500 UK scout troops face closure after Covid hits fundraising

Robert Booth Social affairs correspondent
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Martyn Milner/The Scout Associat/PA</span>
Photograph: Martyn Milner/The Scout Associat/PA

More than 500 scout troops are facing closure after fundraising activities from jumble sales to supermarket bag packing were cancelled because of Covid, the movement has warned.

It means the 113-year-old institution faces the possible loss of at least 7% of its 7,300 groups.

Many of those in the severest financial difficulty are in the highest areas of deprivation. One, in Willesden, west London, only opened last May as part of a drive by the scouts to set up packs, troops and colonies in the UK’s poorest areas. It attracted children looking to avoid gang life.

Another is the 7th Boston Swineshead Scouts in Lincolnshire whose leader, Alan Blackhorse-Hull, warned he would have to turn scouts away within months because litter picking drives and an annual show that usually raise money for hall hire, badges and activities have been cancelled.

“If we close down there’s nothing else for them,” said Blackhorse-Hull, who said several of his scouts don’t have decent clothes or enough money for waterproofs. “This is a poor area, farming country.”

The central Scout Association has a £3m hole in its budget after its conference and activity centres closed, it lost fees from troops and sales of uniforms and badges slumped.

It surveyed groups recently to uncover the financial difficulties and found that “while the majority are back up and running face-to-face or online, the future of over 500 groups is bleak”.

The association’s chief executive, Matt Hyde, said: “Scouting plays a crucial role in the development of young people and supporting communities, particularly in areas of deprivation. Maintaining scouting in these areas is vital.”

It is launching a fundraising campaign to raise at least £300,000 to save the groups. Scouts are dividing into four teams and will seek sponsorship to travel at least a mile each to try to become the first team to complete 43,000 miles – equivalent to around the world.

Stephanie Hines, a group scout leader from 55th Northampton Scout Group in Little Billing, said: “We’re getting hit with a triple whammy – our leaders are finding it tough as they’re exhausted from working, we’re short of cash because we lost our main summer fete fundraiser, which normally generates about £1,000, and we are not sure if our young people will come back unless we can secure our usual meeting place. We don’t need much, but without the immediate funds to pay running costs we can’t support the young people who need us.”

She added: “This is a deprived area. We have a lot of single parents and low-income families. We offer learning skills and a chance to interact with people they wouldn’t normally do. This is a key part of their lives. If this went a lot would be gutted and wouldn’t have a lot to do that doesn’t involve a computer game.”

Bear Grylls, the chief scout, said: “Scouting plays a fundamental role in the lives of thousands of young people, giving them skills and hope for the future. That is now more vital than ever. I am so proud of those doing their mile in support of those hit hardest by the Covid-19 pandemic.”