The Organisation that Made Me Me

We love an unusual take on things here at AOW, and when this ‘friend that made me me’ landed in our inbox, I screeched (fairly loudly) that I would introduce it. Because, you see, it’s about Guiding. Girl Guiding.

I’m willing to bet that an awful lot of the AOW community have been involved in the Guiding Association at some point in their life, and it just screams ‘Junior AOWers’ to me. Perhaps we should set up a buddy scheme, pairing Brownies with their very own AOWoman, who could give them advice on important things like books and boys, and support them through the tough teenage years? Think how many problems it would solve. I’ll speak to Cameron about it.

But back to the point. I was a Brownie (we didn’t have rainbows back in my day), and then a Guide, and then a Young Leader, and then once I was eighteen, I became a full Guider, and Official Snowy Owl. And loved it. And then, to my shame,not long after university, I let it lapse. But I have so much to thank that organisation for. They taught me to sew, to be polite to older people, to build a campfire, to work in a team, and to put up a tent in torrential downpour. I met the Queen, I travelled around Europe, and I slept in any number of Welsh village halls, all because of this fabulous association. I’d say that’s a pretty rounded education, wouldn’t you? 

Katy writes brilliantly here about her experience with this wonderful association, and it serves as a great reminder, to me anyway, how bloody brilliant Guiding is, and why we should support it. (I’m off to find out about Guiding in KL….)

I think this is nearly as close as I can come to the “Friends that made me me” series. I have really lovely awesome friends but none that have been with me for as long or changed my life as much as Girl Guiding.

I have been in Guiding since I was 5. A tiny little Rainbow, in a little green tabard (I’m sure there were a few of you doing that as well!). I don’t remember much apart from some important skills like learning to plait and identify different bugs in the garden.

I moved to Hong Kong when I was a child but luckily I could move in Guiding too. One really awesome thing about Guiding is that it’s international, and every year on ‘Thinking Day’ we all raise money for and think about those units where meeting is trickier. Places where they can’t afford a trip or to buy uniform, in this country. Places where girls don’t have any other forum in other countries. It’s a real global community.

When I was 7 I became a Brownie (in the 44th Island Pack) and wore a dress and shiny shoes. I learnt to tie a reef knot, address a letter and light a match safely. I learnt silly songs and played with my friends and stayed away from home.

We moved back to England just as I became a Guide. Guides is the longest running section, it turned 100 in 2010. In the war Guides helped as sea rangers, the royal family have all been guides and quietly still are, Guides spread all over the world as Girl Scouts and brought together communities everywhere. At its heart is still learning outdoor skills, in Guides I camped and learnt to build and cook on a campfire, make washing up stands or shoe racks out of wood and lashing, sing slightly bawdy silly songs…

It is at this stage that we lose the most girls. Being a Guide when you’re 10 is OK, when you’re 14 it’s not cool. I remember being teased about it, but I was proud of pushing myself and learning things and making my promise. And a lot of people give in to that. I’ve known since I was 8 that I wasn’t “cool”.

It was staying in Guiding that meant a lot more to me, and although a lot of my friends have never been Guides they all understand what it does. Guiding is a space where girls can be girls. We’re not going to let in boys, like Scouting was forced to. We’re creating a safe space where they don’t have to care about what boys think of them. Yes we can still make face packs and paint our nails if we want to, but in Guiding it is all about being who you want to be.

I became a Young Leader with Brownies when I was 14, and I’m now a qualified Assistant Brownie Leader. As well as playing a major part in getting me my first job (I think), being a Brownie Leader is a really important part of my life.

You know kids, I’m sure. They are irritating. They are loud. Oh so loud… They put their hands up not to ask a question, but to tell you a story about how “one time I did…”. But don’t let that fool you. Our girls are confident, from generally well off backgrounds. As well as Brownies they all do swimming, gymnastics, dancing, running, cello lessons. They look like they have it all.

But we get to know these girls. They are insecure, they don’t think they can lead their friends, they don’t want to step forward alone, they don’t want their mums to leave them.

That’s why we do it. They are occasionally horrendous, they can give you a headache, but we’re passing back on to them an environment which is fun, and safe. Yes we teach them how to address an envelope and bake a cake. We went on pack holiday and even taught them how to clean a toilet! Shock horror! (“Who does it at home?” “It… I… It just gets done?”).

But we give these children an opportunity to be a girl. To go abroad on your own, to build a shelter, to create or design something new. To get muddy or to prettify yourself.

And more important than that, we teach them to be good leaders, to have self-confidence and self-respect. We teach them how to be a good sixer, how to delegate and be fair, how to resolve their conflicts. We let them tell each other what makes them special, and you watch some who seem so quiet come into their own.

I will defend Guiding because I believe it is wonderful. I am still immensely proud to be a part of it, and to be a part of my community. Watching them grow up into Guides is its own reward. Also, leader’s ‘planning meetings’ in the pub and ‘recce weekends’ to the campsites make it worthwhile in itself :D

Guiding has made me who I am. Not cool, not prettier or more successful. But a woman who can be who she is. Who can build a campfire and tie a pretty decent knot and do a risk assessment on playing ladders. Who has helped girls understand that when you promise it means something, who has given them their first night away from home and comforted them when they’re scared, who has watched as a girl flourishes and grows in confidence.

