Anne Le Poidevin reflects on the Girlguiding experience.
When the Guides suggested, on 13 March 2020, that this would be our last meeting because of Coronovirus, I dismissed it – earlier that day I had sent out a letter about a camp in May and our plans for a summer camp and other opportunities happening in the summer term. However, 3 days later when as a leadership team we were trying to decide whether or not Wednesday night Guides would go ahead that week, the decision was made for us as Girlguiding UK announced that all unit meetings would be suspended until further notice – I don't think anyone envisaged, though, that it would be a year before face to face meetings would permanently resume! When I look back at some of the e-mails I sent last year, I realise how little we understood of the situation – when a county event due to take place in June was cancelled, I said that maybe we would be able to do a unit day trip instead – little did I know that we would still be in lockdown!
As we had the rest of the term planned, for the first couple of weeks I suggested that the girls might like to spend the usual meeting time doing what we had planned so the first Friday I know some of them did some origami flowers. Girlguiding UK also introduced Adventures at home and put some of the programme activities on the website which the girls could do on their own at home and so initially the links were shared with the parents for the girls to do if they wanted.
After Easter, I asked the rest of the leadership team if they were interested in trying zoom meetings and at first I had no response but when I asked again in May, everyone was keen so the week before the May half term we had our first zoom meeting, 10 weeks after our last face to face meeting. Beforehand, I was extremely nervous wondering how it would go and whether it would work. That evening I challenged them to cut a hole out of single piecle of paper that they could walk through and to find objects for each letter in their name. It went well and I came off it buzzing and really enthused wanting to share my excitement with everyone – I guess I hadn't realised how much I had missed it. Our initial intention was to meet fortnightly but the girls were keen for us to meet weekly and so our weekly 40 minutes zoom meetings commenced.
As the time went on, our online programme improved as we got more comfortable with the set up; initially it was a lot of quizzes and scavenger hunt type activities but in the latter part, we completed clauses of some of the interest badges together and the First Aid skills builder and did several online escape rooms. The girls (and their families) enjoyed cooking and together we made pizzas, fudge, pancakes, gingerbread men, Easter biscuits, shortbread, chocolate cookies and on our last online cooking session we were really ambitious and had some girls cooking golden syrup cake whilst others were making pineapple upside down cake! It would not have been possible to do this in a meeting in the hall but in their own kitchens, it was and we might consider the occasional online meeting to be able to do this in future. Numbers fluctuated between 8 and 15 at first but latterly 10 girls regularly joined the meetings with others joining occasionally, but there were some that didn't want to do online meetings having been on a computer all day and couldn't wait for face to face meetings to resume.
In the autumn we had hoped to have a one off meeting around bonfire night when we were going to meet outside and cook hotdogs. The risk assessment had been completed and plans were all in place and then the country went into lockdown a couple of days before. As a leader, it was so frustrating at that time as a lot of time and effort was spent preparing for activities that eventually couldn't take place and I think it caused some reluctance to do things and plan anything as things changed last minute.
In January, some of the unit joined a County virtual sleepover weekend. The girls had all been sent a booklet with everything they needed and it was great to see Rainbows, Brownies and Guides carrying out the various activities. Being in their own homes, it also gave the parents the opportunity to get involved and it was lovely to see whole families playing the chocolate game together and getting quite competitive. We also had a weekend of activities to do at home for World Thinking Day.
After Easter 2021, face to face meetings could resume. Like many organisations, it seems Girlguiding UK had used lockdown as an opportunity to review various policies and so after a year when it had been stressed that you didn't have to do anything if you didn't want to, resuming face to face meetings seemed quite daunting and again I was really nervous preparing for our first meeting. However, it was so lovely to see all the girls back face to face and for those that had joined us online to finally meet the rest of the unit. For the first half of term we alternated outdoor meetings with zoom and then from half term met face to face weekly. 3 girls made their promise at our last meeting, on the beach, one of which had joined us virtually last October.
I also carry out the DBS checks for 2 districts in Poole West Division. These had been on hold during the pandemic, but in May the list was updated and I had 25 to complete! Whilst this was a mammoth task, it was also lovely to have the opportunity to catch up with all the other leaders, most of whom I had not spoken to for over a year and so the checks took far longer than they should have done whilst we found out what each other had been doing. I feel privileged to have had that opportunity to talk to the other leaders and share as I went round what other units had been doing.
Nationally, Girlguiding numbers have dropped quite considerably over the last year. Whilst that's not the case for my own unit at the moment, in Broadstone some of our Brownie units already had low numbers before the lockdown so 4 of our Brownie units have currently merged into one whilst numbers are low and until further volunteers can be found to sustain more units, although numbers do seem to be slowly picking up again with a lot of new starters in September.
I am so glad that we had managed to get away in February 2020 half term as obviously during the pandemic residentials have not been possible. However, as I write this, we have just returned from a short summer camp which in itself was a challenge. Girlguiding UK had advised that residentials might be possible from 17 May and so at the start of term, we had asked how many girls would be interested in a camp if it was possible. The girls were desperate to camp and were constantly asking during the term if we would be going. However, initial guidance was that residentials were possible but for a maximum of 6 people including leaders! I was therefore just about to start organising some daily activities instead when the rules changed. So towards the end of term we offered the opportunity to camp but the response was lower than expected given that the girls had been asking all term. Knowing some were keen and had missed out last year, I was eager to offer something, but the numbers weren't really viable. After a lot of deliberations eventually it went ahead having offered it to the girls from Wednesday night Guides as well. The extra considerations due to Covid and the short time in which to plan it certainly made it challenging but it was great that we were able to get away for a few days.
Hopefully in September, things will slowly get back to ‘normal’ whatever that now is. Lockdown has given everyone the opportunity to re-evaluate things and for some leaders, they have decided to take a break from Guiding. It's given us a chance to do things differently and some of that might continue into the future.