Celebrating a special Guiding light

International Girlguiding Camp
                                International Girlguiding Camp 1994
                  From an original watercolour by Doreen Hammersley

One of our lovely Guiding lights has gone and is now shining down on us from afar. Doreen Hammersley was my friend – an enthusiastic and vibrant individual, so full of energy and with an infectious and positive attitude to life. She led a very full life, was very much part of her local community in Tenby, and gave a lifelong commitment to Girlguiding in Pembrokeshire and in Wales.

Doreen had a zest for life. She threw herself into projects always making an active contribution – whether it was Scottish Country Dancing (a lifelong passion) or encouraging youngsters to ‘have a go’ (more often than not leading by example!) or, as a member of Soroptimist International of Tenby, writing letters in support of a project about Female Genital Mutilation.

She was also an amazing and very accomplished artist. She was never without her sketchbook and pencil and, whilst most of us take photographs as souvenirs or memories of people and events throughout our lives, Doreen was sketching or painting. She has a wonderful collection of all sorts of images – from a sketch of her newly-born twin grand-children, to pictures of guest speakers at conferences and dinners, to portraits of friends and acquaintances. If ever we were chatting and I was unable to put a face to a name, Doreen would produce her stack of portraits to find one of the person we were speaking about – and they were immediately recognisable.

Doreen was an Honorary Vice President of Girlguiding Cymru in recognition of the unique contribution she made to the organisation. Her involvement in her local community was also recognised and she was enormously proud of her BEM (British Empire Medal).

Doreen was a special person, a true Guiding light.this little Guiding light - let it shine

Today as you light your Thinking Day candle, think of Doreen and all our Guiding lights – let them shine.

Happy World Thinking Day!

World Thinking Day 2016

Thinking Day has always been a special day for me. It’s a day when we think of the members of our Guiding family all over the world and celebrate the joint birthdays of Robert Baden-Powell, founder of Scouting, and his wife, Olave Baden-Powell, World Chief Guide.

Throughout my Guiding life, all the units in Porthcawl have celebrated Thinking Day together – and we’ve had sticky buns (you may know them as iced buns).  Someone asked me recently why we have sticky buns on Thinking Day. Well, it started a L-O-N-G time ago. A local baker, whose daughters were in Guides, donated a big tray of ‘sticky buns’ for our celebration. We looked forward to this scrummy addition to our event and made them our Thinking Day Birthday Cakes. It became a tradition and even after the bakery closed, we continued to buy our Thinking Day Birthday sticky buns!

How do you celebrate Thinking Day? What do you do to make this a special day?

Battered and bruised…but awesome!

It hasn’t been the best week for me. I had some news on Monday that was a bit of a body blow and I’ve felt very down as a result. I know I’ll bounce back, but having put so much thinking, energy and enthusiasm into something, only for your dreams to be dashed, it’s going to take a few days to adjust and refocus!

As what happened was private and personal (nothing scary or health-related) only a couple of people are aware of it, but isn’t it amazing how, when you’re feeling down, the world comes to your side.

Monday night was Brownies, as usual. To be honest, it was the last thing I wanted to do and I suppose I could have opted out – after all, everything was planned and we have 2 very capable Assistant Leaders and 2 Young Leaders – but I’m so glad I didn’t.

The Chinese New Year activities were fun and there was no time to feel sorry for myself. There was the usual buzz and chatter, and watching the girls as they ‘had a go’ and laughed at each other and supported and encouraged each other, was a real tonic. And when one of the Brownies told me “Brown Owl, you’re awesome!” (as I “rescued” her not-perfectly cut-out Chinese lantern) it was a big boost!

Another injection of positivity came yesterday. At the beginning of the year I signed up to the D of E Diamond Challenge (more of that in a future blog post) and finally shared this on Facebook yesterday. Actually, I was fed up with all the “nagging” emails from JustGiving urging me to “share and tell my friends”. By sending a post out on Facebook I could stop the “nagging” emails and also tick one more thing off my to-do list.

Goodness me! It sparked an immediate avalanche of congratulations and comments. Just one short post and so much positive response! I was also delighted to have spread the word about the Challenge and to (inadvertently) encourage so many people to find out more and start their own DofE Diamond Challenge!

I’m still feeling a bit “battered and bruised” but now instead of feeling dejected, I feel warm and wanted. So many friends and contacts have buoyed me up – even though the vast majority don’t know it! Thank you all. It’s all helping me get my head back in the right place – and who knows what great opportunities are waiting on the horizon for me……………….

Girls CAN Do Anything

Helen Sharman is an excellent role model and example of how girls really CAN do anything!

Helen Sharman (454x322)

Last night I was lucky enough to meet Helen Sharman, Britain’s first astronaut. What an inspirational person she is – and an amazing role model, particularly for girls and young women.

The event at the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea was part of the Wales in Space programme. Around 200 of us, from 6 to at least 86, listened in awe as Helen recounted her fascinating first-hand experiences of journeying into space.

Helen started her working life as a chemist in a chocolate company and had the enviable job of working every day on ice cream and chocolate bars. One day she heard a radio advert: “Astronaut wanted no experience necessary.” Along with 13,000 other hopefuls she replied and after a rigorous selection process was picked to start her training as the first Britain in space.

18 months of intensive training in Star City near Moscow started with lessons with Igor to learn Russian! Then on 18th May 1991 she squeezed into a Soviet Soyuz TM-12 space capsule with two Russian cosmonauts and launched into space.

