Scouts suffer worst membership slump since second world war

Recruitment drive announced after acute loss of adult volunteers and members during lockdowns

The Scouts movement lost more volunteers and youth members in the last year than at any time since the outbreak of the second world war, as Covid lockdowns ended weekly meetings and forced helpers to step back.

Active membership slumped by a quarter over the past year, with 117,000 fewer beavers, cubs, scouts and explorers taking part. One in 10 of its adult volunteers, many of whom were key workers, have also slipped away, with the ranks of its volunteers reducing from 156,000 to 141,000 in the last year. Many adults who lost jobs or had to change jobs during the pandemic were no longer able to help.

The loss of volunteers is proving particularly acute and has left the 113-year-old movement struggling to operate at its potential capacity, with some troops having to turn away members. The number of children wanting to take part has bounced back more strongly than volunteers since the annual census was taken on 31 January.


Some groups continued with virtual meetings over Zoom and there were initiatives to organise remote camps with members pitching tents in their back gardens and joining online singalongs. But areas with the longest lockdowns, including the north-west, Wales and Northern Ireland, have seen the biggest losses of involvement and the organisation is concerned that people in more deprived areas with less access to IT are likely to be hardest to bring back.

The impact reflects wider uncertainty in the voluntary and charity sector. Research by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations shows that organisations across the UK anticipate a fall in donations and a 17% decline in income from trading activity in the next year.

Matt Hyde, the chief executive of the Scout Association, said: “This is another example of how young people have been so badly affected [by the pandemic] and how certain communities have been affected most. We are winning the war against Covid but now we need to win the peace and that requires an economic and a social recovery.”

The pandemic’s hit to membership followed a sustained period of growth, where total membership rose by nearly 200,000 between 2006 and 2020. But it is as great at the loss between 1938 and 1941, when Britain went to war. At that time membership fell by 28% as most adult volunteers were conscripted.

The slump has prompted the Scouts to send out dozens of community organisers to recruit new volunteers.

Andy Amey, 27, who runs the 234th Birmingham 1st Castle Vale Scouts group, said he lost seven of his 25 volunteer leaders and his membership fell from 63 to 38, although it has since rebounded to 57.

“We are seeing lots of volunteers coming back who are finding being outside, connecting with people and seeing the reward on young people’s faces is making such a difference to their wellbeing,” said Hyde. “The public health benefits of volunteering are huge.”


Robert Booth Social affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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