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Horsham Girlguiding Still Going Strong

Brownies and rainbows around a campfire

Published on 1st September 2015

What would sewing shops do without the Girl Guide movement? A quarter of all eight-year-old girls are Brownies, and with more than 50 badges to be stitched into that famous brown (well, it's predominantly yellow these days) uniform, mums need a healthy stock of needles and threads.

There are so many Girl Guides, that if they all held hands in a straight line, the line would reportedly be 850 kilometres long, stretching from Bristol to Inverness. It is still the largest all-female youth organisation in the world, and here in the Horsham Division the demand is as great as ever...

Here in the Horsham Division, girls can join as Rainbows when aged five and stay right through to Brownies, Guides and Rangers, and beyond. There is a strong tradition here of Guides going on to become Leaders.

Pam Leadbeater has been with the Guides for 48 years, and 46 of those years have been spent at 3rd Horsham.
As Horsham Division Commissioner, she looks after the needs of close to 1,000 girls, from Rainbows to Rangers.
"I've been involved with 3rd Horsham since 1969," said Pam. "I think it's the friendship that has kept me here for so long, as we are all ready to help each other whenever it's needed.I'm not interested in giving up yet!

"In my experience, Girlguiding gives you skills and an insight into life that you can't find elsewhere. It teaches values and provides friendships that last a lifetime. You work as part of a team yet become more independent. "Some of the skills we teach may seem old-fashioned, but we have adapted to include many modern aspects too, including computer work, canoeing, sailing and rock climbing. There is a lot of pressure on the Leaders, because today's girls want to be entertained. So whilst we do have evenings at our headquarters teaching traditional skills, we do plan a full and varied programme for the year.

"We are involved with local events such as Sparks in the Park and Remembrance Sunday. It's always lovely to see that many girls in their uniform working together and it makes me very proud. We also have outdoor adventures at our own campsite on the outskirts of Horsham, which the girls love. Recently, Gary Marlow of Woods for Learning came along and taught outdoor survival.

"It was fantastic as the girls have never learnt anything like that.There is still nothing like the Girlguiding because of the very special bond amongst the girls. Being a Guide definitely serves you well in later life."

With that thought, AAH took a stroll out into the countryside and met 1st Harwood Rainbows and 1st Roffey Brownies in the Horsham Division's own campsite...

The Rainbows

For young girls, the Guiding experience begins with Rainbows, from the age of five to seven. In Rainbows, the girls develop self-confidence and build friendships, whilst learning new skills such as cooking. The girls then progress on to Brownies until the age of 10 before joining the Guides and then Rangers at 14.

Julie Jones is a volunteer with 1st Harwood Rainbows, helping to care for about 25 girls for a couple of hours of woodland adventure and a 'sausage sizzle' dinner.

She said: "The Rainbows is so important, because if they have fun here they will go to Brownies and Guides. Here at the campsite, they will do activities, arts and craft, and learn how to work in a team. This evening, the Rainbows had the chance to meet the Brownies, who tell them what being at the next level is like. For the little ones, that step up can seem daunting, so it's nice to have that interaction. Coming here is one of the calendar highlights, as they love being outdoors."

A Generous Gift

It was down to the generosity of a former Girl Guide that thousands of young people from the Guide and Scouting movements, as well as local school children, can enjoy the campsite and its facilities.

The land - covering 14 acres of woodland and a pond - was donated by a Horsham farming family over 60 years ago. The site formed part a quarry and it took volunteers several years to clear for camping and to build facilities.
A chapel, with logs for seats, has also been created, along with campfire spots. There is still a big annual clear up carried out by a team of volunteers, as the site is in great demand.

Sixty years ago, Shirley Webb was a Girl Guide and recalls her childhood visits to the campsite with fondness. Six decades on, she is Treasurer on the Campsite Committee.

"I started out as a Guide with 4th Horsham when in my teens," said Shirley. "I trained with the cadet company started by Molly Andrews, who was heavily involved with local Guiding. "I went back to 4th Horsham as Guide Captain and Sally Langridge was one of my Leaders.

"We were very fortunate, as the campsite was given to the Guide Association by Mrs Joules, who founded the Broadbridge Heath group and was very fond of the Girl Guides. The site needed clearing but we were able to create three small campsites within it as well as buildings and a car park. We had some wonderful gentlemen who did most of the work, including Sally's late husband, Les.

"It is a beautiful site, particularly in spring with the bluebells and primroses, and it's lovely to see young people enjoying it. Over the years, we've added disabled toilets and huts on each site, and the children love it. We have groups of Scouts and Guides coming year after year and they come from all over Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire."

Sally Langridge is now Secretary of the Camp Site Committee. She said: "I don't think today's girls are quite the same as we were, as they all want flushing toilets and showers these days. We didn't have flushing loos, but it's much better now that we do!

"I think though that children still want a natural camp experience, so we don't have a shower block. We notice that they want to stay at the sites furthest away from the centre of camp, because they like proper camping."

Great Demand

Whilst there are dozens of units within the five districts of the Horsham Division (Chennells Brook, Clemsfold, Chesworth, Harwood and Springfield) running them can be a struggle.

Some have been forced to close down, including Slinfold & Farlington Brownies and Rainbows, and Broadbridge Heath Brownies. This is not down to a lack of demand, but a lack of help.

Pam Brakes, the Horsham Division Administrator, said: "We have the children but we can't get the leaders. That's why I'm out three nights a week helping! People don't have the time people or don't think they can help, but they can! That's how I became involved nearly 30 years ago.

"When I moved to Horsham in 1987, my daughter wanted to join the Guides. I was told that the unit was about to close as nobody could help, so I stepped forward. It is well worth the effort, as you are properly trained and meet lovely people.

"At the moment, we have three fantastic Young Leaders who started volunteering as part of the Duke of Edinburgh Award. They enjoyed it so much that they have stayed on for training. We do lose some of them to University but we hope they will return when they are able.

"Some things at Guides really haven't changed much. I'm a great fan of arts and crafts because it's good for hand/eye co-ordination. But you have to have a balance so we also teach cooking, have team building exercises, and do fun things such as camping. The Girl Guides certainly given me a great deal of fun and friendship, and the values of the movement are as valid today as they've ever been."

Leaders in Training

Amrita Ahluwalia, 18, is one of the former Guides training to be a Leader in Training. She will soon be going to Aston University, but hopes to continue volunteering with a unit in Birmingham and become a trainee Leader.

Amrita said: "I joined the Brownies aged seven and carried on into the Guides before joining The Senior Section. The Guides has allowed me to do some incredible activities, such as SCUBA diving at K2 and rock climbing.

"Every four years, there is a huge WS Camp at Ardingly where the Scouts and Guides all come together for a full week of activities, and this event has been a real highlight for me. When I turned 18, I decided I wanted to be a Young Leader and have been working towards that. I think it helps you to stand out in the eyes of potential employers as it demonstrates that you care about the community.

"I really enjoy being a Young Leader, otherwise I wouldn't do it. But there aren't enough leaders to meet the demand, whether it's Rainbows, Brownies or Guides. They do need help. I've got a great deal out of it. Girlguiding has been a big part of my life and now I want to give something back to it."

For more details about your local Rainbows, Brownies and Guides or for volunteer opportunities, visit