Stop Girlguiding London and South East Region from closing our region campsites
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On Tuesday 2nd March 2021, Girlguiding London and South East Region published a statement announcing the release of the leases of both the Region campsites: Cudham Shaws and Chigwell Row, with immediate effect. This announcement came with no warning, no consultation with the members who fund Girlguiding LaSER, and with no suggestion of alternative options.
For Rainbows, Brownies, Guides, Rangers and leaders alike, these campsites offer precious access to unspoilt countryside on the edges of London and have provided happy memories in the formative years of countless members’ lives. With green space in London becoming ever scarcer, these campsites provide vital opportunities for our young members across all socioeconomic backgrounds to enjoy the great outdoors. As these campsites serve our units in inner London boroughs, closure of these campsites will disproportionately affect girls from BAME backgrounds. Chigwell had been awarded £75,000 in CIL (Community Infrastructure Levy) funding for accessible adaptations to its site making it the only accessible option for girls nearby. Additionally, the closure of the Cudham Shaws campsite will also mean the closure of Copps Cottage, which was originally designed for girls with disabilities, both of these sites closing will therefore reduce the availability of accessible camping facilities to our members.
One of the fundamental principles of Girlguiding is to encourage adventures. Often the main reason young girls are drawn to Girlguiding is to explore nature, try out new things and spend time away from home with their friends in a safe and fun environment.
In 2020, the Scout Association announced the closure of Downe Scout Activity Centre, which is located near the Cudham Shaws site. While this is also a blow to Girlguiding members, this could have provided an opportunity for Girlguiding LaSER’s campsites to gain new users. Sadly, the additional closure of these Girlguiding campsites will likely lead to the loss of our members, as units will struggle to offer the same level and frequency of camps and holidays as they could in the past.
We believe the decision by Girlguiding LaSER to close these campsites without consulting its 72,000 paying members is not in line with the Girlguiding strategy, which states: “We’ll be led by our girls and young women. Their views and opinions will lead our decisions and make sure everything we do puts girls first.”
Girlguiding LaSER has stated that prior to the Covid-19 closures these campsites operated at a £150k deficit [Link to announcement] and that this deficit has only increased due to closures. Given that the campsites have been run at a deficit for a while and have been funded by the annual £10-per-member fee, we question why members were not alerted to the deficit. What was done to encourage more people to use these sites and to address the deficit? Where have the region camps been? How many license-free events have there been to encourage more leaders to gain their ‘going away with’ qualification?
Girlguiding LaSER operates with reserves of over £1million [Annual reports on charity commission website]. We argue that charitable reserves are intended for times such as these and that these reserves should be utilised in some capacity to fight to keep our campsites. We suggest there are numerous alternate revenue streams that could be explored, such as renting out the campsites during the week and within term time when they are used less by Girlguiding members, opening up the sites to weddings, schools or more broadly on a temporary or permanent basis, etc. These campsites in London are few and far between and offer a gap in the market from which Girlguiding could benefit.
We believe this monumental decision has been made against the Girlguiding strategy and ask:
- How are we supposed to create “exceptional experiences for girls and young women” without the availability of these accessible sites?
- How does it develop a “rewarding volunteering experience” by making it more difficult for volunteers to offer a camp and by not consulting them on decisions that affect them?
- Fundamentally, how does closing campsites that are accessible to families on low incomes, girls and young women with disabilities and those growing up without access to the countryside help us to “be more inclusive and make a bigger impact”?
Over the past year, we have all come to understand the importance of green space for our physical and mental wellbeing, and particularly for the development of young people. By closing both of these campsites with no warning, Girlguiding LaSER is shutting the door to many of our girls and sending the message to the girls, young women and volunteers within LaSER that they do not matter. The board of trustees has a duty to act in the best interests of the organisation and this decision is not in that vein. The loss of these campsites is a tragedy from which Girlguiding LaSER will not recover and we implore Girlguiding LaSER to involve its members to find a workable solution to this issue.
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