3. Open your arms to everyone

Part 3 of my series on developing great leadership skills based on Girlguiding’s article here:

12 steps to becoming a great leader

“An effective leader brings people together, regardless of their background – so we need to provide young members and fellow volunteers with plenty of opportunities to learn about different cultures and beliefs. In meetings with other Leaders, for example, we can use inclusive language and adapt activities for those with extra needs.”

Adapting Guiding for those with extra needs

Over the years of being a Brownie leader we have had Brownies requiring different levels of additional help. We have had one Brownie who needed to have quick access to toilet facilities, one Brownie with Cerebral Palsy who used a walking frame and wheelchair to move around, one Brownie who was very nervous of everything. It takes some additional thought when planning meetings and activities but doesn’t mean the unit misses out on anything.

For example, I would never offer a trip knowing a particular Brownie could not attend due to medical reasons. Every trip is well thought out before even being offered to check for accessible travel (which is difficult in London but not impossible) with toilet stops also considered.

To help our nervous Brownie I started emailing the parent each week with a detailed explanation of what we would be doing. The parent had explained that the varied programme we offered made it difficult for her daughter to relax at meetings.

Using the ‘Including All’ resource was a great help in situations like these.

However, this topic overall is a tricky one to plan ahead for. How can you market your unit towards girls who wouldn’t normally take on these opportunities – how do you find them? In all the above cases we were unaware of any additional help required before they joined us, and one current one until two weeks in! I suppose the only way to continue this work is just to welcome anyone who enquires, and ensure everyone has equal opportunities.  I believe Girlguiding’s varied programme makes it is rather easy to welcome all.

Why I love and hate the end of ‘The Missing’ – Series One

Huge major spoilers for Series One of ‘The Missing’.

I’m late to this TV show, I think it is about 2-3 years old but was just introduced to it through my brother’s DVD of it. James and I watched all 8 episodes within a week.

The end of the series hit me so hard. But thinking about it as a whole, and especially the set up in the final episode, the genius of this series is the way it makes you go through the same emotions as the father, Tony.

The way I watched ‘The Missing’, I was sure we would discover Olivier alive. And the final episode opened with a confusing scene in Russia, but we saw on the glass the stick figure drawing Oliver had made on the day he vanished and in the basement of the house he was kept in. I saw no option but to believe he was in Russia.

This meant the rest of the episode was quite confusing. As we listened to Alain explain the series of events that took place, starting with hitting him with the car, we knew that incident couldn’t have killed him as we know he would later create the drawing and be seen on film in the empty house.

So this was Alain falsely believing Oliver was killed, and his brother arranged for someone to dispose of the body. Finding the boy alive, this man then killed Oliver to complete his task, the boy had seen his face so he couldn’t let him go.

At this point I was still optimistic as we knew he was in Russia, and there was the whole side plot of something being smuggled to Russia, so I couldn’t even invest in that moment with Tony and Emily learning their son was actually killed and his brutal final moments. I looked at the clock and knew there was still time to fine him.

As the time passed though I started to groan, ‘oh Series Two will be them tracking him down in Russia, I want the reunion now!’.

Then we saw that scene, Tony in Russia following children around and pestering them with the photo.

(And on a side note, if Tony was trying to find his son who hadn’t seen him in 8 years, why have that beard? Even I didn’t recognise him right away and he’d been on the screen a minute previous!)

Anyway, was this going to be that reunion moment? No, the police arrived and took Tony away, explaining to the boy that he had been pestering other boys too.

End.

Then everything hit me. What the programme had tried, and in my case, been successful at making us feel. I went through this whole programme with Tony. Clutching at evidence, discussing theories, without a body on a TV show you have to assume the character is still alive. And so did Tony. And within that final few seconds after the programme finished I realised that Oliver did die. He was killed in that house, why else would the cleaning company be there but to clear up the blood we saw. There were no more theories, the story is complete.

I started this post thinking the programme was intending to make you understand Tony, but perhaps in the end you’re either a Tony or an Emily. You believe that boy in Russia is Oliver and keep hope he is alive, or you believe Oliver was dead as you were told, and feel relief you know what happened.

I think this is why this programme was great. I’ll watch Series Two at some point to see what new story it brings, but I for one did appreciate the ending of this one.

