The 44th Gloucester (STRS) Venture Scout Unit was established by Frank Henderson in 1967, when the Scout Movement, modernising its image, created the new Venture Scout section for 15 to 20 year olds. The unit was doubly unique - unique in respect of the Scout Movement in that the 44th was a Unit that comprised solely of a Venture section - there were no Cubs or Scout sections feeding its membership - and unique in respect of Sir Thomas Rich's School in that it was more than just another school 'society' or 'club', its members belonging to both the school and wider Scouting communities. This created a fierce double loyalty to both the unit and school as well as an immense sense of pride of belonging within its members.
The 44th was the first Venture Unit to be created within the Gloucester District, possibly Gloucestershire County as well, and not having the strings of existing scout and cub sections, was able to forge its own path, combining a free spirit of adventure with active service to the communities of which it was part. Frank's insistance that the boys of the 44th did not require Scout uniform - they were either at school wearing school uniform or engaged in outdoor adventurous activities, for which the official Scout uniform at that time was wholly inappropriate being more suited to church parades - frequently caused raised eyebrows of the traditionalists within the local scouting hierachy, so the idea of an activity sweatshirt with school crest and scout membership badge sewn on was adopted, the royal blue being worn proudly by its members. It was funny that some 30 years later the Scout Movement officially adopted a similar and far more practical "activity" uniform ... but then that was always the way of the 44th - ahead of its time, setting the trends, leading the way, pathfinder.
The 44th soon became an integral but oft unsung part of school life - the adventurous activities programme deflecting attention away from much of the service work it quietly got on with - members would regularly find themselves digging over gardens for elderly neighbours, assisting with tree felling and coppicing, dry stone walling, hedge laying, running the bar at school social events, car parking and marshalling duties, organising newspaper and glass collections, wrapping and delivering Christmas TOQ-H parcels, organising and running school discos and quiz evenings, etc, etc - all the time learning new skills, developing initiative, self-confidence, teamwork abilities and understanding the worth of the people around them.
Perhaps the 44th's most reknowned activities were its summer expeditions, epitomising a true spirit of adventure, inspired by that great Norwegian explorer and adventurer, Frijdthof Nansen. No surprise that the unit returned 8 times to Norway, combining mountain adventures with service projects and work at the several Nansen International Children Centres, re-establishing links with Frank's teaching mentor and close friend Ernst Davies. Expedition destinations also included Scotland, Wales, Eire, the Picos de Europa, Sweden, Iceland - and not forgetting England! - but you can find out more by reading the V44 magazine reports and logbook accounts elsewhere in this archive.
The saying that "All good things must come to an end" sadly applied to the 44th VSU - or 44th ESU (Explorer Scout Unit) as it became in 2003 (see annual report in 2002-2003 year-by-year archive section) - and the end of academic year 2011-2012 saw the official closure of the unit. A real shame that such a key part of Sir Thomas Rich's extra-curricular life had finally run its course but at the end of the day the demand for the 44th's unique brand of Scouting had been eroded by several factors, not least intense social pressures and ever-increasing academic expectations. Coupled with the school's own rapidly blossoming Duke of Edinburgh scheme, whose more formally structured and compartmentalised, tick-box orientated delivery far more suited time-hungry parents, then perhaps the writing was on the wall. It should be noted here that the 44th also ran the Duke of Edinburgh Award along side Scouting's own training schemes, with several of its members attaining not only Duke of Edinburgh Gold Awards but also the (more) prestigious and highly acclaimed Queen Scout Award.
Fate often throws up odd coincidences ... given its connections to Norway, the 44th VSU closed its doors the same year that the last passenger ferry service directly connecting the UK to Norway sailed. Perhaps more peculiar, the 44th existed for 44 years .....
Frank Henderson - VSL from 1967 to 1996
Founder of the 44th Gloucester (Tommies) Venture Scout Unit. Himself an old boy of the school, who enjoyed in his time as a pupil the experience of the Senior Scout Troop, run by John Cooper ("JYC" as he was affectionally known), Frank was always seeking to enhance not just the learning but - perhaps more importantly - to develop the life skills, initiative, responsibility and sense of community in the boys in his charge. A skilled mountaineer, acclaimed geologist, melodious folk singer and enlightened teacher of chemistry, he brought his love of the great outdoors and spirit of adventure, embedding it in the ethos of the newly formed Venture Scout Unit. Over the years many a Venture Scout can thank Frank for the persistent yet gentle influence he had on forming their characters as well as helping them shape their future directions, giving them a true sense of adventure and love of life.
