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Volunteering at Scouts is changing to help us reach more young people

Volunteering is changing to help us reach more young people

Volunteering is changing at Scouts. Read more

Discover what this means

How Scouting grew

Robert Baden-Powell died in 1941, but his legacy continued. Scouts became a byword for adventure, usefulness and global friendship.

While Scouts developed and grew across the world, it continued to evolve in the United Kingdom.

Following heroic work during the Second World War, when Scouts acted as coast guards, couriers and stretcher bearers, Scouts showed that they were truly able to live their motto ‘Be prepared.’  

Scouts’ reputation as active citizens continued. The first Bob-a-Job week was held in the United Kingdom in 1949. It was a huge success, going on to be a tradition that would last in various ways until the 1990s.

Scouts has never stood still. New branches, such as Air and Sea Scouts, became increasingly popular, gaining recognition from the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Royal Navy.

Scouts were on hand to help out at major events, such as Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, helping the crowds who camped out overnight to get a glimpse of the spectacle.

From rebranding to The Scout Association in 1967 to renaming sections and updating uniforms, the mission to be a truly modern organisation is ongoing. 

Rover Scouts and Senior Scouts became Venture Scouts. The badge system was also updated to reflect the wider range of activities a Scout would do.

Perhaps the biggest step toward modernisation was the decision to allow girls to join the Venture Scout section. This was introduced to other sections in the early 1990s.

In the true spirit of an inclusive organisation, even younger children got to experience Scouts for the first time with the official incorporation of the Beaver Scouts in 1986.

In 1989, official headgear was abolished for all sections.

At the dawn of the 21st Century, Scouts again underwent reform. There was the launch of a new logo, uniform and training programme, as well as the introduction of Explorer Scouts and the Scout Network by 2002.

In 2007, Scouts celebrated its centenary and the 21st World Scout Jamboree was held in the UK.

Scouts once again gained recognition in 2009 when TV adventurer Bear Grylls was announced as the new Chief Scout.

How Scouts grew

With an international membership of approximately 25 million, and over half a million Scouts in the UK alone, Scouts is the world's largest voluntary organisation for boys and girls.

They're impressive figures, particularly when you consider that Scouts began with 20 boys and an experimental camp held during the first nine days of August 1907. It was held at Brownsea Island, Dorset.

The camp was a great success and proved to Robert Baden-Powell, the camp’s organiser and Scouts’ founder, that his training and methods appealed to young people and really worked.

In January 1908, Robert Baden-Powell published the first edition of 'Scouting for Boys', issued in fortnightly parts at 4d each. It was an immediate success.

In April 1908, there was the introduction of ‘The Scout’. It was a penny weekly magazine that was to provide an important link for the rapidly increasing number of boys who were joining together to form Patrols of Scouts.

Robert Baden-Powell had only intended to provide a method of training boys. It was something that existing youth organisations, such as the Boys’ Brigade and YMCA, could adopt. To his surprise, youngsters started to organise themselves and give him what was destined to become - and still is today - the world's leading voluntary youth organisation.

Robert Baden-Powell was 50 years old when the Brownsea Camp took place. His many experiences as a boy and soldier certainly played a part in the formulation of his training methods. As a boy, and one of six brothers, he used to spend his holidays camping, hiking and sailing.

Tent pitching, use of a map and compass and cooking over a wood fire were a few of the skills he acquired. In school, at Charterhouse, he used to visit a favourite, but out of bounds, woodland. Here he learned how to hide his tracks, climb a tree and ‘freeze’ to escape attention - an important factor if any of the school staff entered the woods. 

In 1877, Robert Baden-Powell went to India as a young Army Officer. He specialised in scouting, map-making and reporting. His success in this led to his training young soldiers for the work.

Robert Baden-Powell’s methods were unorthodox for those days, and in them it’s possible to see the forerunners of his principles for training youth. Small units of Patrols working together under one leader, and special distinction for those who did well. 

For particular efficiency, Robert Baden-Powell awarded his trainee Scouts a badge based on the north compass point. Today's Scout Badge is very similar.

Robert Baden-Powell’s fame as an Army scout grew. By the time he went to Africa, in Ashanti and Matabeleland, there were many who would have placed him amongst the greatest. In Africa, he took to wearing a wide-brimmed hat for protection against the sun and rain, and one of the details he noticed, an army engineer carrying a pole marked in feet and inches, was to later reappear as the Boy Scout staff.