2. Embrace opportunity

Part 2 of my series on developing great leadership skills based on Girlguiding’s article here:

12 steps to becoming a great leader

“Good leaders make an effort to constantly brush up on their abilities. We’re always amazed at the enthusiasm with which our volunteers take on new challenges, which is why we offer extensive and varied development opportunities to do so.”

One of the upsides to being a leader during my Senior Section years was that I could take on extra opportunities. Having the option to train as a Peer Educator not only allowed me to visit other units and share the knowledge I had learned but it also gave me valuable time to develop my leadership skills.

Training as a Peer Educator took me out of my comfort zone and into a weekend long training with a bunch of people of similar age that I’d never met before. It was confidence building right from the start. Over the weekend we looked at how to lead discussions with the girls, how to tackle safeguarding moments and how to spread the word about what we do.

It involved a lot of team work with a large group of people. It involved leading an activity to a group of fellow Senior Section members. It involved long periods of working with new people. It was a rather draining couple of days for me but I definitely benefitted from it.

I was then able to travel around the county meeting new leaders and their Brownies and Guides. I was welcomed into each new unit and given total control over two weeks of their programme. I created my own resources to help the sessions run smoothly.

Being a Peer Educator was an opportunity I really loved being a part of and I’m so glad I embraced it while I could.

Moving forwards, I plan to continue looking for new opportunities. One in particular I have coming up is a PR/Photography training session which I am excited for. The great thing about Girlguiding is there are plenty of opportunities to take part in. Some seem a little more confusing than others, I have often looked at outdoor activity training and have been so confused about how much work is involved. Maybe once I have the time I will enquire about how these ones work (if I have the funds for it).

Step 1. Believe in yourself

Inspired by a recent Girlguiding blog post / magazine article I am starting a series of 12 blog posts about steps to becoming a great leader and how I have tried to achieve them in the past. You can read the Girlguiding article here:

12 steps to becoming a great leader

Step 1 – Believe in yourself

“Remember: you are awesome. By staying positive, trusting yourself, and not being afraid to ask for help, you can set a great example. And keep in mind that it’s OK to fail – it’s part of learning.”

So… when have I failed in Girlguiding? And how did I overcome it?

The first thing that springs to mind was my first Brownie Holiday. Our unit did not have a licenced leader able to take Brownies away overnight, so as soon as I completed my Leadership qualification I started on this.

My mistake? Assuming more Brownies would sign up to attend and therefore under charging the parents.

There was so much interest from the girls, but out of  group of 24 only 8 girls signed up. This could’ve been parents reluctant to send their kids with a training leader, I’m not sure why the number was so low, but I started to panic I couldn’t even use the weekend toward my qualification.

Speaking to District Commissioner we managed to find three Brownies from her unit who wanted to join us making the numbers up to 11. I had the numbers for the weekend but the amount I had charged was still too low. I had to do the awful task of writing to the parents and explaining the situation. Luckily all were okay to pay extra for the trip.

It was an awful experience and one I hope never to find myself in again. I now charge a fee under the impression of a much lower number. If we have extra money we use it towards bigger activities or return some after the event.

This was very much a ‘learn from your mistakes’ moment and I have grown from it.

Another mistake I had to learn from the hard way was accepting a Brownie transfer. We had one request from a parent who’s daughter couldn’t attend her old unit due to a sibling’s medical sessions taking place at the same time, following an accident. As a charity it seemed the right thing to do, especially considering a girl had just left us unexpectedly due to a family incident.

Unfortunately this led to nasty phone calls from another parent, asking why this girl had special treatment as her daughter was wishing to move to us to join a friend, she had been on our regular waiting list. In my opinion her daughter was a completely different situation and could’ve stayed in her old unit but having these conversations isn’t the way I wish to spend a Wednesday evening.

From this I learned to run any Brownie transfer through the District Commissioner, so it can be a joint decision rather than all on my shoulders. Perhaps my decision wasn’t the right one, but from now on I’ll be getting a second opinion!

Girlguiding can be tough sometimes, and causes stress you wouldn’t want to volunteer for, but you learn from mistakes and use the support group around you to work these things out. It is these moments you develop confidence from, and the fun moments definitely outweigh these little rare moments.

International Pen Pals!

