Scouting magazine caught up with the new Chief Executive of The Scout Association, Matt Hyde, to talk about the future for Scouting – and his Scouting past
Tell us more about your background.
I grew up in Ramsey in Cambridgeshire, above our family furniture and drapery store. My family were connected with the community and Scouting fitted well; it was a way to engage. The interest in Scouting came from my grandfather. I vividly remember a certificate, signed by B-P; I now know it to be a gallantry award, given to my grandfather in 1921 for saving a boy from drowning.
I was keen to join, and invested as a Cub with 1st Ramsey in 1983. It wasn’t necessarily the traditional stuff that developed me. Instead, it was the ‘firsts’ – Scouts was the first time I fundraised, volunteered and was given a leadership position. These were so important to my development.
My brothers were more outdoorsy and Scouting gave them as much, if not more, than school. It improved their life chances. They both got Chief Scout’s Awards; there is no doubt this had a big impact on their lives.
I’ve always been attracted to leadership roles, and Scouting must have had some bearing on that. When I went to uni I became captain of a football team, then club captain and then president of the student’s union. Ultimately, that led to a position as president of the University of London Union and then on to the National Union of Students.
Like Scouts, the student movement changes lives. It’s part of the ‘doughnut’ around core teaching and learning that makes a difference to people’s chances, outlooks and skills.
Why is this an important time for Scouting?
The mission and purpose of Scouting are enduring. It’s amazing how consistent and relevant many of B-P’s messages are. He saw low levels of aspiration and attainment, poverty, lack of mobility and cohesion. These are issues we still contend with.
The UK has huge challenges, but Scouting is perfectly placed to make a difference to wider society, and to show that it can be done while having a good time; what could be better?
Our ethos of non-formal learning, learning by doing is a powerful tool and a potent force for social mobility. People refer to ‘softer’ skills, as if they’re not as important. But these are what get people jobs, help them get on in life and build relationships. Scouting’s notion of helping to build rounded individuals is key.
Since you took up your post, what has struck you most about the Movement?
Our real strength is our volunteer base. The Olympics were important in changing the understanding of what volunteering looks like, and we’ve been able to capitalise on that wave of energy. Unlike other voluntary organisations, we combine structured activities with flexible opportunities.
Although volunteering is on the rise, we need to recognise that some people are more able to volunteer than others – and take advantage of the latent demand among 16-to-25 year olds. They are keen to make a difference, but also recognise the need to enhance their skills and to become more employable, which means gaining different experiences. I’m keen to get this message across to employers too.
What have been your highlights so far?
For me, getting out to see what’s happening where people are delivering Scouting is vital. It’s important to listen, learn, test ideas and to sell what we’re trying to achieve at national level.
I’ve seen some uplifting scenes. Recently I was in Wales with Explorers who embodied our aim to be a Movement ‘shaped by young people’. There was so much dynamism and active learning from each other. I sat with a mum, whose son has cerebral palsy, and she told me how Scouting had changed his life. He was talking more, making friends, getting more out of life. And in north London I met young people from all different backgrounds come together for a community project – not just in terms of ethnicity but educational backgrounds too. This social mixing enables them to intuitively understand difference; it’s true cohesion in action.
What are your hopes for the Movement?
A clear vision galvanises people into action. The Vision Towards 2018 sets out our agenda – now we must consider how to make it easily understood, how can we make it exciting so that people are motivated and consider what success will look like.
We need to extend understanding of non-formal learning and go to new areas to make Scouting more accessible. That won’t be a wholesale change from our core values. We have already modernised in our history; by opening up to girls and adapting the uniform to allow multi-faith groups to join. The capacity to evolve has ensured we stay relevant, but we’ve got to keep moving.
Having said that, heritage is important. There’s something powerful at the heart of Scouting and you tinker with that at your peril. But, given my experiences in the youth and education sector, we can learn from other organisations, perhaps by using digital technologies, changing our marketing, or looking at new ways to deliver the programme.
Collaboration is important to reach new audiences. For example, Julie [Bentley, Girlguiding’s Chief Executive] and I are in many of the same meetings, saying the same things, and ultimately we share the same ‘parents’, so where we can mutually benefit we should work together, without stepping on each other’s toes. Similarly, if we work with other not-for-profit organisations we can improve our own knowledge and broaden our appeal.
We have an opportunity to ensure that young people shape the future of Scouting. They’re used to influencing the world around them and have the ideas and insights to ensure we remain relevant. In many ways they’re already at the heart of the Movement – making someone a Sixer or a Patrol Leader instils leadership. We’ve always done it, so let’s amplify those voices throughout Scouting.