Baden-Powell’s Secret Service work in the Balkans was followed by a return to Africa. The successful defence of Mafeking, during its 217-day siege at the start of the South African War, provided fresh opportunities for Robert Baden-Powell to apply his scouting skills.

The courage and resourcefulness shown by the boys who were formed into corps of messengers at Mafeking made a lasting impression on him. In turn, Robert Baden-Powell's actions had made a lasting impression on the boys of England.

On returning home, he found that he had become a national hero. In addition, a small handbook for soldiers that he had written was being used to teach observation and woodcraft to members of boys’ clubs and the Boys’ Brigade.

Robert Baden-Powell decided to rewrite the book for use by boys. The camp on Brownsea Island was planned to test his ideas in practice.

The success of ‘Scouting for Boys’ produced a Movement that quickly, almost automatically it seemed, adopted the name The Boy Scouts and needed an office to administer it.

By 1909, the Movement had taken firm root and ‘Scouting for Boys’ had been translated into five languages.

Sea Scouts had been formed, and Robert Baden-Powell's eldest brother, Warrington, himself an ex-sailor, wrote the official handbook for them.

As a result of Robert Baden-Powell taking a South American holiday, one of the first countries outside the UK to adopt Scouts was Chile.

An idea of how things were moving was given by the Scout Rally held at Crystal Palace in London in September 1909. Over 11,000 Scouts attended. Success brought a major problem though. Robert Baden-Powell had to decide whether his future lay with the Army or his newly formed Boy Scouts.

A journey to Balmoral Castle, where he received the honour of Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, and discussion with King Edward on the future of the Movement provided the answer.

In the years that followed, Scouts spread to more and more countries.

In 1910, Robert Baden-Powell visited Canada and the United States where Scouts was already flourishing. Later, there was further visits to all parts of the world.

A spectacular rally of over 26,000 boys in Windsor Great Park in 1911 provided another milestone.

Scouts gave a loud cheer for their King and Queen and to their beloved Chief. In 1912, the Movement was granted its Royal Charter and King George V became its Patron.

The coming of War in 1914 could have brought about the collapse of the Movement, but the training provided through the Patrol system proved its worth and Patrol Leaders took over when adult leaders volunteered for active service. Scouts contributed to the War Effort in many ways. The most notable perhaps were the Sea Scouts, who took the place of regular coast guards, so freeing them for service afloat.

The first World Jamboree took place in 1920. It proved that young people of all nations could come together to share common interests and ideals. Since that first Jamboree at Olympia, London, there have been 16 others.

The success of Scouts with boys from 11 to 18 years gave rise to appeals to provide a similar activity for younger boys.

In 1916, the Wolf Cub Section for 8 to 11 year olds was formed. Rudyard Kipling’s book, The Jungle Book, provided an imaginative background to the activities. By the end of the year, over 10,000 boys had enrolled.

In 1918, the Rover Scout Branch was started for young men over 18 years of age and in 1941 saw the introduction of the Air Scout Branch. Senior Scouts, a section specially for the 15 to 18 age group, started in 1946 too.

Between the two wars, Scouts continued to flourish in all parts of the world, except in totalitarian countries where it was banned. Scouts is essentially democratic and voluntary.

When war came in 1939, the story of 1914 was repeated. Scouts carried on under the Patrol Leaders. They undertook many National Service tasks, such as messengers, fire watchers, stretcher bearers, salvage collection and so on. In occupied countries, Scouts carried on in secret, with Scouts playing important roles in the resistance and underground movements. After the liberation, it was found that the numbers of Scouts in some occupied countries had, in fact, increased.

As Robert Baden-Powell was always quick to emphasise, Scouts is a Movement. It keeps developing, changing and growing. It’s not able to become static.

In 1966, an Advance Party Report, a document that brings together the voices of leading figures in industry and youth work, as well as the suggestions of some 25,000 Scouts, gave the direction of the future.

Its recommendations for training programmes and activities appropriate to the times led to the broadening of training programmes and an up-to-date appeal to modern boys and, indeed, as of June 1991, modern girls too.

Jamborees of the past

There have been 24 World Scout Jamborees so far, check out where they took place across the world.

Learn more about past jamborees

Milestones in Scouts

Important moments in the progress of Scouts.

Take a look back in time