Interview: John Watmore

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John Watmore is a former Group Leader and a former County Commissioner. More recently, he was Provincial Commissioner in the South Eastern Province. He is seeking election as Chief Commissioner (Adult Rescources) at Scouting Ireland’s fortcoming National Council. Theirishscouter caught up with him this week…

IS: You joined Scouting in Ireland as an adult, having been away from the movement for a fair chunk of your early adult life. Does Scouting Ireland need to recognize that different approaches to induction and training are needed for scouters who join from ‘outside’ versus those who ‘graduate’ from youth sections?

JW: Definitely. It must be the same message but delivered in the most effective way appropriate to the audience. Every recruit to adult scouting be they ‘graduate, ‘returning’ or ‘new’ have a wide variety of valid experiences. We need to do more to evaluate those and match experience with expectation. This, to me, is the piece we need to give greater significance to. What do we expect of our adults and what can they expect from us?

IS: You have held several roles in Scouting. One of the more high profile was that of Provincial Commissioner for the South Eastern Province. What would you consider to be your major achievements to date in Scouting?

JW: Inclusion and involvement are the most important ingredients in recruiting and retaining our adult population. If we don’t engage people in what we are about then we make the hill climb that bit steeper than it needs be. In any role I have taken on I have tried to do just that so informed discussion can take place and decisions made are better supported, better understood, more relevant and thus widely accepted.

The Group Leader/County Commissioner training courses both basic and advanced were designed under the stewardship of the late John Brennan, the former CC(AR). Using the feedback from the original suite of GL/CC conferences and a wealth of experience in both industry and scouting a team from the South East Province devised and developed these courses which have become a huge success. We made a bold, unilateral, decision to pilot these courses in the province under the guidance of Bernie and Dave Rogers, with Sean Hayes, the originators of the courses.

The take up was immediate and massively positive with not just new GL’s and CC’s attending but some of the most seasoned and experienced in the country participating and giving them an A1 rating! The courses are now the national standard and are being rolled out across all six scout provinces where take up has also been enthusiastic. I am delighted that these courses, now officially coordinated nationally by Bernie Rogers, have taken hold. It is a fine example of how a local, grass roots initiative can be developed into a national scheme. I will be encouraging this kind of enterprising initiative if elected as the next CC(AR).

The Quality Scouting Experience (QSE) workshop is based on the concept; Include, Involve, Engage. The South East province has been fully engaged in a group-by-group review system every year for the past 8 years. Started by my predecessor Francis Minogue and continued by the current Provincial Commissioner Kevin Murphy, this has led to a rising compliance standard in governance to it’s current level of 100%!

IS: What is your plan for the first year in office, if successfully elected?

JW: The main aim will be to push for a cohesive strategy for Scouting Ireland through the model explained in the last answer. Adult Resources has a key role in collecting the inputs from all sources and rationalising these into the overall ‘big picture’, we can then move on to delivering on the detail. That is why I intend to visit every Scout County in the country to discuss with the groups represented within them on their specific needs.

IS: Is every scouter clear on what the Chief Commissioner (Adult Resources) and his/her team actually does?

JW: Anecdotal evidence would suggest not and, again, assumptions may be made that steepen the incline to understanding. This is another reason for face-to-face engagement with the people who are ultimately expected to deliver on the strategy.

IS: Has the complexity of the training scheme in Scouting Ireland put some scouters off engaging fully with it?

JW: Back to inclusion again! I’m not sure that it is overly complex, it’s sophisticated certainly and no harm in that but, again, we need to do more to involve, motivate and enthuse all the potential recruits into what Adult Scouting is about. Yes, make it audience appropriate but don’t make assumptions about what they do or do not know and the skill sets they might have.

IS: Is the decline in scouting skills generally in any way attributable to less adults participating in training or does the content of training courses need to change?

