A Richt Guid Blethering The Gither

As much as everything I write is arguably an opinion piece – this weeks is significantly less contentious than last weeks. Don’t worry I’m still going to bombard you with my unqualified opinions, it’s just going to be on ground I can stand slightly more firmly on.

This week, I’m going to talk about engagement. Specifically engagement with the Contingent. It’s sort of a spin off from a couple of comments I made before I mounted my high horse about the last Moot Monday. It’s also based my Facebook “memories” telling me about over 60 “friendaversaries” in the last few weeks. But as ever, I’ll start somewhere and get to a some sort of point if you bear with me.

For those who aren’t aware, a series of Regional Facebook groups has been set up so that we can communicate with folk from our Scouting Region (or any regional group we chose to join). I also believe one has been set up for the Guiding members of our Contingent, but please don’t hold me to that.

I’m in two of them, Scotland (obviously) and North West Englandshire – because I used to live and Scout there and I’ve been sort of adopted by them at other events. I don’t know exactly what’s happening in other groups, I have my CHIS’, and my intelligence is rated 1A on the matrix, but I am having to make sweeping generalisations and what I’m saying may not be applicable in your own Area.

The Scottish Regional Group is the one I’m going to talk about, and one particular aspect of what’s been going on in there. Two of its members, Anja Johnston and Marcus Humphrey set up a “blether” last month which I, personally, think went down rather well. Now, some of you from below Gretna may be wonder what’s a “blether”? And what does the title of this blog mean? Is it even Queens English? Let my charming wee coaster do the talking.

I believe the modern incarnation was a thing SHQ organised for various other Scouty stuff and our intrepid duo mentioned above plagerised for the purpose of our Moot. We’ve had one Blether so far, and have another tomorrow. It’s a vaguely structured forum where we’ve discussed everything (so far) from “what is a Moot” to “the three hour rule” – which will be a feature of a future blog, likely not long before we go, but watch this space.

This week we’re going to start talking about kit – probably caveated with my post from last week. Truth be told, I’m quite looking forwards to it, and not just because it marks the start of a long weekend off work and I’ll be another evening closer to the Line of Duty finale, fella. (two LoD references in the first 7 paragraphs? All I’m going to say is I was writing about four “H”s before Jed Mercurio!)

But, Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the wee donkey, why am I devoting a whole blog to telling you about the Scottish Regional Blether? (okay, that’s enough now…)

I’ve said before, and am likely to repeatedly and continuously say, type, sing and scream in equal measure. I’m going to keep saying it until people recite it at me or start saying it in their sleep.

With a Moot or a Jamboree, you get out what you put in.

By which I mean, if you put time and effort into the experience, if you treat it like a journey rather than a destination, you will have a far better time of it. If you engage with the contingent, not only will you be in the best informed place, you might just meet some folk on the way.

I’ve alluded to it in my very first post. It is entirely possible to rock up to Malahide Castle next year (or whatever the entry point) having never met or spoken to another member of the UK Contingent. It is possible to have never attended a Moot Monday or briefing weekend. It is possible to have never looked at the Facebook groups, or potentially even the corner of the Scout website where the Moot stuff is held. I’m guessing if you’re reading this blog, this isn’t going to be you…

It happened, to a greater or lesser degree, in both Canada and Iceland. I know folk who didn’t engage with the contingent at all – and whilst the folk I personally know who did it got on okay – it was something they universally regretted. I missed the first briefing weekend for Canada because of a vindictive boss, and the second for Japan because of my Uni Finals.

Normally for these events, during what we may consider saner times, we have at least two briefing weekends, one the summer/autumn before the event, the other either just before or just after “exam season” in the spring/summer before the event. In part because of this whole Pandemic thing, and in part because of the Contingents commitment to sustainability etc. the talk around briefing weekends has been scarce.

I have a recollection of Ben talking right at the very start about some sort of regional events then a big get together at Gilwell before the event itself, but given the uncertainty at the current time, and my aging memory (what’s my name again?) this could be all subject to change, or may be something I’ve made up in my head by rolling various events together. Again, don’t hold me to it unless the FAQ on the Scout website say its true.

This currently removes and/or restricts our abilities to interact as a Contingent.

