Behind the scenes at a national Brownie event

You pick up a lot of skills as a Guide leader. Team work, leadership skills, First Aid, various outdoors abilities, admin, improvisation, children skills, public singing – and event planning.

I was involved in my biggest event yet last weekend. I’ve planned multiple district events for 50-100 people, some of them all on my own because “plan a Thinking Day event/2010 20/10 20:10 party with the Rangers!” invariably means “plan it on my own while getting frustrated with how unhelpful the Rangers are”. Did I once think I could plan an event for 50-100 people all on my own? Of course I didn’t but it turns out I can.

This particular event I didn’t plan. This was a national event which occurred simultaneously at three Girlguiding Training & Activity Centres and so it was planned at a national level. I just went along as a volunteer to help make the magic happen.

(There are no pictures. I don’t have photo permission for someone else’s Brownies. I’m sorry. But I have embedded some tweets with pictures so you can see what went on.)

I was supposed to be there on Friday afternoon but my car was being MOTd and I went to see Rich Hall so I got there first thing on Saturday morning, just as the Brownies were arriving. I dumped my stuff in my room, collected my yellow hi-viz jacket and got to work.

We had 855 visitors – I’m pretty sure that’s Rainbows, Brownies and their assorted leaders – and my first job was to meet and greet and make sure they came to the check-in tent and make sure they came as a complete unit, so turning away individual girls who wandered up with their parents and sending them to find their leaders and all their friends. Next job was tracking down the girl who’d missed the train and whose mum got lost in Lyndhurst and then it was time for the main event.

My job for Saturday during the main event was to man the Adventure Zone. In practicality, that meant supervising Giant Jenga, Giant Snakes & Ladders, crazy golf and the cargo net. The Rainbows & Brownies loved it but it’s incredibly tedious for the volunteers. There were five zones, they get 45-50 minutes on each one, a ten minute break for drinks and toilets and so on and then into the next zone.

We did get a nice long break for dinner. The burger van feeding the overnight guests, 600-odd of them, took longer to get through the queue than we expected so we had a good long break while they ate and while they went into the disco (no need for volunteer supervision) we took our turn at eating.

Then came the evening job.

We needed to get the girls out of the Big Top. They needed to go to the Bag Store, up to the changing tent, brush their teeth and then lay out their beds in the Big Top. In the meantime, a team had to get into the Big Top to lay out places for each unit and then to direct them in. It was mayhem.

The Big Top had been divided into twelve zones with roughly 53 people in each. That meant things like two units in zone 9, one district in zone 4 and six units in zone 10 which looked horrendous on paper and… well, even worse in real life. A group of seventeen turned up for zone 10 which was already full. There was a space in zone 11 but it wasn’t big enough for seventeen, and besides, it was reserved for the organised unit who’d packed their pyjamas inside their bedding rolls. We squeezed them in but not before the leader had made herself thoroughly unpopular, reduced one of the toughest volunteers to tears and got the Big Cheese hissing “if she says anything else, you just tell her she’s free to leave”. Yes, it was chaotic. No, it didn’t go to plan at all. But have you ever tried to organise and run an event for 600 under 10s?

For what it’s worth, the girls enjoyed the whole thing. One of the leaders cried herself to sleep, another sobbed that “this is the worst day of my whole life!” and yes, there was the aforementioned shrew.

On Sunday, after a very early start, we got to work distributing breakfast to the overnight guests. They’d ordered egg, sausage or bacon rolls or fruit in advance and we had to bag them up from trays and hand them over. That was fine – except that 80% of them had ordered bacon and we simply couldn’t cook it fast enough. “Five sausage, one egg, two fruit and you’ll have to come back for the twenty-two bacon”. At one point we must have had sixty bacon rolls waiting. The previous evening the leaders would have screamed at us but they were reasonably well-behaved in the morning.

When breakfast was done, we shepherded them over to the traverse wall, got them lined up on the side of the drive and then I gave them The Speech – the one that goes “How many of you did the climbing wall yesterday? Well, this is another climbing wall except-” blah blah blah.

While some of them were climbing, the rest were packing up and once I’d got the last group into the queue, we had to get to work with the buses. The shuttle bus taking groups to the local station was half an hour late which caused a panic, I had to babysit one nearly mute Brownie while her leader took a Rainbow to the toilet, we failed to force a bus driver to move his double-decker coach out of the drive!!! and then I was on traffic directing for a little while. We had to turn back four vehicles who saw lots of cars coming in and out of the drive, decided there was an event on and invited themselves to join in.

When all the girls were gone, it still wasn’t over. Bunting had to come down, litter had to be picked, 30ft long tarps had to be cleaned, folded and taken out of the Big Top, cake had to be eaten.

And for all the work we did, it was nothing – nothing – compared to what the staff and the event team did. We just turned up on the day and kept it running but there would have been nothing to run without them.