Interview: Therese Bermingham

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Therese Bermingham, the current Chief Commissioner for Adult Resources, is seeking re-election at this year’s National Council. She has a long and distinguished track record in Scouting as a former Training Commissioner and as a former vice Chairman of the World Scout Committee. She is the first woman ever to be elected to the European Scout committee where she served as chairman. The Irish Scouter caught up with Therese recently, to discuss the role of Chief Commissioner (Adult Resources) with her….

IS: You have a long (and impressive) CV when it comes to Scouting, both in Ireland and Internationally. How does this inform your approach to the Adult Resources role?

TB: I consider myself to have been very fortunate in the opportunities Scouting has provided me. I have met many great people, Irish and international, dedicated to our movement who have been supportive and inspirational on my journey in Scouting.

I have been both surprised, and heartened, to observe that the fundamental issues affecting scouting in Ireland are shared by scouts in many countries, despite the differences in culture and environment.

The insights I have gained from fellow Scouts, and more recently during my time as Group Leader in the 103rd Dublin, inform my approach to the role.

These experiences have influenced my involvement with the global ‘Adults in Scouting’ policy development and my inputs into World and European policy regarding the likes of safeguarding, retaining membership and adult awards. I will continue to carry the expertise I gained from my days in W.O.S.M. and the European Scout Committee into this role for Scouting Ireland.

IS: You are three years into the role. What have been your key achievements to date?

TB: There have been many achievements during my term, and key among them has been the closer working relationship with Youth Programme, with joint forums and conferences, opening meetings between the two committees, input in the training review to mention just a few of our collaborations.

The training review is another key achievement, where I initiated the restructuring of Woodbadge Training to make it more relevant, flexible, accessible and person-centred. The underlying principles of the restructuring were the ‘Adults in Scouting’ principles and a relevant Youth centred Programme. This work will make a significant improvement in the standard of training on offer to scouters. The adult will have a better focus on the goals of scouting and will be better equipped to foster these goals in the younger scouts.

My team and I have enhanced the support for adult scouters in particular group leaders with the introduction of the ‘Monday Night Service’ where a group of experienced scouters take ‘phone calls, between 7pm to 9pm, from any leader, on any and all aspects of Adult resources. By listening to what the leaders say, and the concerns they may express, keeps me and my team aware of the real, practical, issues affecting our fellow scouts.

On a personal level I have been honoured by World Scouting with the award of the Bronze Wolf.

IS: What do you plan to achieve in your next term, if successfully re-elected?

TB: If I am fortunate enough to be re-elected to my current role, I will continue to work closely with Youth programme bearing in mind the current review of the programme and with a new Chief Commissioner, requiring support in that role.

I will drive and deliver the implementation phase of the new training scheme.

I will build on the expertise I acquired as the deputy head of safety department at the World Scout Jamboree in the safeguarding area, and bring this to our National events.

I will further support the group leaders with enhancement of the Monday night service and practical resources.

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

TB: I can’t honestly say that EVERY scouter is clear on that, or indeed on the other National roles. However, based on the feedback I and my team get through the Monday night service I initiated at the National Office, I would say that most of our adult members in particular have a fair idea of what is under the remit of Adult Resources- training, adult awards, support and safeguarding being the main areas.

Like most aspects of life, scouters get to know the full extent of what’s involved when they have a need for, or exposure to, the service and support we provide.

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

TB: If you are referring to the new training scheme, then I suppose the jury is still out as we are only in the very early stages of implementation. The new training scheme’s aim is to be as relevant to Scouters as can be, in providing programme to young people. Yes, there are different strands and elements to the scheme and Scouters may have to take some time to see which elements they are required to complete and which elements they feel would be beneficial to complete. But from the level of commitment I witness every day from Scouters, we may be underestimating the fact that Scouters on a whole will be willing to engage in a training scheme that is more relevant to, and aligned with, their needs, interests and personal objectives.

The new scheme is the result of significant work by members of my AR team. They have consulted far and wide within Ireland and around the world. I truly believe that with proper implementation and carrying out our framework of Plan, Do, Review in full, we have the potential for a world-class training scheme on our hands.

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?

TB: I would suggest that the change in skills generally could be attributed to the changed leadership model now in Scouting Ireland more-so than adult training courses. In the past our leadership came through the ranks and as such acquired and refined these skills as a young person. We now have adult scouters who were never scouts, and this has had an impact.

While the pure scouting skills were never part of the wood badge training, there are training days and weekends for the likes of hill walking and backwoods skills run throughout the year by dedicated members on our A.S. teams.

The new training scheme aims to be continuous for our adult members – simply having one’s beads doesn’t mean training opportunities are over. If one wants to up skill in an area such as an Adventure Skill, they will be able to do so under the new scheme.

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

TB: I don’t mean to harp on about it, but there now is a ‘centralised’ approach to training under the new scheme!

The training team has adopted the policy “training delivered locally to a national standard”, with all training including group leader and training of trainers now delivered to a National standard, with a mentoring system in place for trainers.

Course content is agreed, everything is standardised and price limits set. It is better, from a logistical perspective, to share the organisation between Provinces, bearing in mind that while training is organised by Provinces, one doesn’t need to be member in that Province to attend its training.

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?

TB: The process has changed, as indeed has the make-up of the awards committee which now has an equal number of women and men, drawn from different Groups, Counties and Provinces. The procedure is simply any group leader can apply for an award which can now be done on-line. While this reduces the ‘paperwork’, the committee does require a citation and reasonable amount of background information about the nominee to enable it reach the correct, informed, decision.

