Scouts and BBs march forward with confidence in digital age

Traditional uniformed youth organisations such as the Scouts and Boys' Brigade may have been around for more than century, but they still play a major role in the life of many young Scots.

Members of 1st Tulliallan Boys' Brigade march past Tulliallan Police College to mark the company's 75th anniversary in May 2016. Picture: Roberto Cavieres/JP Resell

More than 100,000 are members of such groups north of the border, taking part in a range of extracurricular activities ranging from sports to voluntary work in the community.

The Boys’ Brigade (BB), thought to be the oldest uniformed youth organisation in the world, was founded in a Glasgow mission hall in October 1883.

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The BB today has more than 20,000 members in Scotland, who attend one of 430 companies across the country and supported by a team of 4,300 volunteers.

Cub Scouts from across the Falkirk district renew their promise to mark the 100th anniversary of the section in September 2016. Picture: Michael Gillen/JP Resell

While membership declined between 1996 and 2006, numbers have remained “static” over the past decade, according to a spokesman.

Since 2008, the BB has also been able to admit girls into membership via its Girls’ Association.

But in age of smartphones and online gaming, does BB founder Sir William Alexander Smith’s stated aim of promoting “habits of obedience, reverence, discipline, self-respect” still appeal to younger people?

Volunteers stress it’s the sheer variety of activities on offer that maintains their appeal.

Cub Scouts from across the Falkirk district renew their promise to mark the 100th anniversary of the section in September 2016. Picture: Michael Gillen/JP Resell

“From expeditions to nature trails, camps to canoeing and overseas trips, the BB gives young people the chance to grow and learn,” said Bill Stevenson, director for the BB in Scotland.

“I believe the Brigade is a key player in the youth work sector. In many towns and villages we are the only providers of organised children’s and youth work.

“The efforts of non-uniformed youth work help to provide a wide spectrum of opportunities for children and young people and help them engage in activities they would not experience otherwise.”

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The growing popularity of the BB in the early 20th century is said to be one of the inspirations behind Lieutenant General Robert Baden-Powel’s founding of the Scout Association in 1907. The first Scottish council for Scouts followed two years later.

The Scouts’ presence in Scotland has been growing over the past decade, and is the largest co-educational youth movement in the country.

The organisation now boasts 37,874 youth members, supported by 8,222 adult volunteers, based across 2,299 sectional groups.

Girls now make up 47 per cent of new members.

“Young people join Scouting for the life changing adventure that we offer,” said a spokeswoman for the organisation.

“Scouts take part in activities as diverse as kayaking, abseiling, expeditions overseas, photography and climbing. Scouts can learn survival skills, first aid, computer programming, or even how to fly a plane.

“There’s something for every young person. It’s a great way to have fun, make friends, get outdoors, express creativity and experience the wider world.

“Scouting equips young people with skills for life, including team work, leadership, initiative, planning, communication, self-motivation, cultural awareness, and commitment. Scouts are encouraged to reach their full potential, and make a positive impact in local, national, and international communities.”

Due to continually increasing demand by young people for the opportunities that Scouting can provide, one of the challenges it faces is finding more volunteers to help provide the Scouting programme. At present there are more than 2,400 young people on waiting lists in Scotland.

The Girl Guides, which grew from the original Scouting movement, has a membership of around 60,000 in Scotland, supported by 11,000 volunteers.