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Scouts, Brownies and Guides: How groups changed lives from Aberdeen to Thurso

Meet current and former Brownies, Scouts and Guides from across the north and north-east of Scotland whose lives have been changed thanks to these incredible community groups and the fight to keep them going
Rosemary Lowne
Scouts and Guides have the power to change lives. Pictured are Angus Michie, a Mannofield Explorer Scout and Eoin Smith, a Mannofield. Scout leader. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson
Scouts and Guides have the power to change lives. Pictured are Angus Michie, a Mannofield Explorer Scout and Eoin Smith, a Mannofield. Scout leader. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

Daisy chain in her hair, smile beaming, 10-year-old Eva Cameron eloquently chats about how the Brownies has helped her after being diagnosed with autism.

“I find it quite hard to make friends sometimes and Brownies has helped me a lot,” enthuses Eva, who attends the 3rd Thurso Brownies.

“I’m the kind of person who usually plays on my own at school but Brownies has been great as most of the girls were complete strangers to me and now they’re my friends.

“I’ve also learned social skills and the leaders are very nice.”

Far from just camping and tying knots, organisations like the Guides and Scouts are empowering the next generation of young people to be their best.

And for children like Eva, these community groups became a lifeline during lockdown when volunteer leaders worked tirelessly to move regular sessions online.

Eva Cameron says the Brownies has been a huge support to her since she’s been diagnosed with autism. Image: Deirdre Cameron

Demand for Guiding has soared since the pandemic

Since the world re-opened, the demand for Guiding across the north and north-east of Scotland has soared with Girlguiding Scotland reporting that they now have 7,000 members across Aberdeenshire, Banff, Moray and the Highlands and Islands and more than 1,600 girls on waiting lists.

“We have seen that the enthusiasm across our organisation has grown incredibly since our young members (and volunteers) have been able to come back face-to-face, to get outside and have adventures, to complete their skills builders and theme awards in a way that they just couldn’t do for the past couple of years,” says Philippa Balshaw, PR and policy officer at Girlguiding Scotland.

The demand for Scouts also appears to have grown with the Mannofield Explorer Scout unit in Aberdeen alone experiencing a jump in membership from 20 before lockdown to 32, with waiting lists growing.

But with this demand comes the need for more volunteers and support with fundraising to ensure that more young people have the opportunity to thrive.

We’ve spoken with both current and former Brownies, Guides and Scouts from Aberdeen to Thurso to get to the heart of why these grassroot groups are so important for our young people and our communities.

Eoin Smith, Mannofield Explorer Scouts leader

Eoin Smith says volunteering with the Scouts is the most fulfilling thing he has done in his life. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

Shy and timid, throwing tantrums wasn’t in Eoin’s nature as a child, but when his mum told him he would be starting the Beavers, the young Scout group, he let his feelings be known.

“My mum and dad always said that I wasn’t the kind of kid who had tantrums but the only one they can remember is when my mum came off the phone and said ‘I’ve signed you up for Beavers’ and I threw a tantrum on the living room floor saying ‘I don’t want to go to that’,” laughs Eoin, from Aberdeen.

Unbeknown to six-year-old Eoin at the time, joining the scouts in Mannofield would turn out to be one of the best things to ever happen to him.

“When I came back from the first night, I said ‘this is the best thing ever, this is amazing’,” says Eoin.

“I was quite a shy, timid kid, but going to the Beavers and then on to the Cubs, Scouts and Explorers really helped to bring me out of my shell.

“Through all the sections there’s a good mix of learning stuff, whether that’s traditional scouting skills or things that are going to help you in life like social skills.

“People think of Scouts and they think of tying knots and sewing badges on to your uniform and yes that is part of it but it’s a much more forward thinking and it’s a very modern organisation.”

Eoin aged six when he started his journey with the Scouts. Image: Eoin Smith

Life-changing experience

Twenty-six years on and Eoin has a successful career as a PR and copywriting manager at the marketing agency Planit Scotland.

