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What a turnaround!

Tuesday 9th May 2017

The One for All Campaign has contributed towards some fantastic success stories. Few are more eye-catching than that of the Junior Section of 94th Glasgow, based in the Shettleston area of the city, who increased members from 1 to 17 in one session!

Alistair Haw

Alistair Haw, Leader in 278th Glasgow (Netherlee) Company and a new addition to the BB Communications Group for UK & RoI – chatted with the Officer-in-Charge of 94th Glasgow (Shettleston) Junior Section, Nicola Bell, to see what’s behind such growth and to look to what can be learned from such a fantastic story.

Nicola Bell

Nicola has only recently taken up the role as Officer-in-Charge, having not long participated in Youth Leader Training. Nicola, 41, is now a stay-at-home mum and is clearly passionate about her volunteering with The Boys’ Brigade.

Alistair is a new leader too, in October 2015 he volunteered to help reconvene his local Anchor Section, which his son then attended, after it had stopped meeting due to the retirement of the previous leaders. He was appointed Warrant Officer and, further to the completion of his Youth Leader Training, became Officer in Charge in 2016. Whilst the section, and indeed the 278th Glasgow as a whole, continues to grow, Alistair was keen to hear and learn from other success stories about what we can do together to develop the BB across the board…

Thanks for agreeing to share the experiences of your success Nicola. Let’s start at the beginning. When did you become a BB leader and why did you get involved?

I became a Junior Section leader eight years ago, and went on to become an Officer and took over as Officer-in-Charge two years ago. My husband has been a BB officer for 21 years and I was always happy to support the BB. However, due to occupational constraints, I could not volunteer as an officer. Once I changed occupation to become a stay at home mum I knew I wanted to get involved as, basically, I love children!

Lucky for the BB you changed jobs then! What do you find most rewarding about your role?

One of the most rewarding things is to see the boys progress through the Company and become successful and outgoing young men. But even more simple things are rewarding, such as the boys saying ‘thank you’ for a good night.

So that’s the good bit, but what do you find more challenging?

The Company’s original church closed last year, which has been a big challenge and created a lot of uncertainty. Fortunately, we are now attached to Causewayside Church in Tollcross.

The lack of staff can be a huge challenge when you want to take the boys on trips, for example. It has been hard work dealing with such a large number of boys with limited staff, although we have been grateful to our Company Sections Leaders who have helped out where needed. Junior Section requires a great deal of organisation and planning prior to boys arriving. We need to have games and badge work prepared well in advance and have all equipment ready before boys arrive.

Funding is also a problem, which we try to overcome with sponsored events. Luckily we have some very kind parents!

Your section has seen some incredible growth in membership. At Netherlee we were chuffed to grow our Anchors from 5 to 13 (so far!), but your 1 to 17 puts that in perspective! Looking back, did you ever feel like giving up when numbers were so low? What motivated you to carry on?

Yes, I did feel like giving up on many occasions. When numbers are low, staff morale can become low too. However the boys themselves were what motivated me to carry on. I thought, if they can turn up every week, then so can I. I also hoped that, one day, I would be able to bring my own ideas into the Company to help shape it.

It must be really satisfying to see the rewards of having stuck at it. What did you do to secure such an incredible turnaround? And, where did you recruit the new members from?

We approached the leader of the younger section and asked if we could meet with the parents and boys due for promotion. We did this to let the parents know what Juniors was about and what we did. We also asked the boys to bring their friends along and recruited locally with posters and leaflets. Whilst many of our new members have come up from within the Company, some are friends brought along by our boys and others, I am pleased to say, came completely independently via our other promotional work.

When reading the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin to the Anchors at Netherlee I was struck by how relevant this seemed to BB leaders trying to grow their section. The parable of the friend at night is another. Did you find inspiration from the Bible that motivated you not to give up when all seemed lost, allowing you to succeed as you have?

As a Christian, my faith is very strong and this is generally what has motivated me to succeed. I believe God will always guide us on the right path and that He would help me to achieve my goals.

What about local schools, have you had much support or involvement with them?

Not yet, but this is something I am keen to establish. I intend to approach local schools, to give them information about the BB and, hopefully, get them to promote the Company.

We’ve had great support from Netherlee Primary School – I hope your schools are as supportive when the time comes. What about other promotional activities? Do you make use of traditional or social media, for example?

We have set up a closed (private) Facebook group for parents. This enables us to share pictures and videos of the boys and gives parents an insight into what we do. It also lets them know the boys are enjoying being at BB. We also communicate with parents via text messaging, which has proved beneficial when plans change at the last minute.

Turning now to the BB more generally – what do you believe sets us apart from other youth organisations?

I think it’s the structure and discipline for certain. I think the way it can shape the boys and the life skills they can learn, are what sets it apart.

Do you have any stories or events from your experience that may help to motivate other BB leaders?

When I first started Juniors, there was a boy who had challenging behaviour and would shout and get angry with the other boys. When an officer would shout at the boy and tell him off, his behaviour would escalate and he would literally shut himself down to everyone. I watched this happen over and over again and his behaviour would worsen if he was told off.

One night when he started misbehaving, I took him aside and quietly asked him what was going on. He apologised for his behaviour and was fine for the rest of the night. We took this approach thereafter and the boy went on to win best boy award the following year. His mother also noticed a great improvement in his behaviour. This just confirms that we must treat each boy as an individual.

That’s a great example of the huge difference BB can make to people’s lives.

Turning back to growing your section again; you’ve said what you did off your own back, but do you think there’s anything the BB could do better nationally or regionally to assist companies to grow?

I think the BB could assist Companies with ideas on how to promote themselves, and maybe do a national campaign with the media highlighting what the BB does, and that it is open to everyone.

How about top practical tips from you to other leaders looking to grow their number?

Firstly, I would tell them never to give up. Speak to staff in your feeder sections about speaking to boys due for promotion and their parents. Advertise your Company locally, i.e. in supermarkets, post office, library etc. Make sure the night is fun for the boys and have varied activities, such as visits and outings. We also have craft nights at Christmas and Easter, where the boys make a range of things.

One more question though: many argue that, long term, the decline of Christian focused organisations is inevitable due to decline in church attendance and the role of Christianity in society? Do you agree?

No, I don’t believe this. I think we need to better promote the fact that, although we are a Christian Organisation, children from any background are welcome.

I think we can all agree that your story serves as an inspirational example to all of what can be achieved. Thank you so much for sharing it with us, and keep up the great work!

Do you have an example of successful growth in your section you’d like to share? Or perhaps the experiences here have got your ideas flowing? Get in touch at gazette@boys-brigade.org.uk

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