And who will have a Brownie honour guard at her wedding.

It’s a wonderful thing to do with your time or encourage your daughters to do. I just wanted everyone to know we’re still here, sill relevant, through hundreds and thousands of girls, young women and women all over the world.

Categories: Friend That Made Me Me, Life, Wise Women
18 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Becca
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    Can you GET a brownie guard of honour? As sixer of the gnomes (helping people in their homes obvs) I think my old six would probably be too busy. I always wanted to be a sprite (helping people in the night) because I thought it sounded cooler than being stuck at home. Maybe they’d help? I was really cool because I joined pre sash and had two badge rows up both arms on my sexy second hand brown dress. It was the brownie schizzle #coolenoughtobeasprite.

    I was also a guide (kingfisher BABY) and I loved it but then quit because the plastics from school joined and it all got a bit hellish bullying there too (no escape). Head plastic was made a sixer leader before me, even though (a) I joined first (b) I was older BY THREE WEEKS (c) it was the kingfishers and (d) I had more guide points. I think it was because her Mum worked with the guide leader. Politics politics politics. Life lessons.

    In other news I still have the guide of the year trophy at home because I quit before I had to give it back. Technically, I’ve been guide of the year for the last 18 years. Screw you plastics.

  2. Zan
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    hahahaha – “We went on pack holiday and even taught them how to clean a toilet! Shock horror! (“Who does it at home?” “It… I… It just gets done?”).” – I had a similar experiance to this with a group of Guides (while helping a friend out at a BP weekend). Except it was washing the dishes (“don’t we have a dishwasher?” “Yes – it’s you!”).

    Lovely post – and fab that you’re having a Brownie guide of honour. Wouldn’t really work with my Rainbows, or I’d have sorted that out quick smart ;)

    Clare – I know someone who does Guiding in KL (as part of BGIFC – British Guides in Foreign Countries), if you want a contact?

  3. Frances
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Guiding is a wonderful organisation. I was a Beaver Cub and a Cub Scout (one of the only girls in the movement at the time) and then moved over to Guides when I was 10 and a half. I think ’rounded education’ is the key phrase here; whenever I hear about government plans to introduce lessons on citizenship, healthy eating, female confidence etc etc I think ‘but Guiding already does that’. I was a young leader with both Guides and Beaver Cubs before becoming an Assistant Scout Leader (not me being fickle, this was at the time when there were no volunteers!), but I’d love to go back to Guiding one day.

    And where else would you be allowed to cook bananas and chocolate on an open fire and run round a field in the dark?

  4. Posted January 3, 2013 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Mmmmm, chocolate bananas….
    I think Brownies are different from guides because they actually want to help you wash up or clean the toilet, they’re just a bit surprised!
    My Brownies think being an honour guard means I’m buying them 20, matching mini bridesmaids dresses… But actually they just stand either side of the church door when I come out with Dan, like smaller and cuter army guards. Rainbows might manage? Our rainbows were really good at remembrance parade!

    I don’t think you can avoid politics in any setting… Hopefully we manage to keep it between the adults?

    Thank you for posting this Clare! Although you did spell my name wrong :-P

    Also can I point out those photos are of our recent pack holiday. I am the bigger one. It was very un posed..

    • Clare
      Posted January 3, 2013 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      Oh god, sorry Katy – people do that to me all the time, so I’m normally really hot on it!

      Have fixed it now!

  5. Posted January 3, 2013 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    I was part of a Brownie guard of honour!!! My old leader’s daughter (we called her little owl) got married at the village church and we all stood outside the door for when she exited in her white dress. We, of course, were armed with bucketfuls of confetti :)

    I was a brownie then shifted across to Scouts as I didn’t really get on with the girls. I never did and as many were the same I went to school with who bullied me, it seemed right that I went a did Scout things with the boys instead. Gradually two other girls joined me and we were good friends for a while. We all left when we hit 2ndary school, but we’ll still talk now :)


  6. Katielase
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    I personally, unfortunately, found that while Brownies was awesomes (I was a Pixie, yay!), Guides was quite bitchy and unpleasant, and while I stuck it out for quite some time by clinging to my friends and trying to ignore the cliquiness, I did eventually leave because I was starting to get sick with dread before each meeting. I really was not enjoying it. It probably didn’t help that I was truly cack-handed at arts and crafts, and many outdoor pursuits, for example I could climb a tree but never do anything useful with the wood. I left and joined a triathlon club. Mine was obviously just an unlucky personal experience though, and I definitely don’t blame the Guiding community, its an incredible organisation. And it’s so lovely to read about how the organisation has been such a huge part of the lives of so many.

    Thanks for writing this, Katy. I loved reading it.