I again alluded to it in my first Moot post a few weeks back – sometimes you need a friendly face at these events. Someone to say “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” to. Someone just to turn and have a moan about your blisters or someone in your patrol, or that you’re tired, or you miss home, or about that annoying guy on the internet who keeps writing unsolicited advice about his own experiences, etc.

With the way this Moot has been designed, it’s very possible that you could be sent on a trail with only a handful of UK Contingent members. So in sheer statistical terms, the more folk you know or at least recognise in the contingent, the more chance one of these will be around if you need them. That is not to say “strangers” won’t be able to help. One of the most amazing things about international Scouting is the friendships we make along the way, with the common ground only of being Scouts (or Guides).

Back at Gilwell Reunion in 2016 with friends who would be going to Iceland, all of whom were made in Canada.

But it can be a daunting prospect going alone.

When I went to Canada in 2013, I was the only person from my Group who attended the Moot.

I was the only person from my District to attend the Moot.

I was the only person from my Region to attend the Moot.

On the day I paid my deposit and signed to say I wanted to go, I knew exactly one person who was going to the Moot. I’ve spoken about Cat a few weeks ago. We were close friends, and knew, from Sweden in 2011 and just general Uni life, if things got tough we could lean on each other.

Lyndsey on the other hand knew absolutely no-one going. I hope she doesn’t mind me saying here that she’s (since) told me there was a point where she was thinking of pulling out of the event. She recounts going to the first briefing weekend knowing absolutely no-one and standing at the edge of the room knowing no-one until she saw a hoody of an event she’d been to and forced herself to go and make a friend. (Incidently, this was CMT Chris, who is now Cat’s long-term partner – Scouting is a rather small world it turns out…)

If it hadn’t been for the briefing weekend held some 8 years ago at Bradley Wood Scout Campsite nestled by the M62 between Bradford and Huddersfield, we’d have gone to that event in exactly the same situation – knowing no-one (or almost no-one).

At that briefing weekend I made friends – folk I know to this day, from people I’d sorta-kinda met before but not really got to know, to people who I’d never knew existed before meeting them at that campsite. Those friendships, most of them have lasted 8 years or more.

I did my Explorer Belt in 2014 with folk I almost uniquely met at that event, or met through folk I’d met in Canada.

My Explorer Belt Team beneath the 15″ guns of the IWM London shortly before we got on the bus to Belgium. All bar Matt (far right) had been in Canada – Matt joined us for Iceland.

When things got tough in Canada, Japan, Iceland or America, these were the folk I could turn to for a hug (remember them?) or a moan. And they knew, if things got tough, they could turn to me for abuse, then maybe a hug. I spent one of my days off in Japan wandering from Unit to Unit, being fed, singing Frank Turner songs and checking in on folk I knew from Canada.

I was Best Man last year at the Wedding of someone I met at that Briefing Weekend. She was in fact the bride, but her husband and I became firm friends as a result of my friendship with her and them becoming involved in my Scout Group as a result of the Moot.

In August, I’ll be marrying someone I met at that briefing weekend. Even if neither of us remember actually meeting…

But right now, we can’t build those friendships as easily, those relationships with others in the Contingent. The social aspect of the Moot Mondays is okay – and again, I can not commend the CMT highly enough for these – but it lacks something outwith their control. We’ve got a limited time and the random nature of the Groups means we are often putting folk from Lerwick on Shetland with folk from Lands End in Cornwall – useful to know folk and share experience, but hardly practical from a “let’s meet up” point of view.

I also struggle a bit with Zoom etc. The social cues I normally pick up from folk just don’t come across as well online, so I tend to sit quietly unless invited to speak or someone asks me a direct question. Being sat round a fire with folk you’ve only just met, getting to know them is one of the greatest things in Scouting (in my very humble opinion!).

The more folk you know vaguely, the better. Friendly faces in a crowd are something that I’ve needed on these events before. To some degree your patrol will be there for you – you’re all in the same boat as it is. But, as I’m sure I’ll talk about again, back in 2007, my Jamboree Unit was brilliant and supportive, and I could talk to some of them about anything. But there were one or two who just wound me up. I have memories of wanting to inflict physical violence on one of my unit because of the way he ate his cereal.