Dave Proudlove - VSL from 1997 to 1998
Stepped up to lead the unit after the untimely death of Frank Henderson, providing continuity and stability of leadership at a time of major sorrow and upheaval for the unit.
Phil Brown - AVSL from 1980 to 1998 & VSL from 1998 to 2012
Joined the unit in 1980 as AVSL on the summer expedition to Norway, decided there was something extra special about this Venture Scouting "Tommies Style" and was hooked. Working closely with and always learning from his great friend and mentor Frank Henderson, helped to develop logistics and planning for the major summer expeditions, enabling a broader scope and range of activities to be carried out, as well as establishing some of the more 'quirky' traditions of the 44th when on their travels! In 1998 joined STR as a member of staff, took over the reins as VSL, always trying to instil the ideals of his close and sorely missed friend and unit founder Frank Henderson into those boys and girls who came to the 44th Venture Scouts looking for that extra and rewarding dimension to their school life.
As the first members of the 44th fledged and went their individual ways beyond the school gates into the big wide world, the idea developed that the unit ought to create its own magazine, detailing what the unit had been up to and maintaining a link with its past members. The project rapidly took hold and the AGM soon saw elections for 'Magazine Editor' as well as for the usual posts of Chairman, Treasurer, Quartermaster & Secretary. First copies were generated on the school's hand-cranked Gestetner duplicator, the messy master sheets painstakingly punched out after hours on the type-writer in the school secretary's office (pink correcting fluid liberally coating the master sheet, type-writer, fingers and desk!) Photocopying, although more costly, improved quality no end, allowing as well the inclusion of pen drawn sketches and some high contrast black and white images. Computing brought the uniformity of word processed text, then in 2000 (taking her lead from her father's work on The Richian) editor Rachael Brown used DTP to add clipart and images before edition 089 became the final printed edition to be sent out to members. With the creation of the unit's own website, Venture 44 subsequently appeared in electronic web page form only.
Click on Venture 44 to get to the index page for the magazine. Many of the earlier printed copies have been rescued and scanned into electronic document format (pdf), however several editions, especially the first 17 or so, have been lost to time. If you do possess any of the missing copies, we would dearly love to have them to complete the unit's V44 magazine archive.
Between 2000 and 2011 the 44th publicised some of its key activites in its own web site section "Unit News"
It also started the creation of its own online archive of items, which involved cataloging, scanning and even manually transferring(!) material. Most of this consisted images scanned from 35mm transparencies, a favoured medium of recording expeditions and unit activies in the pre-digital age! The links below will take you to the respective year's collection of items that made it into the unit's archive. Please note that this was - and is - an ongoing & unfinished project, in which there exists several misdirected and broken links.
One of the 44th's strengths was the loyaly of its previous members. The upper age for Venture Scouts was 20 years, so although members had left school, they still formed until then an integral part of the unit, frequently bringing adult presence and maturity to meetings, as well as their established scouting and newly-found work place experience and skills, which they were readily willing to pass on. Many 'old boys' of the unit also returned to help lead expeditions, run activities and training events, give talks on their travels or just to say "Hello". One or two even became leaders or helpers for a time.
A feature of the V44 magazine and later the unit web site was a section giving information about and articles from previous members of the 44th and their often exotic adventures! This section has been added to for some time beyond the unit's closure date, although the Richian Alumni/Old Richians Association Facebook page is now the most likely place to find out about past members of the 44th.
From All Points (with apologies for any external links which are now defunct!)
As part of the Millennium 2000 achievements and programme the 44th set about building up its own website. Chief web designer was Rachael Brown, aided by several of the school's IT Network (STRICTNet) "A" Team administrators (Adam, Keith, Ian, et al.) It proved highly successful as a communications tool and an extremely useful medium for posting all those expedition photographs prior to the mainstream arrival of picture-dominated social media and photo gallery clouds.
Upon the unit's closure, the web site was archived, although still accessible if one knew the pathname or searched specifically for '44th ESU', as it still existed buried on the school web site. The link here below will open the website mostly as it was left in 2012, although some parts can be linked to directly from other sections in this Venture Scouts Archive and some sections may continue to be updated as further unit archive material comes to light.
44th VSU Web Site Archive
(as at August 2012)