It’s 9am on a cold, crisp Saturday morning.
Already, the Scout Den is a hive of activity. The Burco bubbles in the kitchen and mugs are warming on a tray. There is a plate of mince pies sitting alongside (the er, breakfast of champions…) and two packs of chocolate biscuits standing upright, awaiting the call to duty.
Across the entrance hall, lights are on in the office and two figures are hunched over laptops. The occasional ‘thud’ of a staple gun and a less frequent metallic dragging noise is emanating from the Main Hall. It’s mid December and the Scout Den is scented with coniferous sap and a suitably adorned tree blinks its lights out into the car park as a couple of young teenagers scramble around underneath, arranging presents in a pile, to complete the seasonal look.
Back in the hall, reams of tinsel are progressively spreading across the ceiling as two Scouters, one perched precariously on a superannuated ladder, the other hovering below keeping an eye and directing the stapler above, make progress in transforming function into form in advance of this evenings festivities. Over to one side of the hall, two teens grapple with festive drapes that have been extracted from a year-long slumber in a cardboard box. Near the stage, two more are manhandling pioneering spars.
A shout from the kitchen signals time for a tea break and a sprinkling of scouts emerge from various parts of the building to share baked goods and beverages; Una and Tom have been upstairs, wrapping small presents (hundreds of them, it feels like). The two Jack’s have been putting their rope work and pioneering skills to good use, constructing a soda bar in the main hall. It’s amazing what you can do with some collapsible tables and some imagination. Jenny and Julie drew the short straw and have been giving the toilets the ‘once over’, whilst Ema has been going through the accounts to ensure the nights events don’t prompt the IMF to visit the next PLC.
All told, there are probably twelve people here on this cold, crisp morning. The warm yellow glow from the lights within is contrasting with the greyness of the morning outside. The scarcity of adults is also contrasting with the abundance of youth, yet the scene is the essence of industrious teamwork and creativity.
Later tonight, the team will host and run a Christmas Party for the Group’s eighty cub scouts, along with probably another hundred plus from neighbouring groups. A special guest, a rather portly man in a red suit will be dispensing presents as part of a range of attractions. Mark and Ciaran have been busily assembling the ‘grotto’ in which Santa will sit, whilst an ingenious hatch has been put in place under Santa’s chair, emitting an appropriate (and reasonably gender specific) gift, once it’s clear to the scout behind the hatch whether it’s a boy or a girl that Santa is chatting to. The ‘hatch’ runs through a long low attic and leads to another room, across the hall from the grotto, where yet more scouts will be feverishly wrapping the last of the presents, passing them through the attic to Santa’s grotto.
Straight afterwards, the Scout Christmas Party will kick off and two talented DJ’s will be on hand to entertain close to two-hundred Scouts from several troops. Both DJ’s are from the neighbouring Scout Group a couple miles away. As the tea is getting poured they arrive, greeting everyone like long lost friends.
A black van pulls up and a hassled looking man enters the den to deliver the sound equipment, so the DJ’s are already getting the timing just right. Powerful amplifiers will soon upstage the restrained sounds of Christmas music on the Den’s ancient sound system.
The above scene and hundreds like it will be getting acted out across the country in the coming couple of weeks, as scout groups mark the beginning of the Christmas season. Theirishscouter works closely with a firm of advertising consultants in the US as part of his day job and one of those consultants, George, alludes to great advertising being that which can ‘give you butterflies, a lump in your throat or make you swell up with pride’.
The latter emotional response is the one perhaps most apt for a scene where younger people, using their own initiative but discretely supported by adult colleagues, develop a vision or an idea, formulate a plan and then roll up their sleeves to make it happen. This is the essence of Scouting at its very best. Adults acting as facilitators and giving young people room to grow on their terms and using the Scouting fundamentals as a sort of road map.
Yes, sometimes the budget is overspent a little. Maybe too many Christmas lights are bought. Perhaps everyone secretly hates mince pies and just buy them because the Scout leader never stops talking about them. The mineral bar will probably not make a profit this year (it never does) and the floor may be a bit sticky for the duration of the Christmas holidays.
But the future of the Scout Group and the future of Scouting in general is being woven in the midst of these priceless experiences that in this case see a group of young teens test their leadership and project management skills in an environment where each can play to their strengths, learn from their weaknesses and build lasting, often life-long friendships in the process.
Back in the Scout Den, much laughing and joking later the tea cups are empty, the mince pies are largely untouched and all that remains of the biscuits are a few crumbs and two empty wrappers. The tapping of a keyboard has resumed, the sloshing of a mop can be heard and the intermittent ‘thud’ of a staple gun has recommenced.
The gentle strains of Paul Mc Cartney’s ‘Wonderful Christmastime’ has been overruled by bursts of high volume from artists who are probably young enough to be his grandkids as the amps get tested. It’s still only 11am but a full day’s work is needed to make these two events a success – and they WILL be a huge success.
Outside, a black van turns out of the car park and disappears out of sight. The frame of the front door records the blinks of the lights on the tree and the greyness of the morning cannot conceive the warmth of the feeling inside that anonymous looking building.
Theirishscouter would like to wish you and yours the very best of wishes for Christmas and indeed for the New Year.