JW: The issue of adults not participating in training can be largely overcome by understanding expectations; Scouting’s of them and theirs of Scouting. The content of our (new) training scheme addresses much of this but, yet again, it very much depends on the delivery not just by the training team but also by the advocacy of the Counties and Groups support for training and the benefits of participating. External funding will be required universally across Scouting Ireland but particularly to support training expense so that unreasonable demands are not put on groups and, ultimately, the youth membership fees.

IS: Adult training is one area where the association should most definitely have a centralized approach. Would you share that view?

JW: No, most definitely not! The only part of training that needs centralising is administration; the coordination of courses, as set by the Provinces, to avoid duplication and conflicts and the collection of fees. This administration aspect needs some reassessment to improve communication and streamline finances. Training schemes (the curriculum if you will) are set nationally but rolled out to local demographics by the Provincial teams.

IS: Adult awards can be difficult to get, not least because the paperwork required, especially for higher awards, is complex and the awards process itself comes across to outsiders as being quite subjective. This arguably favours scout groups that are ‘politically connected’. Can anything be done in your view to make this process fairer?

JW: I believe we need a relevancy audit across this in terms of awarding criteria, committee membership and the simplification of application. This applies both to those seeking awards for their comrades and those assessing the eligibility for same. Clarity of both will dissipate suspicion and speculation and lead to less disappointment and greater value to awards. Merit Awards in particular should be as described; for merit not longevity (or endurance!).

IS: Does the association as an entity currently take precedence over individuals when it comes to disputes in Scouting Ireland?

JW: Having been involved in a number of these yes, the association and what is best for it is the general mantra but this approach lacks any comfort or basic humanity to the individuals involved. The association’s public reputation is important of course and no one individual or interest group should be able to bring that down in their own interest. Equally the individual or interest group must be transparently supported during any dispute action without breaching confidentiality.

IS: A lot of scouters who come into contact with the ‘Disputes resolution’ mechanisms in Scouting Ireland find it to be a bruising encounter and one that seems to assign inordinate authority to County Commissioners and professional staff – is this a fair assessment in your view?

JW: Firstly, Professional Support Staff have no authority in disputes. They may be present, in any situation, as support for all parties concerned in a non-partisan role. County Commissioners do have authority but need to exercise that proportionately and be well supported and informed by provincial/national volunteers and support staff as required and appropriate.

IS: The annual ‘Recharge’ event, part funded by the association is primarily targeted at traditionally minded males in the ‘50+’ age-range. Should the adult resources team be looking to develop a second event, to appeal to a broader demographic?

JW: I have no personal experience to go by for this event even though I am in that age range, if not quite the full demographic! If indeed it is as you suggest then that certainly needs to be addressed. I am not (yet) privy to any listing of attendees so cannot comment with any knowledge. If the general adult population of Scouting Ireland feels that a Scouting social event of this type is relevant then some research into this should be conducted. Something else to add to the proposed county visits list!

IS: If Rover Scouts starts at 18, the age at which the state defines a person as being ‘adult’, why are Rover Scouts not under the auspices of adult resources?

JW: There needs to be a full review of this topic and will also be on the list in relation to the proposed county visits along with discussion with the Chief Commissioner Youth Programme and the National Youth Programme Committee. Adult Resources has a duty of care, I believe, to all those of, legally, adult age.

IS: What do you see as being the key challenges facing Scouting Ireland in the coming ten years?

JW: Practically and without too much crystal-ball gazing the obvious ones are the implementation and management of the Governance Code and Charities Act, delivering on the Moot in 2021 and finding new income streams to support the association without having to go to the membership with ever increasing fees. But, the biggest challenge in my view is still going to be recruiting and retaining adults who want to be Scouts (in the broadest meaning of the word) who ‘get’ the whole idea of what being a Scout means and are willing and able to become Scouters competent of facilitating youth programme.

IS: When you are not Scouting, what do you like to do in your spare time?

JW: I am something of a DIY nerd and love my home and garden. I get in a bit of hill walking though I am a bit slow these days! Cycling (much faster at that!) and of course, my passion for photography. I am also trying to get some writing done, poems and short stories. Oh, and I love cooking and, of course, eating and celebrating with friends

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