Helen shared the experiences of her 8-day mission to the Mir Space Station – describing the launch in detail, telling us what it really feels like to be weightless and explaining the challenges and excitement of living and working in space. In space, Helen used her science expertise to undertake a range of experiments on developing new medicines, growing food and testing different materials. In fact, throughout her talk, Helen treated us to some detailed science lessons – so much easier to understand when there is a real world context and application.

Helen also talked about readjusting to life back on earth and the time she has spent as a science communicator, inspiring and motivating people to ‘reach for their stars’. Helen urged us all to “push our own boundaries,” and noted that “the biggest limitations we have is ourselves”. She said, “There’s a huge amount we can do and we should make the best use of our lives for the benefit of the world.”

It was a very powerful talk and meeting Helen afterwards was amazing. By coincidence, I will be meeting her again at the end of this year and look forward to having a little more time to take our conversation forward. What a great example of how to “be your best” – she shows beyond question how girls really can do anything!

Choosing the next Chief Guide – YOU can help decide!

Have your say for the next Chief GuideThe Chief Guide is the most senior volunteer in Girlguiding. Passionate about guiding, she is a role model and someone who inspires and encourages the girls and volunteers, as well as staff and the CEO. She also has a major role representing Girlguiding to the outside world, to funders, influencers and the media. And as a Trustee, she helps steer, shape and develop Girlguiding for the future.

It’s a BIG role and YOU can help decide who our new Chief Guide should be.

The selection process has started and we’ve all been invited to have our say. Look at the profiles of the seven long-listed candidates, read their statements and give your opinions. There are some powerful prospects – who do you think should go forward?

Share your thoughts in the online survey now. Go to the membership section of the Girlguiding website and follow the links to Chief Guide Recruitment 2016.

Do it now – the survey is only open until midnight on 1 February 2016.

Exciting times!

Our Welsh Burns Night!

Burns Night and St Dwynwen's Day

What a great night that was! We had our own Burns Night in Brownies with our very own Mrs Burns.

Sarah-Jane was our assistant leader and preparing to take over the unit – then around 2 years ago, she met the gorgeous Gregor and upped sticks to Scotland as the new Mrs Burns.


We were so sad to see her go, but things quickly sorted themselves out and Frances and Julie joined our unit as part of the leadership team, and Sarah Jane had her own Brownie unit north of the border. So now there are two great teams and two very happy Brownie units too.

We all keep in touch and are developing connections between the girls as well. That connection deepened last night when, on a visit to Porthcawl, Sarah-Jane joined us and brought a taste of Scotland.

We made haggis fridge magnets, played some Scottish-themed games and did a “What’s the Scottish word for…. Quiz” (you know, one country divided by a common language!). All this was mixed in with a touch of Welsh culture as 25th January is also St Dwynwen’s Day, the Welsh Valentine’s Day! There was lots of laughter, learning and fun.

How lovely too to see all the leaders working together and sharing ideas. We’re all working on the same programme and the same Promise underpins our Guiding, but every unit does things in a slightly different way and that’s so refreshing. I love it when you pick up a game or song or activity – and there was lots of that happening last night.

From our new Promise Challenge, started this term and created by the Brownies themselves (more about that in a few weeks’ time) to a crazy racing around game, adapted from an old favourite expanded by a certain Scottish Brownie Pack and played with Welsh vigour! to our revived Promise Reflections book, we’ve all got new ideas to try out and put into action. Brilliant!

Stepping up to the mark

Although last night was a non-Guiding night, I was still involved with young people and encouraging their development. I was asked by a local Rotary Club to be an adjudicator at their Youth Speaks competition. I’ve enjoyed doing this for the last few years and this event was no exception.

Youth Speaks 2016This was the District final (round two) of a four stage competition which supports and encourages the development of effective communication skills. A team of three students present their topic from the stage. Each team member takes on one of three roles as chairperson, speaker or vote of thanks. They are allocated a set time in which to perform their role and the speaker also has to answer a question asked by one of the adjudicators.

It is quite a formal structure. As well as giving participants the experience of speaking on a public platform as part of a team and developing a coherent argument on a specific topic, they learn the discipline of presenting that topic in a limited time. It’s not easy, but is a great example of skills that are highly likely to be important in future careers.

The topics last night were very testing – from ‘Monopolisation Stifles Innovation’, through ‘Is Technology Changing The Way We Talk’ to ‘Gender Roles in Society’. And, as well as being the lead adjudicator, I was also the questioner – definitely not an easy role! I did a little preparation, but until you hear the angle each team takes on their subject, it is not possible to define the question fully.

We had two Intermediate teams (11 to 13 year olds) and four Senior teams (14 to 17 year olds). Some had had experience of the competition in previous years, whilst for others this was their first taste of public speaking. In front of an audience of around 60 people that was no mean feat.

Without exception they all stepped up to the mark. The standard was high. All the subjects were well researched – there were some very interesting and startling facts and figures! The speeches were presented in a coherent and well thought out structure, making it easy for the audience to follow the arguments. And all the participants also had good clear, strong voices – maybe we are discovering the next generation of great orators from Wales.

There were opportunities for them to learn from the experience too – how to make better use of the presenting space, using notes as your prompt rather than safety net and what to do when your mind wanders but the mouth has to keep going!

It was stretching for the adjudicators as well. Listening intently, paying attention to performance skills, observing the team dynamics, noting the content and all the while frantically scribbling notes. Formulating questions was an added pressure for me – I was so pleased that they were responded to effectively and the audience seemed to appreciate them too.

So the winners go on to the regional final in a few weeks’ time. Good luck, I’m looking forward to hearing how you fare. But most of all well done to everyone who participated. You certainly stepped up to the mark and can be proud of your achievements.