Speaking to someone outside my Unit helped – one of the Leaders I’d been to Hungary with was a Sub Camp Chief and I snuck out one day to have a chat with him. In the same way, it may be more productive to speak to someone outside your patrol at the Moot, someone who can be a source of rationality and remind you that assault is illegal, and there are far worse things in this world than someone crunching and grinding Rice Crispies.

Again, not intended as a brag, but my partner will be at the Moot with me (she’ll be my wife by then!) and some of my best friends are going. If the going gets tough I’ve got plenty of folk to turn to. But if this whole situation was 8 years ago in the run up to Canada it would have been a whole different experience for me. And that experience is something a lot of folk will be going through.

This is a photo of the Leaders of the First Glasgow led contingent at Sub Zero 2020 (remember, a time before the pandemic?) If you can’t tell from the matching jackets and hats a lot of us were in Iceland, and that’s how we came together to run this event, bringing other, non-orange jacketed folk into the fold.

And this is where the regional groups and, in particular for us in Scotland, Thursday Night’s Blether come in.

It gives us a chance to meet each other. To engage with each other in a smaller group. To discuss our hopes and fears regarding the Moot. Anja and Marcus have sort of become the “leaders” within the Scotland group and organise the Blethers – I’ve been asked to, well, blether at the blether and share some of my “wisdom” – their words not mine.

The first one had about 16-18 participants – I meant to take a screenshot but forgot. There was a good mix of IST and Participants, folk with some experience to folks with none. I think the discussions were productive, and the feedback was good. It was also the boot from behind I needed to start writing this again.

I hope most, if not all of those participants will see Anja, Marcus and I as people they can turn to if they need help. Whether it be a simple Facebook message or if grabbing us if they see us on the trails or on site. It also lets those who attended get to know one another a little better – more friendly faces amidst the sea of folk from around the world.

I said right back at the start, my opinion is, that those of us who have been there, done that and got both the event t-shirt and the commemorative badge set have an obligation to share our experiences and support those in the contingent who haven’t been to an event before. That’s the premise of this blog, but again, it only goes so far.

The use of Zoom/Teams/Skype/Facebook/MSN Messenger etc. lets us chat with folk and give reassurance, share funny stories and memories. It lets our fictitious contingent members from Lerwick or Lands End, the two I mentioned a few thousand words ago, chat to folk slightly more local. Admittedly, Lerwick is closer to Bergen in Norway than Edinburgh, but you get my point.

And that leads me beautifully to my next point, almost like I planned it.

For those who are unaware, Scotland is actually a pretty big place – despite the issues with the BBC weather map. The geographical centre point of the UK (putting Shetland in its box where it rightfully belongs) is 4km north of Clitheroe in Lancashire. Including Shetland it moves up towards Stirling. It makes sense to group us together as a Region for the purpose of the Moot, but it doesn’t necessarily consider our population density or the geography of the place.

Whilst 70% of the population of Scotland is in the Central belt, it leaves 30% of our estimated 5.4 million people, in the borders and way up in the Highlands and Islands. Hypothetically, this means up to 30% of those attending the Moot from Scotland are doing so from areas that could be quite difficult, or expensive, to travel around.

If we take our fictitious contingent member from Shetland and say, they live on the smaller islands of Yell or Unst (I genuinely don’t know if there’s Scout Groups there, but it makes a point), to get to the Big briefing weekend at Gilwell, they’ve got to get a ferry to Shetland itself then either get down to Lerwick for an overnight ferry to Aberdeen to then drive, bus or train to London, or fly from Sumburgh (about as far south on Shetland as you can go) to Glasgow, Edinburgh or Aberdeen then another flight down to London.

The problem here is, this contingent member isn’t fictitious. One of the 13 of us from Scotland who went to Canada was from Lerwick. He also went to Japan. There is at least one member of our contingent coming from Shetland. The Islands sent four to six Young People to America (I was told a while ago, I can’t remember an exact number!)

To include them, to allow them to meet people in advance, either requires a large amount of time and significant financial input from them to travel to our events, or a virtual attendance. And this is where our Blethers really come into their own. When all you need is an internet connection to connect with folk local to you or even scattered around the UK, it couldn’t be easier.

