Scouting has never been more popular and leading the movement is St Albans Matt Hyde. He talks to Julie Lucas about why we should all ‘be prepared’

Scouting these days has moved on from ‘dyb dyb dyb’ (short for ‘do your best’ (the reply of dob dob dob is short for ‘we’ll do our best’) and bob-a-job week. Baden Powell’s movement which began in 1907 with a group of 20 boys camping on Brownsea Island has evolved but it still gives youngsters between six- and 25-years freedom in the outdoors, challenges, adventure and most all fun. It’s a priceless commodity in today’s environment and Scouting is thriving.

‘Through a weekly programme of fun, friendship and getting outdoors we help over 440,000 young people in the UK gain skills for life,’ explains Matt Hyde, chief executive of The Scout Association. ‘We believe that you learn by doing and that non-formal learning - what you do outside school - is fundamental to your life chances.

Great British Life: Matt with Bear Grylls. (c) Matt HydeMatt with Bear Grylls. (c) Matt Hyde

‘So many people tell me that their journey into leadership started with the Scouts, Guides or Boys Brigade. All these organisations are so important - I am a product of what we do.’

The 48-year-old lives in St Albans with his wife Laura and 15-year-old son. He joined the Scouts in 1983 as a cub and describes it as part of his DNA. ‘I still remember being invested and saying my promise,’ he recalls. ‘Scouting was very much a part of my family history.’ Matt’s grandfather was awarded a Scouts gallantry award in 1921 after saving a boy from drowning.

Coincidentally, he was also born on February 22, which is Baden-Powell’s birthday. ‘It was probably inevitable I would lead the organisation,’ says Matt, who also volunteers as a Scout leader.

Great British Life: Matt as a young boy scout. (c) Matt HydeMatt as a young boy scout. (c) Matt Hyde

‘As a Scout I loved being with my friends, gaining badges and doing different things. It was the first time I led anything, the first time I fundraised - for Comic Relief, a charity I am now trustee of, and the first time I volunteered. The reach of the organisation is extraordinary, from engagement with the royal family and government to some of the most deprived communities in the country. It’s a force for good in the world.’

That force has grown to include 57 million Scouts globally. Early badges could be gained in semaphore, agriculture and stalking – not lions, thankfully, but for following and identifying an animal through the woods. New activity badges (there are currently 77) include parascending, street sports and electronics.

‘Scouting is a movement and it moves with the times,’ says Matt. ‘That’s why our membership has grown for 14 of the last 15 years. We’ve been coeducational for boys and girls since 1991; we have badges that have changed to reflect societal changes – whether that’s our digital-maker badge or community impact badges, where young people take action on climate change or homelessness.’

Great British Life: Meeting with the Princess of Wales. (c) Martyn Milner/ The Scout AssociationMeeting with the Princess of Wales. (c) Martyn Milner/ The Scout Association

There are currently 7,000 groups in the UK, Hertfordshire has 150 with over 1,000 children on the waiting list. And in 2021, the association launched a new age-group for four- and five-year-olds called Squirrels.

Why is it thriving? Perhaps look at estates with signs saying no ball games, kids playing for hours on computers and playing fields making way for housing.

‘So many parents and carers sign their kids up for Scouts because they know how much of a positive difference it makes to their lives. We want everyone in the country to have the same opportunity to experience Scouts, which is why we have specific programmes to grow scouting in areas of deprivation. In the five years before Covid we opened 1,260 new Scout sections in these areas.’

But finding people who will give up their time to help run clubs is vital. “We have 90,000 young people on our waiting lists and we need more volunteers to ensure those young people are learning skills for life,’ says Matt.

Great British Life: Scouts volunteered supporting people in the long queues waiting to pay their respects to the late QueenScouts volunteered supporting people in the long queues waiting to pay their respects to the late Queen

The benefits are tangible, with research proving the organisation instills valuable life skills. ‘You develop communication skills, teamwork and how to get on with different people. Our research tells us you also gain confidence, resilience and develop better mental health. Research from the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh in 2016 showed Scouts were 15 per cent less likely to suffer from mood disorders or anxiety later on in life.’

In 2020, Matt was awarded an OBE for his services to young people which he describes as ‘pretty special’ - his father Richard received an MBE at the same time. ‘I’ve had so many special moments at Scouts, including visiting the World Scout Jamborees in Japan and America (we go to Korea this summer) and epic moments with our chief Scout Bear Grylls – from paragliding together, to dropping into scout camps with him via helicopter. Every day is an adventure with Bear!’ he adds.

Great British Life: Matt Hyde addresses scout leaders. (c) The Scout AssociationMatt Hyde addresses scout leaders. (c) The Scout Association

And last year when the UK mourned Queen Elizabeth II, it was a Scout who led the public to pay their respects. ‘Over 160 18–24-year-olds ended up supporting the queue and they really were both an inspiration and a symbol of everything we respected about The Queen herself – selflessness and service.’

Whether leading and growing the Scout Movement or encouraging the rest of us to donate our time and energies to helping the community around us, Matt’s energy and passion are remarkable.

‘When we give people the opportunity and tools to make change, they grasp it with both hands,” he says. ‘Put simply, Scouting is enormous fun.’