"Volunteering with the scouts can be immensely rewarding,” says Robin Hilton of 2nd Harpenden
In May, Robin Hilton's son Theo had his first gliding lesson. The surprising thing is that Theo is 11. And the flying lesson was only one of the many fun activities that his scout group, second Harpenden, has enjoyed this year.
For Robin, a finance professional who also is voluntary chairman of the Second Harpenden Scouts, Theo's exhilarating experience epitomises the scouting experience - the chance to do new, adventurous, outdoorsy activities and best of all, with a group of friends. It's hugely different from his own childhood experience of scouting in Newcastle, when activities revolved around the church hall where the group met.
"I'd say 2nd Harpenden scouts is really true to the vision of scouting, getting kids to experience the outdoors, giving them the opportunity to try something they wouldn't have previously tried," Robin says. He adds, somewhat ruefully: "I'm 42 and I've never flown a glider."
But it is probably safe to say that Theo and his friends have little idea of the Herculean efforts his father and all the other volunteers put in to make the 2nd Harpenden group the success it is. Started three years ago from scratch the group now has 98 beavers, cubs and scouts who meet weekly at the hut in Batford (when they are not gliding, going on hikes or camping).
Robin says the entire experience has been incredibly uplifting. The commitment of the Scout leaders to a varied and exciting program for the children is amazing. And seeing the efforts of the other volunteers who support the group, forging friendships along the way. He is keen to encourage other mums and dads to increase their involvement.
"The more people that help out, the easier it is for everyone. Second, it's a great way to meet like-minded people in Harpenden and you are rewarded in knowing that you helped the kids have a brilliant time, " he says.
Looking back over the past three years since the 2nd group started out, two things stand out clearly in Robin's mind. One is the first meeting of the handful of volunteers who started the group. It was unchartered territory for everyone around that table. No one knew where it would go. The other standout memory is the group's family camp last year. The number of families who were there and had a fun weekend in the sun was evidence of how successful the group has become in such a short space of time.
What is the vision how the second Harpenden group will develop in coming years?
Obviously, Robin says, to keep it growing and to ensure the children continue to enjoy a variety of enjoyable and instructive activities (including gliding lessons!) That however hinges to a large degree on more parents stepping forward to volunteer.
"One of our biggest challenges is getting parents to engage with helping out, whether as a leader or a helper, or even to participate in things such as family camping," he says. "If a parent contributes very little it just increases the burden on the others... The scout group leaders give
selflessly of their time so we really need more people to help out".
Back to Theo. Having enjoyed his first gliding lesson, he will be looking forward to the new scouting year in September. Behind the scenes will be all the volunteers, doing their bit for all of the Scouts, Cubs and Beavers, and getting huge satisfaction from it.