For Thinking Day 2017 I organised a pen pal exchange from our Brownie unit with some American Girl Scout troops. Being in the UK it is very easy for us to find international pen pals as there are so many more groups in America having the same idea. I found some troops by placing a post in the appropriate WAGGGS forum and leaving my guiding email address. It didn’t take long to receive floods of requests, more than I expected, and set about selecting 2 units that would add up to the same number of girls (American troops tend to be a lot smaller than ours) and sending my apologies to the others.

We were now linked with a Brownie troop from Georgia and a Junior troop from Illinois and we all set about writing letters! Having run a pen pal exchange before I had experience with girls missing the sessions, girls leaving mid project and new girls starting so requested that instead of writing to a particular girl all the letters were addressed ‘Dear New Friend’. This also worked well in making sure girls who write very long letters are linked with a likewise girl!

Penpals2

Of course we had a mixture of letters. Some of our older girls wrote full a4 pages with careful handwriting and drawings and lots of information about Brownies. Others it was a little more of  struggle to get a letter out of but it was a great excuse to chat with the girls about their favourite things at Brownies, and lots drew their favourite things as well as a bit of writing. One of the troops introduced us to SWAPS. Little crafts with a safety pin in them that are often exchanged between groups in America. I found a simple cute trefoil craft that the Brownies spent 15 minutes making for their new friends.

PenPals1

I also wrote up some information on Girlguiding and what we do at Brownies in the UK, and we also sent over badges from our county.

Then in late January we received our parcels! It was very exciting to see what they sent over. The Brownie troop sent us letters, badges and swaps (some cute red, white and blue gems), they also sent us some American currency and a ‘Try Its’ book of American Girl Scout activities! The Junior troop sent us long letters, photos and more badges!

Screenshot_20170415-094328

It was such an exciting evening to give out the letters. The Brownies spent a lot of time reading their own, sharing them with their friends and comparing who’s pen pal was friends with who! We also prepared a print out with a drawing of a girl scout so they could colour in the uniform, and space to write down where their new pen pal was from and their troop name. The evening passed so quickly we forgot to even take photos! We were so happy to receive some photos from the Junior Troop with the letters we sent. them

Overall I felt it was a fantastic World Thinking Day activity, and one where the Brownies have a special memory to keep of a friend they now have all the way around the world. I’d highly recommend this experience!

Our adventures in Reykjavik

One month ago I was in Reykjavik. A four day trip with mixed feelings of highs and lows, it has taken me a while to tell the tale. Unfortunately that means my memories of such events has started to diminish, and unlike Paris I don’t have a fully detailed travel journal to refer back to. So here is four days in Iceland from memory.

Day one. Getting through the blue lagoon.

Our early morning flight got us up and awake at 2.30am. Arriving at Keflavik airport we spotted the name of the tour company we were using and got our tickets to the blue lagoon. By mid morning we were at the world famous spa. So here is a story in itself as a spa is something I’ve never done before in my life! James and I split into our single sex changing rooms and I now had to fend for myself and figure out the dos and don’ts of spa life. I managed to get myself changed, four days worth of luggage in tow, then had to figure out the locker system. We had wrist bands to open them but I hadn’t realised I was looking for an open locker, I was just wandering around pressing my band to the scanners expecting it to find one for me! Once I had found a convenient corner locker a nice American lady helped me shut it and I headed onto the showers. After a quick wash and lots of conditioner I left the changing area to find James waiting for me. Apparently I’d taken ages and James was worried I’d melted down in anxiety in the middle of the lockers!

The blue lagoon was lovely. So nice and warm and calm. We tried on the face masks, floated around the whole area looking for warm spots, enjoyed a blueberry skyr smootie, and James went for the sauna. After a couple hours we left, changed back and went exploring the outside area and enjoyed the views. This was a little off the beaten track so was also very quiet. We returned to the bus and got ourselves dropped of in Reykjavik.

20161116_145413

When we got dropped off though we managed to get ourselves to the wrong hotel! There are lots of Foss Hotels in Reykjavik and luckily our one was only round the corner to the one I mistakenly thought was ours. After checking in and dumping our bags we explored the city and had an awesome dinner in this little pub themed restaurant. We headed back to the hotel for a nap before our bus was due to pick us up for the Northern Lights tour at 10pm.

