London scout group re-forms after securing leader

By Jane Mower
BBC News, London

image captionBear Grylls was appointed Chief Scout last year

Taking up the role of scout leader at a north London troop, Tom Larkin has ended a 15-year drought of volunteers for the position.

But while this is good news for the 8th Marylebone scout group, it is the tip of the iceberg for The Scouts Association.

Despite adventurer Bear Grylls' pledge to inspire more adults to volunteer as leaders on his appointment as chief scout last year, demand for places continues to grow.

The number of youngsters on the waiting list in Greater London grew 6% from 2009 to 1,709 this year.

London Mayor Boris Johnson has become the latest high-profile figure to give his voice to the scouts' recruitment drive.

As part of the YOU London campaign, in which uniformed youth organisations work together, he called on 3,000 Londoners to give up their spare time to become adult volunteers.

More than 7,000 young people are on waiting lists to join organisations including the scouts, volunteer police cadets, St John's Ambulance and the Boys' Brigade due to a lack of leaders.

Mr Johnson urged people from all backgrounds to sign up and "make a difference to the lives of young people".

In London the scouts need to recruit 340 adults to meet the demand of young people on the waiting list.

Continuing a family tradition of involvement in the scouts, Mr Larkin, 24, took up his role as leader earlier this month and now has five members with more due to join.

After graduating as an actor and moving to London he decided to devote more time to the scouts and become leader at the same troop where his parents met.

"I have been involved in the scouts all my life so it's quite nice to give something back and start the group up again.

"I quite like having done something that has benefited my life and developed my character and want to be involved in the future generations coming through and create all the opportunities that I had.

image captionBoris Johnson said uniformed groups across the capital were desperate for leaders

"It's great fun to be involved with the Scouts. There's a lot more to scouts than is portrayed in the media.

"I think Bear Grylls has had a great influence and I hope to bring scouting back to that. It's not just a social club."

But while the appointment of Bear Grylls has no doubt helped boost waiting list numbers, the struggle to recruit leaders continues.

Cliff Jordan, group scout leader of the 8th Marylebone scout group in St John's Wood, believes a lack of family orientation and social changes are to blame.

"St John's Wood is increasingly cosmopolitan so there are an increasing number of people who haven't any links with Scouting.

"Also people are totally involved with work and find it difficult to find the time to devote to other areas."

Despite the recent appointment of Mr Larkin, their search for a cub leader continues.

Mr Jordan has been filling the gap for the last six years - travelling from his new home in Gloucestershire to London to run the group each week - and is passionate about why communities should have a scout group.

"The thing that attracts the kids is that they get everything from academic schooling, computers at home and all the hi-tech equipment they can possibly have but they don't have any moral fibre.

"Some of the beavers come to us and they don't know how to say please and thank you. Kids are very insulated, especially in the area we are in.

"We need to have something in place these kids can come along to where they learn the skills of scouts."

Acknowledging the difficulties of recruiting leaders in London, a spokesman for the scouts said: "Our real challenge is to deliver the scout adventure in a way that adults working in the capital in 2010 can fit into their busy lives."

He said because working practices were no longer 9-5 the scouts needed to break up its jobs so they could be delivered by the "modern Londoner".

Working with young people is a positive and rewarding experience that gives volunteers opportunities and skills that are difficult to get in the workplace, he added.

At Wednesday's launch of the YOU London leader campaign at Docklands, the mayor of London said: "Uniformed groups are a fantastic way for youngsters to have fun, make friends and learn new skills.

"It's also a great opportunity for volunteers to get involved with their local community."

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