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A Community Profile of a Brownie unit
Girlguiding is divided into many different sections, including Rainbows, Brownies and Guides, with around 501,590 members (Girlguiding, 2018). The overarching charity, and individual units, could be considered communities within their own rights due to a fluidity surrounding the definition, and due to a focus on common interests, beliefs and values (Kerridge and Sayers, 2007) that underpin the charity and unit meetings and result in continued attendance. This results in around 27,000 active Girlguiding communities in the United Kingdom being assisted by over 110,000 volunteers (Girlguiding, 2018). The focus of this profile will be a Brownie unit based in the locality of Benhall and The Redding’s ward, Cheltenham (Gloucestershire County Council, 2015) The unit has been meeting since 1977 and has 20 active young members enrolled at present. Although this unit could be considered established, I would like to analyse for any areas of vulnerability using three key themes of young members, leaders, and the wider community. Since I am an active member of this community, I would like to use the information gathered to aid future development in terms of strategic planning, helping to ensure the preservation of the unit.
The research method that involves the identification of nature, needs and resources of a particular community is commonly referred to as community profiling (Blackshaw, 2010). It is the active participation of community members that makes this research method distinctive, and because of this, projects can be initiated by members, in addition to statutory agencies and voluntary organisations (Hawtin and Percy-Smith, 2007). Typically, community profiling is conducted with a predominant intention of aiding a community, although specific purposes and aims will vary. Because of this, research cannot be confined to a single approach (Goodson and Phillimore, 2012) and must be adapted to suit the intent of the profile, including approaches and data collection methods.
One approach to community profiling is to focus on the existing community. Members are typically involved in this method and are challenged with identifying their community’s needs and resources. Due to the emphasis on where a community is currently at, this is often thought of as a ‘bottom-up’ approach (Gilchrist and Taylor, 2016). Underpinning this is Freire’s critical pedagogy which suggests that in order for the world to change, individuals need to adopt a critical stance which is easier to achieve in relation to their everyday lives. Therefore, when members are actively involved in profiling, useful change may be more probable as community members are in a better position to critic the reality of their community (Ledwith, 2016). According to Gilchrist (2009), this can create a sense of empowerment where community members consider their voices as recognised and respected. However, the nature of ‘bottom-up’ approaches means community members typically have to actively participate in the profile. Because of this, it may only be a small minority of the community that contribute, leading to a ‘snowballing’ affect whereby the profile only becomes familiar with one network (Twelvetrees, 2017). To overcome this, a representative sample of the community should be taken, helping to ensure a encompassing profile that allows for any progressive agendas that ensues to aid the whole community, rather than a few.
Another method of community profiling is whereby the identification of needs and resources are led by official representatives, such as from the local authority, also referred to as a ‘top-down’ approach. The nature of this approach means that little involvement is needed from community members as statistical information can indicate areas with particular problems, educational under-achievement for example (Hawtin and Percy-Smith 2007). This can lead to more efficient dispersion of resources, in addition to generating baseline data for monitoring. Although, Mayo, Mendiwelso-Bendek and Peckham (2013, p.6) suggest that a ‘top-down’ approach can ‘legitimise reductions in service provision’. This could result in feelings of resentment from a community as they may have differing views about which service provisions are crucial, leading to distrust of local government. Therefore, communities and authorities should work in harmony in profiling, helping to empower members by enabling their voices to be heard whilst aiming to meet the purpose of community development (Taylor, 2011).
When conducting a community profile, methodological decisions must be made regarding data collection. Typically data gathering takes two forms, primary and secondary. Primary data is collected using first-hand experience, as opposed to secondary data which has been gathered by someone else. Often, community profiles are driven by measurements, particularly in ‘top-down’ approaches, meaning that data gathered is often quantitative (Blackshaw, 2010). Secondary quantitative data can require little time and be simple to access, although it crucial to consider that the data was collected for a purpose different to the profile, thus it may not fulfil the profile’s specific aims (Hawton and Percy-Smith, 2007). Following decisions about the purpose and aims of the profile, subsequent methodology decisions must consider ethics, including informed consent, invasion of privacy and deception, allowing for an action plan to be formed with the intent of aiding community development.
Forming the basis of the young members and wider community themes will be information provided by an annual parents/carers information update. The questionnaire was last distributed in September 2018, meaning that all information represented is likely to be valid. The data for the leaders theme will be generated from the Girlguiding membership system, and will be formulated from the young members starting date. Because of this, all data collected will be quantitative, with the majority generated through primary collection methods. Data in the leaders theme was gather through personal knowledge, and informal conversations, producing qualitative primary data. If I researched this community more extensively, I would use a mixture of quantitative and qualitative data for each theme. This would generate more pervasive data, and increase the involvement of community members other than myself, thus creating a more accurate and comprehensive profile (Szyjka, 2012).
Considering I am an active member of the community, technically there has been community involvement, albeit significantly limited, thus could be labelled as ‘bottom-up’. Although, the use of statistical data to identify areas of vulnerability could classify my data collection approach as top-down. Therefore, I would not consider the research to specifically as ‘bottom-up’ or a ‘top-down’ approach, rather a mixed approach.