A robust decision-making process ensures that our prestigious awards, such as the Cú Chualainn Award, will continue to be held in the high esteem they deserve.

The adult award process is not a “closed shop”. Each submission is discussed thoroughly and the decision is based on the merits of the nomination.

We do need to get Groups on a level playing field- this is done through Group Leader training, where G.Ls are made aware of the importance of recognising adult and youth achievement and where to go if they would like to reward Scouters.

Progress has been made and more awards have been acquired in the last three years than any previous Chief Commissioner’s term. The application process is now easier and will continue to improve.

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

TB: With due respect to the question, I don’t believe we can simplify it like that. As you can appreciate each case is different, involving different issues, personalities, structures, etc.

While there are set policies on conflict and processes we need to follow, our overarching principle in dealing with issues is – Young person first, Adult next, then Association.

In resolving conflicts it is important not to undermine the core principles of our organisation as a progressive, child-centred movement.

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?

TB: Disputes, by their nature, are emotive and often complex situations where parties will feel aggrieved and there is rarely an easy solution. Our policy is simple and endeavours to keep the dispute as local as possible to try to find a solution locally. In some case this works and works well, others not so well.

If re-elected this is an area which will need attention in conjunction with the National Secretary who, in fact, has the responsibility for complaints.

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?

TB: Since I have been CCAR the ‘Recharge’ event has been self funding and is based in Castle Saunderson.

That event is, by and large, a social event for Scouters, taking place in September to re-energize Scouters at the new Scouting year. As C.C.A.R., it is not under my remit to organise primarily social events for Scouters. I do believe, however, that great learning opportunities can come from informal, social aspects of training and events. That is why we strongly encourage group discussion and feedback in our training- adults learning from each other. I am very proud of the Scouter Conferences that have run for the past two years- there have been many ideas shared and partnerships formed at these Conferences, often in the breaks between sessions or even at the evening meal on Saturday.

It is also worth noting that in the past three years we had four alternative events in co-operation with youth programme, attended by scouts from the ‘broader demographic’ to which you refer.

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?

TB: They are. A Scout who is over the age of 18, whether they choose to take part in Rover Programme or not, falls under the auspices of Adult Resources in terms of our safeguarding policy.

I suppose Rover Scouts could be seen to be ‘dual’ youth and adult members- at present they are regarded as programme section and thus their programme is part of the proposal of “The One Programme”, and under the auspices of Youth Programme.

The C.C.A.R. is not responsible for providing programme in any sense (just supporting it), so in a way the remit of somebody between 18-25 can fall under both the C.C.A.R. and C.C.Y.P. (Chief Commissioner for Youth Programme)

This is not to say I have no input with this area, a recent example is the internship on offer for Rovers in Japan this year, which was my idea and utilised my contacts to set this project in motion.

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

TB: I will post a video on my Facebook campaign page about what I see will be the issues to arise in the next term of the C.C.A.R. (the next three years). I am not sure anybody could, or indeed would, predict what our world will be like in ten years – when you think about it, ten years ago we had very few iPhones, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, 4G access, etc. Now, a young person has the knowledge of thousands of years of civilization right at their fingertips (and might use that opportunity instead to play something like Angry Birds, but that’s another issue!).

A significant challenge will be to manage, effectively, the changes needed to ensure continued growth of the movement. To achieve this we need programmes that are attractive and challenging for all young people – this we have in our “One Programme”.

I have had conversations with adult members who bemoan the fact that children seem constantly ‘stuck on a screen’, are seldom outdoors and may never have climbed a tree!

Another challenge will be to demonstrate that scouting is true to its proposition as a non formal educational movement OPEN to all which aims to instill a love and respect of the outdoors in the next generation and to be perceived as such by the general public.

I think that as technology advances, parents will look to have their children involved in something more traditional, more ‘real life’ than iPads and Instagram. The tradition and vision that is Scouting should be an even easier sell now than in B.P.’s time- Scouting Ireland should embrace the opportunity as we are starting our next 100 years.

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

TB: The pastime I enjoy, whenever I get the chance, and which I share with my husband, is sailing. It’s an activity not far removed from scouting, particularly when it comes to being a member of a small team, working closely with nature’s forces and harnessing the best of each individual’s skill to keep that boat afloat, each time you take to the water the conditions are different, with a different challenge.

Although it is an Adventure Skill, I try my best to separate it from my Scouting life!

I also enjoy traveling, meeting up with the friends I have been lucky to make from my time in Scouting, whatever form that took!

IS: Do you have any other points you’d like to make

TB: When I took on the role of Chief Commissioner Adult Resources in 2013, I had a passionate desire to have a training scheme and support system in place in Scouting Ireland that ensured our scouters had the capabilities and resources to deliver an effective, meaningful and inspirational programme to the young people in their care.

I have successfully guided Adult Resources through the some challenging times of the past three years and have shown that I can be a team player as well as a leader. I can recognise the skills and talents of others and can work with these to achieve mutual goals.

My work with fellow scouters with different skills sets, cultures and languages has given me a broader understanding of the merits and strengths of such diversity.

With these skills, and working in close co-operation with the Chief Commissioner Youth Programme, I believe that we can build on the foundations set during my term and make a significant contribution to the future of Scouting Ireland.

Finally I would just like to add that when people are casting their ballots on Saturday, they are not only voting for me, they are voting for everyone who works on the National Adult Resources Committee. I have been truly fortunate to have the support of such a fantastic team who work tirelessly for the betterment of our Movement. These Scouts come from north and south, east and west, are male and female, young and a bit older. I would just like to say a big thank you to them for their service; I’d be truly lost without them all.  

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