What an amazing evening!

Dozens of awards, including a Laurel (!), lots of presentations which were in turns hilarious, moving or thought-provoking, but absolutely all inspiring; lots and lots of laughter, three impressive Women of Cumbria banners and 78 portions of Sticky Toffee pudding. If you were at the Annual Awards Evening then you will know why that last one is important. If you weren’t then you might never find out.

Sue Gudgeon’s tree image admirably set the tone for the evening. She reminded us that “we discover, we grow”, that like the tree we have very solid roots but occasionally need support and pruning, that our volunteers provide the wow factor, and that in working with young people we keep planting seeds, and eventually they will blossom, some of them spectacularly.

We saw many excellent presentations, learning that around 150 Guides, including some from Armenia, enjoyed a dazzling mixture of outdoor activities at Curlew 2017 as well as learning some Armenian songs and dances, and how the Rainbow Jungle Fun Day in Ulverston involved make-believe but very hungry hippos as well as real spiders.

Ellie Tucker, young leader with Arnside Guides, humorously reported on a visit to the Big Gig at the Wembley Arena, a weekend that also included seeing a performance of “Matilda” and taking lots of selfies with waxwork celebrities at Madame Tussaud’s.

Maria Miln and Hollie Backhouse reminded us why city visits are of such importance for rural girls when they described their BP Challenge visit to Liverpool, “a weekend out of our comfort zone”, with visits to the Tate Liverpool including a painting lesson and taking the ferry across the Mersey.

Four leaders reported on their January 2018 visit to Cambodia, where the “Aziza’s Place” centre supports children who live with their families on rubbish dumps, feeds and clothes them and enables them to go to school. The Cumbrian women painted a world map onto a wall in the building, taught some English, helped prepare food, and finally organised a party where the children loved relay races and particularly parachute games. Since the children had never encountered parachutes before chaos ensued and great fun was clearly had by all.

Vicki Noble turned what was billed as a presentation about the Big Sing into a miniature version of that event so we all ended up “Sing it louder, sing it clearer, knowing everyone will hear you, make some noise, find your voice tonight” – we certainly sang both loud and clear. Thank you, Vicki.

And then to the awards. High Sheriff Simon Berry got the tone absolutely right when he declared himself “totally humbled” by the huge number of volunteer hours totted up by those in the room with him. Explaining that this was his first official presentation in his new role and that as this role encompasses encouraging volunteering he had clearly come to the right place. He awarded the High Sheriff shield to Beth Howard Henry who uses her background as a BAE Systems apprentice to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) for girls, starting with a STEM day for Guides and Senior Section and then developing the Clever Clogs challenge which is now North West Region’s “best seller” activity. She also enabled a recruitment drive which gained around 20 new volunteers, leading to the establishment of a new Rainbow unit in Barrow.

Region Chief Commissioner Julie Bell awarded the Jackie Fulton Trophy for craft to 12-year-old Annie Hodgson (Hawkshead Guides). The challenge had been to make something out of recycled denim and Annie’s design cleverly used bits of an old pair of jeans to create a highly individual ringbinder with pockets for essentials like pencils and a ruler. The Marian Salway trophy went to 1st Urswick Brownies who won the Brownie quiz, including for their clearly awesome ability to blind-taste crisps!

The Flamingo Trophy, the highest accolade which can be awarded within the county, went to Janice Thompson for her work as Guide leader, District and Division treasurer and Region trainer, but above all for her tireless work, alongside her husband Alan, as First Response advisor for the North West region, ensuring that we all have up-to-date First Aid qualifications.

Julie Bell had made some attempt at working out the likely volunteering hours accrued by the long service award recipients but had understandably given up on that particular challenge. Present to receive their awards, often to thunderous applause, were Holly Wardlaw, (5 years), Karen Taylor and Helen Belton (10 years), Helen Taylor, Sharon Coid, Sarah Beale and Jane Asquith (30 years), Margaret Shannon and Molly Inglis (40 years) and Rosemary Hocking and Val Craven with 50 years of service to Girlguiding. More about this later.

The Good Service Award went to Kath Travis for her “non-stop guiding, her amazing attitude and particularly her optimism, drive, relentless effort and fundraising” which meant that the Ambleside “Guide Hut”, completely destroyed by storm Desmond, finally reopened in its new guise as the Pam Partridge building.

Rebecca Benson received the Queen’s Guide Award, which is especially pleasing as Rebecca has returned to Cumbria and is now volunteering in Barrow, thus keeping her expertise and enthusiasm in the county. Hannah Smith was given her Going Away Award.

Julie Bell then moved on to those awards which are given by the Region or on a national level. These included a Special Award for Janice and Alan Thompson because “we just couldn’t do what we do without them” and the Region Chief Commissioner Award to Caroline Gunningham from Bowness who Julie described as a “great leader, exceptionally committed and who never seems to sleep. I can’t put into words how amazing this woman is”. Lastly in this category Tina Jackson from Grange was recognised as an “excellent ambassador for Girlguiding whose enthusiasm rubs off on the work of others and who is such a great role model”, particularly for her untiring efforts in taking so many girls abroad.

Laurel Awards are very rare. They have to be approved on a national level and Julie had only ever presented a handful of them. How appropriate that one of them was awarded in Cumbria South, to Barb Littlewood, lauded as “a most dedicated and passionate woman who has the ability to nurture simple ideas and turn them into something great”. This recognises all her work for Girlguiding, with a specific emphasis on being the main instigator of the Express Group, the young people’s voice in the region who advise HQ and influence their decision making.

On a personal note, it was both a humbling and an uplifting experience to be able to talk to some of the inspiring award winners afterwards. What do they all have in common? Amazing energy and passion – having just spent a weekend in Waddow and looked after their units (often several!) during the week, they turned out in large numbers to celebrate Girlguiding and still managed to look fresh and enthusiastic, the slightly older members of the movement, if anything, even more so. A clear sense of the importance of what we are doing for girls and young women in our unique setting. A no-nonsense, common-sense approach without which our units just wouldn’t work. An unshakeable sense of values. And, above all, an appreciation of the friendships engendered and sustained by years in Guiding and the fun that comes with being part of such a fantastic group of friends.

As Sue Gudgeon said, on sending us home ”Keep being amazing!”

Maria Bates