The age distribution of the young members is represented in Figure 1. The average age for the unit is 8.3 years, with ages spanning form 7 years to 10 years.
Figure 1: The frequency of young members ages
Figure 2 compares age, and the number of recorded years as a member of Girlguiding. Age was calculated to 2 decimal places, as was time in guiding, and is ordered chronologically. The average time in Girlguiding is 1.87 years.
Figure 2: The age of young members compared to their time in Girlguiding Young member’s ages
When considering age, the unit has a skewed distribution with many members being near the lower age for Brownies. This will be exaggerated in the next few months as two of 10 year olds meet the upper age limit for Brownies, and leave the unit as a result. In addition to this both nine year olds are new members, having been a part of the unit for less than 6 months, and 70% of members having held membership for less than 3 years.
At present, there are two qualified leaders and one leader in training at the unit. The leader in training has been at the unit for two months, the second leader has been at the unit for 4 years, and the main unit leader has been at the unit for over 25 years. This year, the unit has had three unit helpers leave, with two members leaving to attend university and one leaving due to retirement.
Figure 3 displays a radial distance of 1.5 miles from the unit meeting place, which is indicated by the blue location pin. 95% young member’s postcodes fall within this distance, with 40% living within 0.5 miles.
Although young members reside in six different wards of Cheltenham, the unit appears to serve a niche area, suggesting that young members attend the unit because of its locality. Due to the complexity of residing in multiple wards, any comparisons will be made to the town of Cheltenham. Although the unit has 20 young members, there are spaces for more young members in keeping with the suggested adult to girl ratio of 1:8.
Figure 3: A 1.5 mile radius circle, centred on the unit meeting place.
Currently, the unit has many young members near the lower age range for Brownies, with eight years old being the most frequent age. Perpetuating this is the current numbers of young people in Cheltenham. When looking at Gloucestershire County Council’s (2017a) population figures, there appears to be lower numbers of eight and nine year olds in the town in 2017 which could explain the skewed distribution of ages in the unit. Although, the 0-19 population of Cheltenham is projected to increase be 10.8% by 2039, indicating that there might be an rise in all ages for the unit in the future. However, when considering the wider community of Girlguiding, there has been a 2.6% reduction in members in 2017 (Girlguiding, 2018). This seems to part of an ongoing decrease in members, with there being around 58,000 members lost in three years (Girlguiding, 2014). Therefore, whilst the number of young people in Cheltenham may slightly increase in the next few years, the numbers of young members attending the unit may not be significantly impacted due to the downward trajectory of Girlguiding members.
Currently, only 19% of Girlguiding members have been for three or more years when they leave guiding (Girlguiding, 2018), suggesting that the majority of members who leave have been a member for less than this. When considering the unit, 30% of young members have been for three of more years which is higher than the Girlguiding average. Yet, the majority of young members in the unit have been enrolled for less than three years, which appears to increase the probability of leaving. Explaining this, new members may yet feel a sense of belonging to the community, which Antonsich (2010) proposes is about familiarity, security and emotional attachment. The nature of Girlguiding can be act as both an aid and hindrance to this. Jansen et al. (2014, p.370) states that inclusion within a group ‘is more easily secured when other group members are more similar to us’. Therefore, since all of the young members are female, of a similar age and from a niche location, the essence of the unit could promote inclusion. Although, when groups have similar characteristics, questions about who belongs and on what terms could arise (Sumsion and Wong, 2011). Because of this it is difficult to establish if the unit having many new young members is a vulnerability, suggesting that this is more complex than simply measuring time in guiding.
The recent departure of three unit helpers is likely to be due to social norms surround age, such as attending university. Perhaps this is why Girlguiding is focusing on recruiting volunteers who are aged 25 to 34 (Girlguiding, 2017). Although, in Gloucestershire, it is indicated that volunteering rates are lower in urban areas (Gloucestershire County Council, 2017b) which could make it difficult to recruit new helpers for the unit. This could create difficulties, such as maintaining ratios when outside the unit meeting place, which could disadvantage the young members in the unit in terms of cultural capital in line with Bourdieu (1986).
In terms of the wider community, the unit appears to serve a niche locality but is not operating at full capacity. In Cheltenham, there are currently 25 units, and 9 of these have no spaces for new members. Of these, there are two units within the 1.5 mile radius of the current unit meeting place that are at full capacity. Both of these units are based in central locations, with one operating from a school. The meeting place of the unit being profiled is not in a central location, and it is down a road with poor lighting and a high speed limit. Because of this, parents may be more likely to choose another unit that is within a central, and safer, location. Although factors such as days the unit meet on, and where friends attend, could have more of an influence since the majority of people in Cheltenham have access to cars (RAC Foundation, 2011).
Overall, initial reflection suggests that the Brownie unit is established, despite there being a current reduction in young people in Cheltenham, and in Girlguiding memberships. Although the unit has many young people that have been members for less than three years, the unit seems efficient with retaining young members, indicated by the higher than average members with three plus years membership. The next few years could prove challenging for the unit in terms of recruiting and retaining young members, due to the location of the unit meeting place, and volunteers, as a result of a general lack of volunteers in urban areas of Gloucestershire, although the data from this profile can provide a baseline in which this can be monitored against.
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