Looking back over the year one thing strikes me above all else - the way in which the intervening time has just whizzed by. They say time flies when you are enjoying yourself and I think that can truly be said of the unit and itís members.
So what has the 44th Gloucester (STRS) Venture Scout Unit been up to these past 12 months or so?
In spite of the Citizenís attempts to rechristen everyone, reschedule major District events and decrease the VSLís age by 25 years (I could easily pass for 21, honest!!) we have achieved successes in the Wye Raft Race (1st and 3rd), in partnership with the 38th VSU we were Junior Champions at the South Cerney Dragon Boat Racing Meet and in the Cotswold Marathon we returned overall fastest individual times as well as teams claiming second place and a creditable finish time in the Novice section of the full 38 mile event.
We have been involved with 2 main fund-raising events - the 5 Valleys Walk in aid of the Meningitis Trust and sponsorship of our Cotswold Marathon runners yielded a major part of the £425 raised for the Cobalt Appeal Crack Cancer Campaign.
In addition to our ongoing service to the school in running the Tuck Shop, we have provided refreshment services at several sporting and social functions - the modest profits from which have boosted our summer expedition funds.
Special congratulations are due to Jody Ballard and Tim Andrews who will receive their Gold Duke of Edinburgh Awards at Buckingham Palace in July.
Duke of Edinburgh Bronze awards have been earned by Will Godwin, Nick Wright and Dave Clifford.
Venture Awards have been presented to Dave Clifford, Chris Smith, Will Godwin, Adam Griffiths, Perran Spear, Nick Wright, Andrew Norman and Ben Panting.
Several members of the Executive were selected by the school to attend a leadership course at the Wilderness Centre.
New members admitted this year (so far) are Giles Moorhead, Phil Kenchington, Geoff Coombs, Ollie Bain, Rich Clark, Lucy Payne. The more astute reader will have noticed the last name is of the female variety! Yes the 44th Executive (after much debate!!) has rejigged the unit policy and welcomed its first female member to the unit.
The hut continues to make demand on time and finances. Heavy rains in February found several holes at floor level which were not discovered until the chipboard flooring and carpeting in the store area had been well and truly soaked and were rampant with mould. New guttering and paint for the exterior is planned. Waterproofing operations around both doors need to be finished too.
Speaking of rain and all things wet, last summerís expedition to Scotland can best be summed up as damp! Talk about Scotch Mist!! But we didnít let the fine Scottish summer weather dampen our spirits and still managed to find plenty of active and cultural things to occupy our bodies and minds! Trips to the isles of Mull, Iona, Staffa, Kerrera, Seil, were interspersed with fishing and cycle treks. We ended our stay with an ascent into surprisingly cold mists to notch up the highest Munroe Ben Nevis and later celebrated in style at a traditional ceileidh - 600+ people and musicians crammed into a small stone barn lit with candles and still smelling vaguely of its previous occupants. It was a question of everyone doh-cee-doh-ing together or not at all. Given the increasingly vigorous nature of the Celtic dancing (aided no doubt by the influence and frequency of the local waters being imbibed) we wriggled out before any fatalities ensued!
Earlier this year the newer members of the unit accompanied by some of the "old-stagers" spent a very cold couple of days on Dartmoor practising navigational skills and experiencing winter hiking conditions. We were accompanied by a local guide - one Lee Rounce a previous 44th-er himself and now teaching in the Plympton area just south of Dartmoor. The third day we climbed the highest Tor on the moor (Yes Tor) and found out just how easy it is to get totally disorientated in the mist!! South became North and it was only by some very careful comparison of some of the larger boulders on the Tor ridge which were shown on the map that we were able to confirm that somehow we had completely reversed our bearings in the mist as we climbed to the summit. It was quite eerie in fact as the mists slowly swirled around the top of the Tor. The ancient boulders and weathered rock outcrops seemed to move in and out of the mist. It prompted one of the younger members to report sighting some gorillas trailing us - and for a moment we all thought we saw them too!
Most of the activities mentioned above are the sort indulged in by many other Venture Scout Units, although there may well be a few significant ways in which our programme and outlook vary from what many would regard as the traditional view of Scouting.
I believe that it is inevitable that our approach is rather different to other units because of the limitations imposed and the very real advantages gained by our being a so-called "Sponsored Closed Unit". We have loyalties and ties with the school as well as to the Scout organisation as a whole. One advantage is that we have a ready communications system which cuts down on much of the formal business that is necessary in a unit that can only meet once a week. A disadvantage is that if we are not careful we can forget we are part of the much broader national and international brotherhood of Scouting.
The major difference however and the single factor that makes our Unit unique, at least in this part of the country, is that nearly all of our members join the unit without having previously been members of scout troops. Under these circumstances some experienced leaders may argue that we cannot run a "proper" unit as our members lack the necessary scouting skills and background. Experience has shown and I believe that this is not the case and that despite our sometimes unconventional outlook towards some aspects of the "traditional scouting package" we nevertheless are doing Venture Scouting, and doing it well. There is a world of difference between the attitudes and needs of a group of articulate and discerning active young adults and the average group of scouts or cubs and consequently this must be reflected in the organisation of our Unit. The proof of the pudding is in the eating as the old saying goes and by sampling what we have had to offer over the years a reasonable number of young men have developed skills, broadened their outlooks, met and overcome challenges, given service to many and enjoyed themselves by partaking in Venture Scouting as done in the 44th style!
In concluding this report I must pay tribute to all those people without whose support and help, direct or indirect, the Unit would not be able to function: past members for help with leading activities, parents, the Executive, the ever helpful school caretaker "Jock", who turns a blind eye to much of our comings and goings, Mr Kellie the school Headmaster for his continuing and enthusiastic support of the unit, Mr Byrne-Burns the Bursar, for the considerable amount of time he readily gives up to manage and oversee our finances and last but certainly not least my wife Celia for her long suffering patience and for giving up her solitude on vacation as family holiday merges yet again with summer Venture Scout expedition!