Throughout its history, Scouting has moved with the times to offer the adventure, experiences and practical skills that young people want and need to develop. From breaking down barriers between generations, to preparing young people for employment, Scouting has the potential to make a real difference to communities up and down the country. It is an opportunity we want to extend to as many people as possible.
To do this Scouting has sought to remain true to its basic values and aims but to constantly evolve to ensure it meets modern demands, remains relevant to the society it serves and is as inclusive as possible.
As attitudes and ambitions have changed, we have changed too. We have welcomed girls into the Movement and our female youth membership now stands at 77,000 - a 165 per cent increase in the last decade. We have worked hard to make sure that those from different faiths and backgrounds have felt welcome. In the last ten years, over 50 Scout groups have been formed from members drawn mainly from Muslim, Hindu and Sikh communities and many more have joined other groups too..
None of this has happened by accident. We are committed to being an inclusive organisation and we have worked hard to remove barriers which might prevent those who share our values and aims from taking part. We want to continue the growth of the Movement to bring the benefits of Scouting to more communities across the country and to do this we need more adult volunteers. We are very clear that we want both our young people and our volunteers to come from all sections of society, irrespective of gender, background or faith.
So our commitment to inclusivity has meant we have been prepared to look anew at a rule that prevented those of no faith from joining and, to facilitate this, the original Scout Promise of duty "to God and to the Queen." For over 40 years we have offered those from other faiths a Promise that is more relevant to their beliefs. Non-UK citizens also do not have to give their allegiance to the Queen but to the country where they are living.
There is, however, one group which could still feel themselves excluded - those who consider themselves atheists or humanists. Up until now, they have had a choice between swearing to a Promise they did not believe in, or being unable to fully commit to the Scouting Movement. We believe it is time to put this right.
So as part of a major review of what Scouting does and how it operates - the fourth in the history of our Movement - we asked our membership whether we should offer an additional alternative Promise to this group. The overwhelming response was that we should.
The move has also been backed, I am pleased to say, by leaders of the main religions who understand the importance of Scouting being inclusive and the opportunities it offers both our young people and our adult members.
The additional alternative Promise will allow those who have no faith simply to promise to do their best, to uphold our Scout values, to do their duty to the Queen, to help others and to keep the Scout law. It is simple, removes a barrier to inclusion and allows us to fully reflect the society in which we live. It also ensures we remain true to the values that have underpinned our Movement for 106 years.
I know there are likely to be many already involved in Scouting who have no strong religious beliefs but who have, nevertheless, happily taken the existing Promise. We could have carried on with this compromise. But if young people are not religious, it seems strange to me that we should expect young people right at the start of their experience of Scouting to make a promise which means nothing to them.
I am sure there will be some traditionalists who accuse us of bowing to outside pressure or pandering to political correctness. But this is a decision we made for ourselves, because we are passionate about ensuring that all young people have an opportunity to benefit from Scouting's life changing opportunities. We are delighted with the support we are receiving for this.
It is not possible, of course, to say what our Founder would have thought of this decision. But it was Lord Baden-Powell who made clear ninety years ago that Scouting was not to remain frozen in the past when he declared it was a Movement not an organisation. Over half a million young people and adults who enjoy its activities to the benefit of themselves and their communities show we have got the balance right and that is undoubtedly why our numbers continue to grow.
So if you want to join the adventure and make a positive impact in your community come and visit us at www.scouts.org.uk/getinvolved.
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