stages, lay out the sub camps and provide water and sewage facilities, and roads. There was also field catering provided daily over the Jamboree for around 8,000 IST members, and the organisation was fantastic. There was also the issue of transport for people attending, from many parts of the world, and organising equipment for them. This was in addition to transport off site each day for activities, and dealing with visitors. North Weald airfield was used as a car park and check in point, and over 200 coaches were used to ferry people to the site. This was so well organised that some planners for the 2012 Olympics came to observe, and gain valuable experience of running large events.
When we arrived the weather was very poor due to heavy rain which had deluged the UK and caused severe flooding around the Severn and Avon rivers in Worcestershire. It was just after Glastonbury, and the organisers had booked temporary road equipment, which we learned was to come to us after use at Glastonbury. It arrived just in time with stories from the suppliers of how they had to dig them out of flooded fields. Luckily the rain stopped just after we arrived, and we had virtually no more for the remainder of our almost 3 weeks stay.
The programme for the jamboree comprised a range of activities for the scouts, on and off site, cultural experiences, 3 large ceremonies and visitor’s days. The activities were wide ranging some based on skills training, some challenges which participants had not experienced before, and games usually with a fun element. However, each country brought experiences for people to take part in, and to enjoy, to illustrate their culture. This was the World Villages and emphasised the international scope of Scouting and the atmosphere was fantastic. I thought the statement “there are no strangers here, only friends we have yet to meet” summed it all up.
There was entertainment each evening and parties in the sub camps, and three ceremonies. There was the opening ceremony, where contingents paraded to the arena with flags and uniforms illustrating their culture. The UK Chief Scout Peter Duncan and Baden Powell’s Grandson Robert, welcomed people, and this was followed by entertainment. At the end of the camp the closing ceremony was much more informal, and unfortunately we did get some rain. In the middle of the Jamboree was the 100th Birthday of Scouting with a Ceremony at daybreak in the main arena. This included a live broadcast from Brownsea Island, the site of the first camp in 1907, with over 300 scouts and the Chief Scout in attendance. Neckerchiefs were given out for people to sign to commemorate the occasion.
There were over 40,000 visitors from 73 countries at designated visitor days, including Prince William who spent a day touring the site. There were exhibitions and entertainment, and cafes around the site, including an English Tea House. To sum up it was hard work, but a wonderful experience, and what was particularly striking about the event, to ourselves as IST members, was that everyone worked together, with many of the senior people in Scouting just ordinary working members of the team.
Since 2007 there have been lots of international camps and three World Jamborees, the last being in 2019 in the USA. In fact, we were in Niagara Falls at that time, and met some of the UK contingent who were visiting, as part of HoHo, prior to returning to the UK. At the moment, planning is underway for the next Jamboree, in South Korea in 2023. In the UK, Counties are recruiting leaders for their contingents, and this will be followed by invitations to Scouts to attend, what I am sure will be a memorable occasion.
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