“I wouldn’t be the person I am today without Scouts, 100%,” says Eoin.

The Scouts has had such a huge impact on Eoin’s life that he is now the Mannofield Explorer Scouts leader with a heartfelt passion to give children the same opportunities he was afforded.

“This is probably the most fulfilling thing that I do in my life,” says Eoin.

“You see these young people come in and you see their development, you see them grow, learn new skills and celebrate their own and each others’ successes and it’s really fantastic.”

Eoin says the Scouts is so much more than just tying knots. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

Need for volunteers

As with other charities, organisations like the Scouts have to continually come up with new and inventive ways to fundraise, especially as the traditional bag-pack option has all but been eradicated due to self-scan tills at the supermarkets.

As a former music journalist with contacts in the Aberdeen music scene, Eoin came up with the novel idea for the Scouts to make an album – Straight Outta Mannofield – with support from 20 renowned Aberdeen and north-east artists including The Capollos, The Xcerts, Best Girl Athlete, The Lorelei, CS Buchan and Wendell Borton.

“We have been absolutely blown away by the support of the local music scene when putting this album together,” says Eoin.

The Mannofield Explorer Scouts have put together a fundraising album featuring 20 of the north-east of Scotland?s best musical acts. Image: Eoin Smith.

“We cannot overstate how grateful we are to all the bands and musicians that have donated their songs to the project.

“It really does show the power of community, and what we can achieve when we work together.”

Eoin hopes that by sharing his story it will encourage other people to become volunteers.

“In Aberdeen there’s probably 50 or 60 vacant volunteer roles for people to get involved,” says Eoin.

Angus Michie, Mannofield Explorer Scout

Angus loves to help out in the local community. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

Teenagers are often unfairly tarred with the same brush as being lazy or troublemakers.

But Angus Michie and his friends at the Mannofield Explorer Scouts in Aberdeen are anything but.

Arguably more proactive than most adults, Angus loves nothing more than helping out in his local community.

“Over the years we’ve done little picks, foodbank collections and recently we planted trees with the River Dee Trust,” says Angus, 16, who lives in Cults.

“Even within the Scouts, we volunteer as young leaders to help the younger children in the Beavers and Cubs which is very fulfilling.

“Scouts has been one of key aspects in helping me to develop as a person, improving my confidence and social skills.

“There’s definitely a strong sense of community.”

Bright future

Camping in the Cairngorms has inspired Angus to pursue a career in geosciences or geology. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

Ten years on from when he started as a little six-year-old Beaver and Angus is flourishing with his sights set on a career in geosciences or geology.

“The time I spent camping with the Scouts in the Cairngorms or along the coast has definitely influenced that,” says Angus.

Angus now can’t imagine life without the Scouts and hopes that communities across the north and north-east continue to support and cherish these life-changing groups.

“The Scouts has been such a big part of my life, a real constant,” says Angus.

Caley McLeod, 1st Forres Guide

Caley McLeod is thriving after joining the Guides. Image: Emily McLeod

There’s no doubt that lockdown was tough for children but one shining light throughout that dark period for 13-year-old Caley McLeod was the Guides.

“I joined Guides online over Covid,” says Caley, from Burghead, whose younger sister Iona also attends the group.

“The first week I joined we learned how to macrame, it’s one of the most difficult things to learn online but those sessions gave me something to look forward to during lockdown.

“When we got back to normal it was great.”

Positively thriving

Confidently chatting about her time as a Rainbow, Brownie and now a Guide, Caley’s enthusiasm is palpable.

“Guides is great as it’s somewhere safe to go and parents know their kids are safe,” says Caley.

“I’ve learned how to make friends, how to work as a team and I’ve learned how to tie a few knots, how to put up tents, and how to bake and kayak.

“I also think Guides will help me to decide what I want to be when I’m older because of all the badges I do.”

Caley looks forward to the Guides every week. Image: Emily McLeod

Caley’s mum Emily says she’s seeing Caley flourish right before her very eyes thanks to the Guides.

