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Celebrating our 140th Anniversary

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Growth, Quality & Voice

Thursday 13th February 2014

The Brigade has recently adopted a new development plan which sets out the priorities for the next 5 years.

In this first article, Matthew Smith, Vice President and Chairman of the Brigade Executive shares his thoughts on the plan, what it’s about and the role that each of us has to play.

Profile: Matt Smith

In asking Matt to write for the magazine we asked him a few questions about his BB journey.

Q Tell us a little about your BB journey so far….

A Well I joined back in 1982, at the age of 6 and grew up as a member of 21st Ipswich. I’ve had many fantastic opportunities through BB since then including attending the 1994 Royal Review and spending a year with FDF in Denmark and BB South Africa. Involvement in the International Team meant I kept in contact with the Brigade during my years at University and led to involvement in The Global Fellowship. I am currently the Captain of 5th London Company which is based at Wesley’s Chapel in the heart of London.

Q What’s life like for you outside of BB?

A Well I certainly keep myself busy, as a Barrister by profession, as a trustee of the YMCA (City of London), as a University Governor and also through a keen interest in 19th Century Danish philosophy. Oh and not forgetting my love for watching cricket – although the current English team performance leaves something to be desired.

Q What’s been the highlight of your BB journey (so far)?

A As a Captain, it would have to be our recent growth at the 5th London and seeing 20 young people in church at our recent church parade.

Q What’s your hope for the future (in BB terms)?

A I would like us to be more ambitious, not be scared and give new ideas a go!

One of my fondest childhood memories is returning home from the Junior Section on a Friday night in the mid-1980s with my tuck shop purchases and ready to watch the second half of the A-Team before bed. I would wait keenly for the moment at the conclusion of every episode in order that I could say, in unison with Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

And now we, like the A-Team, have a plan. In our case, it’s unlikely to involve knocking out an unwilling aeroplane passenger or the last-minute reconstruction of a black van inside a warehouse. But we do have a plan. And it has three big themes: Growth, Quality & Voice.

What do we mean by these?

Growth – We mean more Companies, and more young people and leaders in membership
Quality – We mean doing better what we already do.
Voice – We mean letting young people speak up.

Sometimes we can feel threatened by plans. They sound like things you do at work. We see difficulties in achieving them. We worry that we are setting ourselves up to fail. But there’s no shame in aiming high. Our greatest challenge these days is not being ambitious enough.

“Having our numbers remaining steady since we first started the Company three years ago and after discussing with my team we took a deliberate decision, along with our Girls’ Brigade to leaflet drop our local estate, this increased our numbers. These boys have gone back into school and chatted about their time at BB and our numbers increased again. We have coped with the increase but may need to look for new leaders in the New Year.” – Laura Ewing Captain, 1st Newtownards

Let’s consider the question of “Growth”

What does that mean for those of us who spend many of our so-called leisure hours on matters BB?

We have, at present, an opportunity without precedent in our recent history. The Brigade in Ireland is holding its own. In Scotland, we are growing. 20 new Companies were started in England and Wales in the first half of last year. There are more unsolicited enquiries from churches than the staff can deal with. We might argue about the reasons for this sudden surge in popularity. And we might be sceptical about its likely longevity. But let us not be guilty of failing to make hay while the sun shines.

When did we last ask ourselves if we could recruit more members to our Company? In my first few weeks as Company Captain, I decided to try to run a “bring a friend” evening in our Junior Section. Two boys brought a friend. Five boys came on their own as always. And one boy came dressed as a pirate. To this day, I have been wholly unable to understand what he thought that he was doing. But no-one forgot that evening. And our subsequent bring-a-friend evenings have always delivered a few new young people, one or two of whom return.

Are we restricted by leadership? BB leaders are good, even brilliant, at keeping going. I defy any other voluntary organisation to produce voluntary leaders who have more determination than BB leaders. But the corollary of that trait is that we are not always as pro-active as we could be in recruiting new blood. We are very good at developing leadership skills in our young people – and there is nothing more exciting than seeing a young person come through the ranks and assume a leadership role. But can we do more? Can we look externally? Have we advertised in the church? At the local college or university? Do we have a presence with local volunteering agencies? Do we involve the parents as much as we could?

And how do we get the most out of our volunteers? Do those of us who are Captains need to review our role? Should we be aiming to recruit younger leaders in circumstances where our job will be to inspire and encourage them, rather than to lead the programme ourselves? Are we prepared to let go in order to let our Companies grow?

None of this is easy. All of it involves risk. But I ask all leaders reading this piece to consider how they would like to grow their Companies by this time next year and to devise a plan to try to give effect to that ambition. If we don’t succeed, we shall have lost nothing. If we achieve only a fraction of our dreams, the results could be breath-taking. But if we don’t dare to dream, we cannot expect to grow. That much seems obvious. As one member of the A-Team might have said, “I pity the fool who can’t understand that.”

Matthew Smith
Brigade Vice President

Follow Matthew Smith on Twitter – @matthewjsmith76

You can get in contact with Matthew at matthew.smith@boys-brigade.org.uk

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