What I've learned from Girlguiding

Charlotte Mellor tells us what guiding has given her - confidence, friendship, self-belief, empathy and community spirit

I’ve been in guiding since I was a Rainbow. When I was in Guides, my unit got closed down but I was very lucky to have some friends that I knew through school who attended Guides at a different unit so I transferred there. I’m now a Guide leader at that same unit and have been so for nearly five years (which is a bit scary to think about!) because as soon as I was too old for Guides I stayed on to be a young leader and then do my leadership qualification.

One of the most memorable guiding experiences I’ve had has to be the massive Girlguiding North West England takeover of Blackpool Pleasure Beach (‘A Grand Ruby Day Out’ on 8th October 2011 – I still wear my Wallace and Gromit badge with pride!) At this event, there was a moment in the day where everyone present stopped and did the Cha Cha Slide in a world record attempt – it was a soggy day but to share that experience with my friends was utterly incredible.

However, guiding has given me so much beyond what you’d think. Guiding has helped me to develop as a person and to see just what I can achieve if I put my mind to it. When I first did my leadership qualification, I very much stuck to what I knew (there’s a running joke in our unit that as a rule I don’t run craft nights – if I’m leading then it’ll likely be some sort of science-based badge or perhaps a UK Parliament Week activity). However, I now find myself taking the lead during our Zoom Guiding sessions and running all kinds of activities virtually! I’ve even taken up knitting in my spare time – which for someone who actively avoided craft five years ago is pretty impressive.

Without having that weekly experience of taking the lead and being responsible for a group of young people, I very much doubt I’d have had as much confidence as I’ve shown at times. Last winter, I walked into a room and sat before a panel of nine world-leading cancer experts and interviewed for a Cancer Research UK-funded PhD in Cancer Sciences. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life but I managed to stay calm and answer their questions and am now actually doing that very PhD, which I’m still over the moon about! Confidence isn’t something which comes easily, especially under pressure, but I definitely think that having the experience of dealing with the high-pressure situations which present themselves in guiding (child suddenly becoming ill during a day trip out, anyone?) have helped me to have a little more belief in myself and to keep a cool head when in such a stressful situation.

Guiding has also given me incredible friendships with a whole range of different people from different ages and backgrounds. I treasure the fact that every week I have a dedicated time when I know I’ll get to perhaps make s’mores or play a daft game or even provide an additional pair of hands for a Brownies beauty night. It allows me to forget whatever stresses I’ve got going on and just spend time with the other leaders putting on a great experience for the young people who choose to be part of our unit.

Yes, through guiding I’ve been able to get first aid qualifications and a better understanding of virtual meetings, of safeguarding, of risk assessments. These are all very important (when you’re a scientist it really helps to know your way around a risk assessment!) but for me, I think the things I treasure most that I’ve got from guiding are the things there’s no formal qualification for. Confidence. Friendships. Self-belief. Empathy. Community spirit. Hours upon hours of laughter at memories of previous events and things which didn’t quite go according to plan. The kindness of others and the whole ethos of helping out folks in need which is integral to the community of Guiding.

Being involved in guiding doesn’t just get you badges to sew on your uniform or camp blanket (though they are rather nice). It gives you the chance to truly be the best person you can possibly be.