I offered at our first Blether to run a Monopoly Run around Glasgow – it’s something I run for my District (well once then 2020). The idea being putting folk into random patrols and sending them out to do activities and challenges around the city in order to make friends and gain a bit of insight into how the Moot might work. I don’t necessarily need to get put in a random patrol and sent out to make friends, I’m happy to sit in a nice HQ and run the event from my laptop, perhaps with some IST involvement as our own wee bonding session.

Whilst I will encourage folk to attend – to attend from Shetland can easily cost £200+ without factoring food or accommodation. And whilst accommodation is likely to be my Scout huts floor, that’s a significant amount of money to be paying over and above the Moot fees. I mean, you could probably get to Ireland for that…

My current plan, is to include a virtual element. Whether this is via a big screen Zoom in the evening, or by getting people who can’t be there to Zoom into their teams and go round on a phone screen so they can help their teams or offer insight – or even to create a virtual event that folk who can’t be there in person can drop in/out of is yet to be seen. But it’s a way of bringing folk together.

Why have I chosen Shetland as an example? Well, I applied for a job up there a few years ago, and when I tried to organise attending an interview, I was shocked at just how “isolated” it was from the mainland, and how much, if I got the job, it would cost to visit my family, or even the added cost to a holiday or event that living up there would mean.

I didn’t get the job in the end. I didn’t even manage to get an interview, which was both disappointing and a good thing for me personally. I’ll be honest, I like the idea of living in a remote community, it suits my personality, but being here on the outskirts of Glasgow suits my current wants and needs much better – I mean, there’s no Amazon next day delivery out in the middle of the North Sea…

Shetland is an extreme example of a remote community and plays right into my narrative. Shetland’s “issue” isn’t unique. There are remote communities and island communities, all across and indeed around the UK. If we want true inclusion and diversity, we need to find ways of including these communities in our events – our contingent should represent the membership of the parent organisation (which should itself represent the communities in which we meet).

The Regional briefing weekends for this event are a good way around this issue, but still puts me in line for an 8 hour + drive to Gilwell for the last one. Say nothing of those from Aberdeen, Inverness, Fort William, Kyle of Lochalsh or the Islands. Even if we had our Scottish Regional event in the centre of Scotland – somewhere near Blair Atholl, for me it’s a two hour drive, for those coming from the borders, or the islands, it’s much further.

So what here is my top tip?

It’s never been easier to make regional “meet ups” happen digitally. You need an internet connection and someone with access to Zoom. Given all Groups have access, that really shouldn’t be too difficult to accomplish. If they’re not happening in your area, be the one to break the ice, it takes all of about 5 minutes to set up a meeting and post the link to your regional Facebook group. I suspect a lot of folk will be glad you set it up, and I don’t think you’ll ever be the only one on the call.

It doesn’t need to be well organised, it can be a free-for-all. I have ambitions of organising some sort of “speed dating” activity using breakout rooms, but I have no idea how to pull it all off. You can have an agenda, you can just chat amongst yourselves. I’m nearly always happy to make an appearance and share my thoughts or experiences (see Prosecution evidence 1 – this blog.)

And at the end of the day, you don’t even need to put pants on. You can’t ask for more than that…

There may not be a post next week, because I turn 30 on Saturday and a lot of my free time is currently taken up by existential crises. If it is, it will be about travel in the wake of the next Moot Monday.

Until then, go organise and Zoom!

(Sadly this post was not sponsored by Loganair, NorthLink Ferries or Zoom…)

One Reply to “A Richt Guid Blethering The Gither”

  1. Great blathering here.

    I agree, a familiar and friendly face is such a boon.

    Sometimes, at these huge events, just standing still and looking around, you can be overwhelmed by the fact that even though you share the promise and ethos of scouting and guiding with everyone you see, you can feel very lonely.

    There are always bug bears that annoy you. These events are, in essential positive, happy places.
    Feeling something negative or a wave of your underlying mental health problems can put you in an isolating bubble of miserableness (have I just made up a new word?)

    A familiar friendly face, a hug and a chat can pop that bubble in an instant, enabling you to get back to enjoying yourself.

    As you say, the more familiar faces we know, the better.

    Virtual hugs to you both

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