In Touch – Communicating with Home

Martin’s Top Tips has been a quiet for a fortnight, the first week was planned due to a camp I (Martin) was running (Sub Zero at Auchengillan for anyone interested) and most of the team was involved in that.  The second week was down to personal issues.  I’m not going to say any more than that, but it’s kinda the inspiration behind this week’s post.  The original plan for last week was to talk about sleep and making sure you were getting enough, and I hope to push that out later in the week to make up for our silence, but this week I’ve pulled forwards something I was going to talk about closer to the Jamboree.

My first international event, way back in 2006, was to the town of Székesfehérvár in Hungary.  Székesfehérvár is twinned with Chorley, Lancashire, where I was a Young Person at the time.  As the crow flies, I was about 1000 miles from home, the furthest away I’d ever been, even with family, never mind with Scouts.  I took my phone with me (and a spare battery!) and didn’t use it once.  Why?  Because it looked like this…

The classic Nokia House Brick…

The phone was capable of phoning someone, texting someone or playing Snake.  Internet access was still very much a toddler.  Facebook was only two years old and barely anyone was on it.  MySpace was king, Bebo a close contender.  We weren’t nearly as connected as today.  I took the same phone to my first Jamboree, the World Scout Jamboree in 2007 and I think I used it once to phone my parents and find out my new address in Scotland so I could order the memory package.  2007 saw the launch of the iPhone 1.  One of its features was its internet access and I know of at least one of my Unit took their iPhone and used it to stay in touch.  We participants were given a ring bound handbook with space at the back to record new friends names, phone numbers and postal addresses so we could write to each other.

In 2013, I attended the World Scout Moot in Canada, and I kept in touch with home because WiFi was so readily available.  For the very first time I started writing about my experiences and produced half a dozen posts about what I was doing, where I was going and the people I was meeting.  I shared photographs and stories from the event with the world through Facebook.  It allowed my parents to see what I was doing and keep up with where I was.  It’s something I’ve tried to do ever since.  it’s also led to my “it ain’t half hot mum…” annual selfie…

“Dear Mum, Canada is a very lovely place, but it ain’t half hot mum…”

In 2015, the World Scout Jamboree was in Japan.  By this time Facebook had transcended mere Kingship and had declared itself the Emperor of the Internet.  The Jamboree had an app and there was free WiFi access around the site.  It was the same thing.  Smart Phone allowed us to stay connected with people we’d only just met.  I became friendly with a couple of folk from the UK Contingent, although we were camped away from each other and worked completely different jobs and shifts.  We used Facebook – perhaps even FB messenger – to stay in touch and organise meeting up to go exploring and eventually to work our way into Yamaguchi for a day away from the Jamboree.  I had my phone everywhere with me in Japan, partially because I use it as a watch, but also because it allowed me to stay connected.  From reading the news headlines to checking in with my friends at home.

“Japan is lovely, oh, and it ain’t half hot mum…”

The readiness and availability of technology, especially for communication is a fantastic thing.  There is talk that the whole of the Summit Bechtel Reserve will have free WiFi, which means that your photographs and stories can be uploaded instantly anywhere on site and sent around the world.  This time my parents will be 3,600 miles away, over the Atlantic ocean and six hours ahead of me.  I honestly believe this is fantastic as it really lets you shout about Scouting.  Everyone from the UK has been selected to go to this Jamboree and sharing the adventure with the people who couldn’t go, or with those who will be applying to go to South Korea for 2023 is a brilliant idea.  I am aware of units which have social media plans to live-stream things back home, or will release a video every day or will post pictures of every activity so that parents and other supporters of the unit can see what an amazing time everyone is having.

Personally, I’ll be sharing photos from my trip to America, I might even write about my experiences whether through this or Facebook.  I’m travelling with Matty and we’ve got an adventure planned that I’ll be sharing with the world (or at least my Facebook friends).  Anything I put out there my friends and family will see, from a photograph of my team working to a funny story I’ve heard to a live-stream of the opening ceremony.

Or perhaps, that I’m feeling a bit under the weather…  Or perhaps that I’ve been taken into the site hospital….

In 2017, in the run up to the World Scout Moot in Iceland I learnt about the bad side of instant communication.

