Meeting the needs of the 21st Century; Tomorrow is the beginning of the Scout movement's second century. Alastair Gilmour looks at its future and finds its values may be linked closely with the past but its style is very much up to date.
SCOUTS are sending out signals this week - and it has nothing to do with campfire smoke and blankets.
The message is that Scouting has changed - but it hasn't. The movement is very relevant to 21st Century life; it is one big adventure and it possesses the same character-building qualities - and fun - that it did on its inception 100 years ago. Plus, its focus on citizenship and communities is very much in line with prime minister Gordon Brown's social agenda.
Tomorrow, a series of sunrise ceremonies will take place throughout the North-East to coincide with others around the world, marking the beginning of the second century of the organisation.
The Scout movement now has 28 million members - male and female - operating in virtually every country in the world. Among the hundreds of present-day Scouts, former Scouts and their families renewing their Scout Promise at locations such as Penshaw Monument and The Angel of the North, is Scout leader Jonathan Chicken, 35, manager of Longbenton City Learning College and former teacher. His geographic coverage as assistant county commissioner for County Durham stretches from Gateshead to Teesside.
"This year represents the start of the future," he says. "We're keen to play down the jokey 'dyb dyb dyb' image, though that's still part of our tradition. 2007 is a very important year in Scouting, with 40,000 Scouts now assembled for 10 days at the World Jamboree in Essex.
"The key message is that the Scout movement is very much on the up. We're the largest movement in the world for peace and we're very proud of our heritage - we still cook on campfires, for instance - but the big focus is on adventure and activities outdoors. That's a huge part of our programme.
"We're constantly bringing the movement up to date, but our core values haven't changed at all - that is to be better citizens in the future.
"A lot of people get qualifications, GCSCs and degrees, but what else to they have to offer that's different? We've got 14-year-olds in the Scouts who can take others for camping expeditions and can run budgets - that looks good on a CV. It's great that the Scouts provides that opportunity."
It's a view echoed by Richard Lydiatt, 32, a plumbing and heating engineer and Scout leader in Washington with a dedication and enthusiasm undimmed from when he was old enough to join the Cubs.
He says: "It's not all big hats and sticks these days: we have to be a forward-looking movement. Scouts come from all walks of life and it's a great opportunity to develop citizen skills, such as self-awareness and belief in one's self and the community and how to conduct yourself with respect for others.
Richard has recently returned from climbing Mont Blanc, western Europe's highest peak. It was part challenge - climbing is a passion - and part fundraising for his group's trip later this week to the World Jamboree and on to summer camp in France. It's all very well having a sense of adventure but danger is never far away - six people were killed last week on the French and Italian sides of Mont Blanc when atrocious weather closed in rapidly. Slightly more genteel pursuits are on the agenda, however.
"We'll do white-water rafting and mountain-biking," says Richard. "There are 70 of us in the party. My six-year-old son Ewan is coming as well - I can't go anywhere without him. He the joined Beaver Scouts at five years old and absolutely loves it.
"It's difficult to devise a programme that relates as much to six-year-olds as to 16-year-olds. It's hard work, but it does work."
In 2001, the Scout Association ran a brand awareness exercise and found that Scouts were second only to Marks & Spencer as a household name. Figures show that a very high percentage of adults in Britain have been Scout group members and it's believed that there are more people involved every week in Scouting than go to football matches.
Jonathan Chicken says: "We've become adults in Scouting and we want to put something back.
"Things have changed a lot. Around 1998 a 10-year plan was brought in to meet the needs of youngsters and that included inviting girls into the Scout movement. It's only voluntary at the moment, but next year we'll be 100% co-educational - it won't be just an option any longer.
"All the things I thought would be issues about mixed groups weren't. Everything is done with parental approval anyway and we have to have the correct ratio of male and female leaders, but sleeping arrangements at camp and toilet facilities have never come into it.
"Girls do exactly the same activities as boys; exactly. And we have creative activities for creative ones and sporting activities for the sporty.
"We have Peter Duncan, from Blue Peter, as Chief Scout. He's the perfect role model - action man - and he abseiled onto the stage at the Jamboree. Young people relate to the likes of him.
"At one time Chief Scouts were lords and real pillars of society, but we have to change to attract young people - though to never lose sight of our core values."
To find out more about the Scouts and where to find your nearest group, tel: 0845 300-1818 or visit www.scouts.org.uk
The badge of honour
IF evidence on how Scouting had changed were required it would be the fact that today's Chief Scout is Peter Duncan, once of Blue Peter.
Peter was very much the BBC series's action man, following the John Noakes model.
Among his most famous exploits were running the first London Marathon in just over three hours, cleaning the face of Big Ben and wearing his trademark green and white check suit.
Peter was a Cub Scout. He visited Windsor as a boy to accompany his cousin, a Queen's Scout, to meet the Chief Scout, never dreaming that from July 2004 he would bear that title himself. He is very much a "natural "Scout, and sees the movement as a great inspiration for young people.
ROLE MODEL: Action man and ex-Blue Peter presenter Peter Duncan is the UK's ninth Chief Scout since the tradition began, with Baden-Powell holding the first role in 1921.