Feature: The scouting life

Thousands gather for the Jamboree
Thousands gather for the Jamboree
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I LIT a fire with a flint – it was probably the most manly moment of my life.”

For reasons like the one above, 17-year-old Robin Hartley will not be forgetting his first Jamboree in a hurry.

Robin, from Newton Hall, was one of a handful from Durham Scout County chosen to go.

Competition to attend the event, which is held once in every four years, is tough.

There are 6,000 scouts in the Durham branch and just 32 places available. Those who attend must also fundraise about £2,000 to cover their travel, expenses and living costs.

But for many it is worth every penny.

Robin’s friend, David Lawrence, was also one of the lucky few.

David, 16, from Belmont, had his own watershed manly moment to reminisce about.

“I carved a spoon,” he said laughing: “It wasn’t a very good spoon, but it was still a spoon.”

On a serious note, the two friends have plenty to say about why the Jamboree, a giant international gathering of 40,000 scouts and adult volunteers, is so special.

Robin explained: “Everyone you spoke to immediately became a friend and you felt like you had a lot in common. We were all just running around hugging each other and taking photos.

“Everyone likes the adventure, meeting new people and learning things.”

To them it was the ultimate scouting event and cemented their affinity with the group.

David added: “Being a scout is more of an attitude than anything else. It attracts happy, fun-loving people there for the same thing.

“It really opened my eyes to what scouting can be.”

So what does a Jamboree consist of? This one included, amongst other things, a grand opening ceremony where Bear Grylls – Britain’s Chief Scout – abseiled in to rev everyone up; a visit from the King of Sweden Carl XVI Gustaf, honourary chairman of the World Scout Foundation, and plenty of traditional scouting in the form of assault courses, building camps and throwing tomahawks.

It’s not the activities that make the week though, but the atmosphere.

Simon Biasi, 14, from Derwentside, has been a scout since he was six and was the youngest to attend from the area.

He said: “I didn’t know what to expect, it was a mystery. I just knew it would be good. It was really good meeting people from all over the world, making friends, swapping badges and learning about different cultures.

“I would definitely want to go back as part of the service team.”

Simon’s big brother Tim Biasi said: “It was like the world in a field. It was great when Bear Grylls arrived. A lot of people were really excited.

“I’ll remember how everyone was so nice and I’ll miss having everyone around to talk to.

“It was really quite an amazing experience. At the pre-event in Copenhagen everyone was just running up to each other and saying “Hi, who are you?”. You could talk to anyone from any country.”

Aaron Duke, 14, said: “The best bit was communicating with people from the other side of the world and getting along. The days went so quickly. The Swedish scouts seemed to be very close to nature. They cooked on fires and chopped wood all day. They had six-year-olds with axes and no one was bothered.”

Graeme Popay is centre manager at Moor House Adventre Centre, near Houghton, the Scout HQ for the area.

He had the difficult job of helping to decide who would go, and attended himself as part of the support team for adult volunteers.

Graeme said: “The event is bigger than the Olympics. It took 90 flights to get everyone out of the country. Everything we did was on a huge scale.

“We chose a group that we thought would work well together and get a lot out of it. You can’t pick 36 natural leaders and think it’s going to work.

“There are nearly 6,000 scouts in the Durham branch so it was really hard to choose.”

Graeme admits he is a full blown ‘Jamboree Junkie’ – since the first time he went changed his life.

The 46-year-old said: “I went in 1995 to the Jamboree in Holland. I had a normal job working for Rolls Royce but when I came back I felt that I needed to do something different. I’d worked on oil rigs and and on shipyards and made a lot of money and done scouting as a hobby, but when I came back I realised I wanted to be involved for the rest of my life.

“If you’re a scout – for a lot of people it’s a way of life. You have better morals and you’re thinking about other people. You don’t just think of yourself and you do a good turn every day.

“It’s not an exageration to say the Jamboree changes lives – not for everyone, but for some it really changes their perspective.

“I think it’s a more peaceful world and it works because everyone wants it to.

“I’ve had a lot of kids ask me “Why can’t the world can’t be like that all the time?” We were there when the riots were going on it was that feeling of “Who wants to go home?”

From a parent’s point of view, there’s a big pay-off too.

Mum Tina Bryson saw her 16-year-old son Daniel return as a different person.

Tina said: “He came back more caring, more considerate, thinking about what he’s going to say and do rather than going in with two feet.

“He joined the scouts when he was six but the Jamboree really changed him.

“He used to be stressed out and one edge. I’m very, very proud – it’s done him and us the world of good.

“Scouts is not like other clubs. It’s a family unit and there’s always someone to talk to if you need it.

“There’s no peer pressure, people are accepted as they are.”

l To find out more go to www.durhamscouts.org.uk