“When they reach those teenage years they can develop a sense of apathy, you know when they would rather be on their phone than be out doing things but because the Guides is so fun and engaging they do want to go back, it’s not a chore to make them go,” says Emily.

Eve Thomson, 1st New Elgin Guide

Eve says the Guides has given her more confidence. Image: Claire Thomson

Looking out from the theatre stage and seeing her friends from Guides cheering her on in the audience will be a huge lift for Eve Thomson, who is starring in her local production of Grease.

“It’s going to make me feel really comfortable and really safe when I look out there and see all my friends from Guides who are so happy to support me,” says Eve, who lives in Birnie near Elgin.

This stellar show of support encapsulates what the Guides are all about: empowering girls and young women to reach their full potential.

“It’s definitely helped my confidence,” says Eve.

“I wasn’t a very shy child but it helped me with making lots of friends and talking to new people.

“Going to Guides is the highlight of my week.

“I love being there and seeing everybody.”

It has also inspired Eve to pursue a career in dance.

“I think I would like to dance and I’ve also looked at jobs in leadership.”

Holly Birkhead, Leader at 1st Insch Brownies

Holly loves seeing the next generation of young girls flourish thanks to the Brownies. Image: Holly Birkhead

Studying to be a teacher while juggling work as a nursery practitioner and running the 1st Insch Brownie Unit, it’s fair to say that life is super busy for Holly Birkhead.

The vivacious 21-year-old wouldn’t have it any other way though, putting her steely drive, determination and focus down to a childhood spent at Guides.

“I don’t think I would be in the same place today if it wasn’t for the Rainbows, Brownies, Guides and Rangers,” says Holly.

“I think it has changed my life.

“It gave me the confidence to be myself and I think that’s what I want to give to the rest of the girls.

“Having a team of people who will celebrate your success even when it’s something as little as getting a badge, it doesn’t seem a lot but when you’re a child in school who doesn’t always receive the certificates or the praise that can go such a long way for their self-esteem.”

Giving back

Holly, pictured on the right, with her friend when she started Rainbows. Image: Holly Birkhead

Guiding is something which runs in Holly’s family as both her mum and gran were involved when they were younger.

Keen to continue the family legacy, Holly is now helping other young girls by giving up her free time to volunteer to run the Insch Brownie Unit.

“We have mixed level of need in the unit as we have some girls who are more shy than others and some who are diagnosed with different disorders, so seeing them form friendships is amazing,” says Holly.

“This is a safe place, they have lots of fun and they’re dying to come back.”

Like many other Brownie groups, Holly says they need more volunteers.

“We’ve got a waiting list and we would love to have a second unit but we don’t have enough volunteers,” says Holly.

“I would like to encourage more people to become volunteers.”

Shannon Smith, 3rd Ellon Guide Leader

Shannon hasn’t looked back since joining the Brownies. Image: Shannon Smith

If it wasn’t for life-changing trips with the Guides to Lesotho, India and Mexico, Shannon Smith would never have discovered her passion for working with women and children.

Inspired by the aid work she carried out during those missions, the 27-year-old from Ellon is now at Robert Gordon University studying to be a midwife while juggling work as a health care assistant at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

“We volunteered in India at a women and children’s aid and we also did a period poverty project with children in Lesotho.

“After that I knew that women and children’s health was where I wanted to go.”

Shannon gets so much joy in helping the next generation of young Brownies and Guides. Image: Shannon Smith

These experiences shaped Shannon so much that she now, as a volunteer leader, takes girls on trips abroad.

“I love taking the girls on international trips and showing them that the world is so much bigger than Scotland,” says Shannon.

“We’re taking 43 members to Switzerland soon which will be amazing.

“I would encourage anyone to volunteer as organisations like the Guides are lifechanging.”

For anyone who would like to get involved in Guides, check out the website or if you’re interested in joining the Scouts go to the website