Celebrating 100 years of Girlguiding in Kent

Sue Sherlock, county commissioner of Kent East, looks back over 100 years of Girlguiding and how the county has celebrated its centenary year

Celebrating 100 years of Girlguiding in Kent

Hands up if you were a Brownie or a Girl Guide? The odds are you were both, and whatever age you are now, those years will be some of your most vivid childhood memories. I can still remember lining up to be inspected, my hair neatly plaited and my shoes all shiny, and I can still sing you my Brownie Elf Patrol song if you insist.

Now the all-girls movement has just come to the end of its centenary year, which began over the weekend of 5-6 September 2009.

On that weekend 100 years ago, a small group of girls stepped forward at the 1909 Boy Scouts Rally in Crystal Palace Park and asked its Founder, Robert Baden-Powell, for ‘something for the girls’. Guiding has come a long way since then – the movement has travelled all over the globe with more than 10 million members worldwide and 500,000-plus in the UK.

In Kent, there’s no one better qualified to talk me through ‘a year to remember’ than Sue Sherlock, county commissioner for Kent East. Despite insisting “I haven’t been a conventional guider – I’ve never run a Brownie, Guide or Rainbow unit and I don’t like camping!” Sue, 59, who has lived in Faversham all her lfe, has been a staunch supporter since the age of seven.

A 3rd Faversham Brownie and Guide, she became a Ranger and then Snowy Owl with the Brownies, until work got in the way. Sue didn’t really get involved again until her daughter Katie joined Brownies, then at a Scout Fellowship event found herself agreeing to take on the division treasurer’s job as a temporary measure: 15 years later, she was still doing it.

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The division commissioner for Faversham then became very ill and needed someone to take over. Again, Sue agreed to do the role as a stop-gap and nine years later … you’ve guessed it.

“In May 2006, I got a letter asking if I would consider becoming county commissioner of Kent East, but because I wasn’t a qualified Guider, I thought, I can’t do that – I don’t know enough about Guiding!” laughs Sue.

But a family round-table conference with her children Katie and Tim and husband Stephen convinced Sue to believe ‘yes you can’ and she took over as county commissioner on 1 January 2007, finishing on 31 December 2011.

“In the role I have been to places I would never have gone otherwise – from the smallest guide hall in East Kent to a garden party at Buckingham Palace in 2009 for YOU (Youth Organisations Unite), led by Prince Charles and Camilla,” says Sue.

“I have met some really fantastic girls who have done all sorts of things. For example, I presented a young Rainbow with a Guiding Star of Merit, she had been very ill and was having treatment in London but still insisted on going to her Rainbow meetings when she got back. She couldn’t see what all the fuss was about.”

Sue’s term has, of course, included centenary celebrations at division, county and unit level. The big launch at Crystal Palace kicked it all off and to follow there’s been a sleepover at the Ashford Designer Outlet, where 800 people gathered to see if they could link arms round the centre (they did), a beating the bounds that involved every division in East Kent,

a Magic and Mayhem event for 600 Rainbows (with an Ugly Bug Ball disco to end) and Reach for the Stars at Folkestone Racecourse. In September, a centenary service was held at Canterbury Cathedral where everyone dressed in their bright pink centenary shirts and held a lit candle, and every unit brought its flag.

And at 10 minutes past eight on 10 October 2010 (2010, 2010, 2010), the end of the centenary year was marked by all Brownies and Guides renewing their Promise

So why is Guiding still so popular? With 18,000 Guides in Kent and 16,000 Scouts, that’s a lot of youth.

“We would rather they belonged to something outside of school, whether it be St John’s, Army Cadets, Scouts or Guides,” says Sue. “When you come to writing your cv or personal statement for UCAS, if you say that you’ve done something in scouting or guiding it gives whoever is doing the interview something to ask you about, and you to talk about. “It all helps build their confidence and makes them team players. It’s building blocks for life and it makes them into individual people.” 


�— Guiding began in the UK in 1910 after Robert Baden-Powell asked his sister Agnes to start a group especially for girls that would be run along similar lines to Scouting for Boys

�— The Guide Association was a founder member of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) in 1928. Today, the Association has more than 600,000 members and continues to be the largest girl-only youth organisation in the UK.

�— Since January 2007, Scout groups in the UK must now accept girls

�— This has not affected the numbers of girls joining Girlguiding UK. At present about one in four of all eight-year-old girls in the UK are Brownies and 50 per cent of UK women have been involved with Guiding at some point in their lives

�— The 1st Buckingham Palace Company was formed to allow the then Princess Elizabeth to be a Girl Guide. It met for the first time on 9 June 1937. At this meeting, Princess Elizabeth was elected second of the Kingfisher Patrol with Patricia Mountbatten as her Patrol Leader

�— A Brownie Pack was also opened at the same time for Princess Margaret. It had 14 members

�— The 1st Buckingham Palace Company was reformed in 1959 for Princess Anne. It was active until 1963