    K x

  7. Peridot
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    I had wondered how you’d walk under the Brownies outstretched arms. I had enough problems in the barn dance at our reception – small children making a bridge for you to go under plus a corseted wedding dress is not an easy thing to manage.

    This gives me a very different view of what Brownies/Guides can be and should be. I was nearly chucked out of the Brownies for “suberversion”. This was based on me putting my weekly money exactly over the face of the Sprite and making the other Brownies giggle and choosing long latin names for an exceptionally dull and drippy game where we chose the name of a flower (see above for spicing it up with lation), sat in a circle and when our flower names were called, we changed places. Yawn. We also “made” easter bonnet biscuits by icing a Rich Tea and sticking a marshmallow on it. I defy anyone not to be a little subversive…

    • Katielase
      Posted January 3, 2013 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      Ha, my husband got asked to leave and never return to cubs/scouts (can’t remember which) for refusing to promise to love God. I’m not sure he was being subversive so much as just being contrary though! :-p

      K x

      • Frances
        Posted January 3, 2013 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

        By the looks of things he’d be allowed to do that now. Clearly a trendsetter!

  8. Posted January 3, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Really sad to hear about bad experiences in guiding! Unfortunately we’re a completely volunteer organisation, we’re only as good as the people who want to help, so come join us :-)

  9. Peridot
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    You mean… I can PASS ON those bonnet biscuit skills???! I think actually they should be left to die a quiet death. Along with the flower name game!

  10. Posted January 3, 2013 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Reading this has brought back a lot of happy memories about my brownie and guide years. I didn’t stick guides for that long, probably for the reasons you describe. I can’t remember but I think it clashed with Top of the Pops?! I remember to this day being shown how to write an envelope and how to write a cheque. We were never shown how to clean a loo, but I had my mum to thank for that life lesson.

    I remember on my first brownie camp we were all given a cup of tea after our dinner and I felt so grown up. I don’t think I’d ever drunk tea before then. And I was allowed to put sugar on my rice crispies at breakfast and have it with full cream milk which I would never be never allowed to do at home. I sometimes drive past the place where we had that camp, it’s only about 15 minutes from home. And it makes me smile.

    My husband was part of the Boys Brigade (similar to scouting but part of the Church of England) and he has really fond memories of those years, of the parades, camps, walks and I really think it has helped form a lot of his most admirable qualities and certainly helped him complete his Duke of Edinburgh award to gold.

  11. Taryn
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    Thanks so much for this Katy! It brought back many good memories for me. Like Clare, I started as a Brownie and eventually became a leader but I gave it up in my early 20s. If anyone needs any round turn two half hitches I’m your gal!

  12. Posted January 3, 2013 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    I was in the girl scouts (if I understood it was what the guides was transformed abroad?) in Mexico.
    I loved every part of it, up until the moment they upgraded me from “gazelles” to “troopers” (I don’t know if those are the terms). They upgraded me when I turned 12, but I was still pretty much a little girl. I never felt at home with the teenagers, those older girls who talked boys and makeup and were kind of mean while I was still interested in playing games, getting dirty in the mud and talking about other stuff. I hadn’t gotten my period yet either and it seemed that was all they talked about. I felt out of place. So I quit… I guess the leaders could have assessed me better before changing girls to the next group, because I was clearly was not ready… I don’t remember if they did case per case or if it was an age related rule.
    Anyhow, you brought back memories of great times ! Camping, fires, trips together, helping others, travelling…

  13. Posted January 3, 2013 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    I remember them hiding the little silver badges in a fake pond or something and being a sixer at Brownies. I LOVED Brownies but Guides wasn’t for me. Too many bitchy girls at my one and I was so awkward around groups of girls anyway.

    I think you make a good point that people need to sign up and keep it going however, I think I’d be way too initmidated even now by a big group of girls to be a leader!!

    • Posted January 3, 2013 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

      Oh Anna, I bet you’d be a great role model. You could always start with cute little rainbows or Brownies, they’re not too vicious at that stage and, like I said, you really feel you’re helping them grow into young women.

      Twist me and turn me and show me the elf, I looked in the water and there saw…

  14. Posted January 5, 2013 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    Guiding has absolutely made me who I am today. No, it’s not made me cooler or prettier, but I would argue it has made me more successful. How else could I have changed from the silent, nervous eight year old who whispered her promise to Brown Owl, to a calm, confident leader explaining activities to 300 odd guides at camp, or taking on the blue knicker brigade at Division meetings, or leading that moment that will be indelibly marked on each little girl’s mind forever, when making their promise to me. And yet it isn’t just in my Guiding life that I’m more confident than I ever thought possible. I’m a first year medical student, and at each and every interview I spoke of my experiences Guiding, and reflecting on how they had influenced my development; how now I am able to lead, to work in a team, to empathise, to communicate with anyone and everyone. I did omit some of those quirkier little skills developed like being able to silence a room of Brownies with a word at half three in the morning!
    I admit that I. like Lawrie Marlow, see my Guide self as someone taller and more dashing, because actually, just maybe she is. She certainly should be – I wish I could always be her, in control and capable.

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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