We were downstairs at the hotel by 9.20pm, as it states pick up starts half hour before. But the bus never picked us up. To cut a horrible story short, somewhere between the travel agent in the UK, the holiday company they book through and the tour operator in Reykjavik someone printed us tickets for our chosen time of 10pm, but we were actually booked on the earlier 7.30pm. The 10pm didn’t event run that night, and we would’ve been happy to go at 7.30pm had we known. It was very frustrating, left me feeling very worried for the rest of our excursions and disappointed not to see the lights. We were able to go on the tour the following two evenings, spent 1 hour 45 mins standing in the freezing cold watching the sky both nights and saw nothing, and we were aware that people had seen the lights the night we were booked for. That explains the whole story, so I won’t be mentioning it again.

Day Two; Reykjavik city life

The next morning after our lovely breakfast at the hotel we wrapped up warm and headed to the small city to explore. First we went to the coast and watched the waves crash onto the rocks that stood before us. We walked along to the new Harpa building. A place to get out of the cold but we were surprised by the inside. We explored the shops, all at this time of year with beautiful Christmas decorations. Wandered the building and its interesting architecture.

Next we headed into town and found many Christmas themed shops. James took to one in particular and discovered the story of the 13 Yule Lads of Christmas. We now have this cute little Christmas story in our living room, and it shares the secrets of this family who visit in the run up to Christmas day. After the shops we had a drink in a coffee shop and read the new book. Next we walked up to Hallgrímskirkja, the church at the centre of Reykjavik and the tallest point in the city. We paid to go to the top and looked out at the views. The wind was so strong that day we had to hold onto the bars across the windows to hold ourselves up!

20161117_140426

Leaving the church we explored further to find a strange little bridge to another venue holding events, explored some more and found ourselves in a cosy little coffee shop again for a rest. (Somehow James led us in the staff entrance, James insists he is correct but we definitely left through the public entrance!) As we sat I read through our guide book and found the few sites I wanted to make sure we visited during our short stay. One was the art museum,Hafnarhús, showing the works of Icelandic cartoon artist Erro.

Leaving the coffee shop (through the correct door!) we found ourselves opposite the art museum from my book! Being close to 5pm we walked in to look around the shop, but we then realised the gallery stayed open late on Thursdays and decided to visit there and then. The works of Erro were very thought provoking and showed a lot of dark feelings, giving the time period he was creating this work. We visited the rest of the gallery too, I also enjoyed the work of Örn Alexander Ámundason and their blunt explanation of the art you were looking at, James was not quite as impressed. We both enjoyed Yoko Ono’s ‘One More Story’ exhibition, which promoted working together, peace and activism. This exhibit included a lot of opportunity to take part, but I especially liked the chess set all white and the implications of keeping track of the game if everyone is the same.

For dinner we headed over to the Hard Rock Cafe. We had a nice meal, picked up some shot glasses for our collection and James was of the impression it was fairly new. I don’t know why. But it did turn out it had only opened 3 weeks earlier.

Day Three; the Golden Circle

We headed out on the obligatory Golden Circle tour on our third day. This took us the see how tomatoes are grown in the giant green houses outside Reykjavik, watching the geysers exploding, take in the views of the Golden waterfall, and then head to the Þingvellir National park for a walk along the canyon formed by two tectonic plates. The photos do all the talking on this day, and the video of the snow storm the amazing coach driver drove us through. Still need to get the photos off the camera so that is still to come!

20161118_152423

Oh yeah, I wore my Girlguiding jacket the whole time!

Day Four; shopping and visiting the Vikings

On our final day we made our way around the shops to pick up the souvenirs we had wanted to bring home (but were too concerned about our money to pay at the time!). We also headed to the Saga Museum, a small exhibition following the early history of Iceland and the first settlers. This museum was a collection of lifelike models accompanied by an audio guide to explain the stories of these famous figures. It was very informative and even though it was a fair walk to the other side of the city it was well worth it.

Our final meal was a fancy fish and chips at this nice restaurant alongside the volcano house (which, if we had more time we would’ve taken in the film here). After lunch we took our final walk through the city before collecting our bags, and getting the taxi back to the airport.

Random Tips for Iceland!

  1. It really is expensive!
  2. The water smells of sulphur, you won’t be looking forward to your morning shower.
  3. You won’t find many bugs.
  4. Go before Christmas to enjoy the festivities!
  5. You only need a backpack, just pack lots of layers. No need to lug suitcases around.

How to spend 3 days in Paris

Earlier this month James and I had an amazing few days in France. We travelled on the Saturday, spent the day at Parc Asterix on the Sunday (blog post coming soon) and then three days sightseeing in Paris. Here is our experiences and my suggestions to those looking to do the same. Please keep in mind this is from September mid-week, and the experiences during a busier period may differ very much.

