In the second of a series of articles about the Luxembourg-based Telstar International Scout Group, Chronicle.lu had the opportunity to speak with Ben Finney, Section Leader for the Beaver section within this English-speaking Scouting group.
Ben Finney leads Telstar Scouts' only Beaver Colony: the Oak Colony. Beaver Scouts are boys and girls who belong to the first and youngest section in the Scouting family, followed by Cubs, Scouts and Explorers.
Chronicle.lu: How many Beavers are there in Telstar?
Ben Finney: This year I have seventeen Beavers, which is up slightly from last year. We have a mixture of boys and girls of different nationalities. Our Beavers are the youngest members of Telstar, aged six and seven years old.
Chronicle.lu: And how many leaders are there?
Ben Finney: At the moment I am Beaver Section Leader and I have three assistant Beaver leaders working with me. There are another three adults who have volunteered to help and I hope to have them officially onboard soon. We all need to supply some police checks and do some mandatory training before being responsible for other people's children. I hope they will all stick with us, as we really need the help.
Chronicle.lu: Do you find it difficult to attract young people to your Telstar group, or is it, in fact, the opposite, i.e. a waiting list?
Ben Finney: Generating interest for Beavers is not a problem; we have waiting lists for all scout sections. Some children are even on the list before they can walk! Our capacity revolves around how many adults we have to run the sessions, as we have a ratio of adults to children which we need to maintain. I try and fill as many spaces as possible based on the amount of leaders which I have.
Chronicle.lu: Is it difficult to attract leaders too?
Ben Finney: Getting leaders into the section is tricky. In fact, this is probably the most challenging part of what I do! Time is a very valuable resource to everyone and volunteering with us is a commitment which is very much appreciated. We need a certain ratio of adults to children in order to be able to hold sessions, and for these youngest children the ratios are smaller than for other sections. Without adult volunteers we simply would not be able to function. It is quite stressful when some people cannot make it to a session due to work commitments or a sick child - I would feel awful if I need to ask for help or cancel a session at very short notice.
Many of our leaders are parents, and when their children "swim up" to Cubs after turning eight, those leaders usually move on as well with their children. This means that I typically have a turnover of both adults and children after a maximum of two years. I am the anomaly, as my children went on to Cubs and Scouts without me but I stayed on with Beavers.
Chronicle.lu: How often do you meet, and where? Do you break over the winter / summer months?
Ben Finney: We hold meetings every week on Tuesday afternoons at 16:30. Parents can find it difficult to get their children to and from meetings as this is within typical working hours. This is the main limiting factor for children joining the section from the waiting list. Having a later start time would have the knock-on effect that we would finish later in the evening, which is not very popular for parents of young children either. We follow the Luxembourg school calendar, so we do not meet during school holidays - a lot of families leave Luxembourg during the holidays, including us leaders.
Chronicle.lu: What indoor and outdoor activities do you normally do, and what is the balance?
Ben Finney: We are fortunate that the FNEL building in Cents, where we currently meet, has great indoor and outdoor spaces which they make available to us. I am spoilt for choice! Our weekly meetings which we hold at FNEL are usually held outside, but if the weather is particularly wet and/or cold then we can use the indoor areas as well. Some of the topics we cover dictate where we go as well. Pitching tents and lighting fires is outside, but first aid sessions or hosting a visit from assistance dogs is done inside.
I also try and have a couple of sessions per term away from FNEL, and sometimes those might be longer session held at the weekend. Last year I organised a day trip to the European Space Center in Belgium, and a trip to the mini traffic playground in Mamer, to practice cycling.
Chronicle.lu: What major events do you have planned for this (academic) year? Will this involve meeting up with other troops, etc.? And do you meet up with any of the other Telstar groups?
Ben Finney: Last month we took the children to an ice skating lesson, which is a first for us. They were very persistent and some really great progress was made.
We went away for group camp already in September, and in May we will have District camp, where we will be joined other scout groups from within British Scouting Overseas. I always think it is nice for the children to understand that they are part of something bigger, not only the faces they see every week but there is a whole world full of Scouts out there.
Detailed planning for 2023 is ongoing.
Chronicle.lu: What will having your own (Telstar's) premises mean to you and your Beavers and leaders?
Ben Finney: The FNEL building is a fantastic facility, and I feel very fortunate that we have been able to use it since being moved on from our previous location during COVID-19. I understand that the move was only temporary though, and the building does sometimes get used for other groups. Having our own facility will allow us to be much more flexible about when we meet, rather than relying on the continued goodwill of other venues. Another big advantage will be having somewhere to keep material. My basement is constantly stuffed with supplies ranging from sheets of craft foam to sticker books - it will be nice to free up some shelf space.