I was down at Gilwell Park for our final briefing weekend.  It had been a fantastic weekend of learning about what we were going to be doing, making new friends and catching up with old ones.  I had helped run an Open Mic night on the Saturday and danced at a DJ Bunny disco.  On the Sunday morning I’d ran a Scouts Own and talked about Change – the theme of the Moot – and what that meant to me.  I was in a near euphoric state as the event ended and we sat on Essex Chase to have lunch.  The cars were packed, we were just having this short time before I got back in the car to head back to Glasgow.

Then the phone rang.

It was a phone call I’d been expecting for weeks if truth be told.  But it didn’t make it any easier.

My aunt, who had been in the end-stages of COPD, had passed away in the early hours of the morning.  She had been surrounded by her family and had gone peacefully into whatever next phase you personally believe in.

But I was 400 miles away.  I had an eight hour drive to get back to my family.  My aunt had been almost like a grandparent to me from a very early age and suddenly, whilst I’d been away enjoying myself, she had died.

As I put the phone down, my friends, some of whom I’d only met that morning, others I Scouted with every week knew something was wrong and were there to support me as I needed it.

I was an adult, 26 years old.  I want you to imagine you are a participant, aged perhaps 16, 3,600 miles from home.  It’s not an eight hour drive, but you’ll have to catch perhaps up to three flights to get home.  Imagine receiving that news.  Or worse.  A parent or sibling is ill.

The Scouts have a system we call “In Touch”.  It’s part of the Nights Away procedure where an adult not directly involved with the event or anyone on it is nominated to act as a Home Contact.  It’s a way of managing the flow of information between the event and the parents in case of bad news.

It is not a way of preventing the flow of information.  It is a way of making sure that there is appropriate support in place when someone is given the news.

In my case, it would have been taking me aside, perhaps with a close friend, to tell me the news of my Aunt’s passing.  It would be liaising with the contingent to manage taking me off site and getting me home or wherever I need to be in a safe and controlled manner.  It would be arranging support through the Listening Ear service, or even Jamboree medical.  It would be helping to keep me in contact with home.

Similarly, news from the event may be passed through the home contact.

Whilst we were in Iceland in 2017, one of the expedition centres, Selfoss, was evacuated one night.  I was aware because we’d had a call over the radio network as Reykjavik was one of the closest centres to Selfoss and the emergency plan was to move everyone there.  I was nominally in charge of Security in Reykjavik and on the night shift, so I’d have been one of the first people needed to help unload the coaches.

Icelandic Night Shift Security

The first the UK Contingent heard about it was when one participant (an adult no less) Tweeted about it.

As it was, the evacuation had been caused by inclimental weather.  Overnight, hurricane-force winds had picked up and threatened the site at Selfoss (and nowhere else!).

Imagine though there had been an accident.  Someone was injured or worse and the expedition centre was being evacuated to support the emergency services in whatever operation they were conducting.

Those who immediately needed to know were alerted and plans were put in motion.

But someone had tweeted about it.  “Accident in Selfoss.  Must be serious.  Being evacuated. Lol” (or whatever people put on Twitter).

Suddenly this information is in the public domain and is available to anyone – not just the UK Contingent or the Moot organisers, but family and friends back home.  Parents, spouses, children of people who were in Selfoss are suddenly aware that something may be awry.  Managing this flow of information back to the UK allows The Scouts to get the necessary agencies or people involved at the earliest stage to support those back at home who may be receiving bad news.

It’s much better someone who is calm and collected knocks on your parents door and says “You don’t need to worry, but little Jimmy fell in the skate park and has broke his leg” than you sending them a picture of your cast.

The other thing to bear in mind is that the News agencies now scan twitter looking for hashtags etc. and things that are trending to report on.  I’ve seen “news” articles that have their basis in a couple of tweets about something happening at an event.

This is sort of what happened to me last week.  I got a phone call at 10pm that started “don’t worry but…” and resulted in me driving down to Liverpool on less than three hours sleep.  My girlfriend had taken ill, at the time it sounded rather serious and I had to get to her.  Thankfully it wasn’t what they’d first thought and she’s okay, but it was a pretty hairy few hours.

So, to try and wrap this up.  Use social media, shout about the Jamboree, tell the world about your experiences at the Jamboree, at the pre- and post-events and Home Hospitality.  But do be careful about what you send home, a throwaway comment or tagline or hashtag might make people on the other side of the world worried.  If you’re ill or hurt or lonely, make use of your Unit Leaders or the Listening Ear service don’t be tempted to phone home immediately.  That might ultimately be what happens, but they’ll be able to support you, and your folks at home.

The internet is a fantastic thing.  Social media is a wonderful tool, but just be careful how you wield it.

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