Day One: Buy three day tickets for a Parisian hop-on hop-off bus tour. We had a lot of talk about whether to buy these or use the metro but decided on the tour bus as we would see all the sights, rather than pop up out of a metro station. Plus the tour we chose included recorded commentary and included 4 different lines, and one bus stop was a fifteen minute walk from our hotel.

Head to the Arc de Triomphe and climb to the very top. It is awesome to see the sights from the top of this impressive building. In every direction there is a road heading toward you, and the traffic running around the roundabout beneath you is entertaining itself.

20160919_124647

Then head over to the Palais de Chaillot for an awesome photo op of the Eiffel Tower. From here we took the boat trip included with our Bus Tour tickets all the way to Notre Dame. (Do some extra research here, we were not impressed with the boat tour, it wasn’t open top and the plastic sheeting above you is covered in their adverts so spoilt the view.) Once at Notre Dame we took a bus tour to the catacombs. Next tip, check with each site that it is open on the day you decide to visit! (Catacombs is closed on Mondays, our entire visit was not pre-determined).

We decided to walk back the bus route to visit the Jardin Du Luxembourg where we sat and chilled for a while after all the walking of the day.

20160919_175319-copy

Day Two: We took the bus to the Musee d’Orsay and spent all morning looking at the galleries. We saw Van Gogh exhibition and the impressionist exhibition. We were shocked to see people taking photos, and even selfies with the art. This was Tuesday morning, we got there just after opening time, and the queue was maybe 10-15 minutes. If you’re under 26 you get a reduced rate too, along with many other sights in Paris!

20160920_120029-copy

We found a nice little place to pick up a panini and cake and sat by the Seine and ate our lunch. Unfortunately a gang of wasps joined us too. From here we took the bus to the Eiffel Tower and climbed up the first two tiers. You cannot walk to the top tier, but it is so high it would take so long! We enjoyed the sights of the first two tiers then joined the queue for the lift to the top. This took nearly 2 hours, be prepared to wait. Once we reached the 2nd tier was decided to join the queue straight away and enjoyed the view while we waited. It gets quite cramped when you get to the front, and there seemed to be 2 queues merging into one. The lift took about a minute and a half, then your have plenty of space to observe Paris beneath you. You can even see the actual top of the tower:

20160920_163442

Be prepared to queue to get down again too!

Day Three: We headed straight to the catacombs as I had read there were long queues to get in. By heading straight there, I still mean we got there a good half hour after it opened and the queue was already very long. They only allow a set number of people in, and as you spend roughly 45 minutes exploring it the queue will always take a long time. We queued for 2 hours, and this was from the 2nd entrance to the park. I don’t know why the area smelt so weird too. There is a McDonalds near by if you want to pick up a drink while you wait, plus it has a toilet (but not a very nice one).

Once inside the catacombs I would strongly suggest purchasing the audio guide. You can put two headphones in so you can share. Then head down the very long staircase into the tunnels.

imgp0215

There was a lot to learn in the tombs and the guide was very informative. On exiting the catacombs turn right and right again to walk back to the entrance (in case you’re confused about where you’ve left!). It is about a 20 minute walk back, which we hadn’t factored into our busy day.

We took the bus back and spent the next hour taking the blue bus line around the contemporary side of Paris.

Finally we headed to the Louvre for the evening. On Wednesdays the museum stays open late, so this fits perfectly into our schedule. At this time of day the queue was almost non-existent. And how I wish we had bought the audio-guide, as to be expected with the world’s biggest museum there was so much to see! We spent a lot of time in the ancient Egyptian exhibition, plus the Greek, the sculpture and the paintings exhibitions. You can also purchase a 3ds guide to the Louvre, I really felt I missed out by not having a guide so do consider it!

20160921_185857

On reflection there isn’t too much I would do differently. Perhaps a little online research to purchase advanced tickets like we did for Rome. But this also kills some of the excitement of exploring a new city for the first time. I wouldn’t be so nervous about restaurants either, we had some amazing meals I didn’t even go into here. The audio guide at the Louvre would be on my list, I do find it odd you cannot get one once you’re inside.

In conclusion, this was an amazing trip, even better than I had expected. It restored my faith in city holidays and cannot wait for our next one.