SCOUTING could die out in poorer parts of the UK because it is still seen as being for middle class Christian boys, the chief commissioner has warned.
Wayne Bulpitt said parents were being put off by “myths” about the Scouts, originally founded on Christian lines a century ago.
Scottish organisers said they were finding success in challenging those perceptions but still struggled to get volunteers who think Scouting is not for them.
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Since the centenary in 2007, Scotland has seen a rise of 10,000 more Scouts, 1,043 in the past year alone.
Mr Bulpitt said UK-wide, adult volunteers remained short on the ground, particularly in deprived areas. And girls needed further reminding that they can join Scouts as well.
He said: “There is a danger that in some areas Scouting will die out. Scouting is for boys and girls and is open to all. Some people think it is for Christians but it welcomes all faiths and none. It is always a problem with myths. Unless you address them they will be taken as facts.
“We feel passionately that Scouting changes the lives of young people and is good for the communities where it exists. We are looking for people to volunteer and make Scouting happen.”
There are currently 44,373 Scouts in Scotland amongst 550,000 across the UK, with “thousands” wanting to join every month, said Scouts Scotland commissioner for inclusive Scouting, Michael Shanks. He said Glasgow and Dundee have groups with predominantly Sikh and Muslim members.
But he said: “We struggle to get into certain communities because of how we are perceived - they perceive what we are not. Young people don’t carry those perceptions, but adults are less likely to volunteer if they don’t think they will fit in.
“We have a challenge reaching out to these communities, but we are making some headway.”
Mr Shanks said they were working for greater inclusion from gender, disability and rural backgrounds and have had a 15 per cent growth in black and minority ethic communities in Scotland, in contrast to perceptions of a middle class, Christian organisation.
“We recognise we are not as strong in areas of deprivation as it could be,” he said. “There are a huge number of reasons, particularly a lack of volunteers.
“Scouting is more than 100 years old and when it started it was the most inclusive, pairing the most deprived with the least deprived in London. We now have Scouts in Yorkhill Hospital and a disabled group for 80 years.
“It takes a concerted effort to set up groups and keep it going. More and more people are volunteering but the kind of roles are changing and people are volunteering in different directions today.”
Mr Shanks added: “When the public are surveyed about Scouts, we are ranked as one of the most trusted organisations. People know about Scouting but don’t think it’s for everyone. It’s just trying to get over that leap to the organisation.”
The Scouts this week launched the “Better Prepared” campaign at Westminster as they work to expand in the UK’s 200 poorest areas.
Organisers said it was part of the “Vision to 2018” and wanted politicians, community leaders and decision-makers to pledge their support. The project is funded by the Youth United Foundation with fines from the Libor scandal and will support two areas in Scotland, Glasgow and East Ayrshire/Kilmarnock. The money will cover set-up costs for 18 months, during which each area will be aiming to create 20 new sustainable Scouts groups.
In a statement at the launch, Hannah Kentish, the Scout Association’s new UK Youth Commissioner, said: “We know Scouting can change lives, so it has to reach those who could benefit the most. That’s not because young people are a problem to be fixed, or a failure to be corrected. It’s because with the right support and the right opportunities, young people can and will thrive.”
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