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Over 4,000 young people and adult volunteers from UK Scouts travelled to Sweden for the 22nd World Scout Jamboree. It was a task co-ordinated by Mike Parkes, UK contingent leader and Dorset Scouts county commissioner, and here’s how…

Keeping over 4,000 young people and adult volunteers motivated is no mean feat. But for the last three years, Mike Parkes, Dorset Scouts county commissioner has had that very task laid at his feet. In November 2008, Parkes was appointed UK contingent leader. He applied for the volunteer role just like any other job application and was appointed the heady mission of taking 3,300 young people and 1,100 adults to Sweden for the 22nd World Scout Jamboree.

Never before had Parkes undertaken such a brief, and whilst he had the briefing documents of UK contingent leaders past, this was the largest number of UK Scouts ever to travel to a scouting event outside of the UK.

“I’m now an expert in spreadsheets and budgets,” Parkes laughs, as he recalls his recent Scandinavian adventure.

A £7 million budget and the responsibility of getting 4,400 people on aircraft led to an extensive logistical operation of epic proportions.

Parkes reveals: “The World Scout Jamboree lasts for 12 days but we were keen to have a three-day pre-event that allows everyone to meet and get to know each other. This year, the pre-event took place in Copenhagen, and so we flew everyone out there over two days.”

Parkes and his team, comprising Byron Chatburn (logistics), Clive Leader (deputy UK contingent leader), Christine Haddock (support) and Colin Simpson (events) looked at ferries and hiring cruise ships. Whilst feasible, cost was prohibitive and flying to Copenhagen from regional airports across the UK then meant only a two-hour coach trip to Rinkaby, Southern Sweden, where they’d find another 30,000 scouts and all the supplies you’d need for an epic Scout adventure.

The UK Scouts contingency was made up of 86 units, each containing 36 young people aged 14-18 and four adults, and who had travelled from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Channel Islands. UK Scouts also has branches abroad in the Caribbean, Gibraltar and South Pacific, who joined the contingency and three patrols each containing 10 people from Armenia, Sierra Leone and Papua New Guinea were also funded.

Each person attending the jamboree declared to raise £2,000 to fund the trip, which comprised a three-day pre-event in Copenhagen, the 12-day jamboree and  a five-day home hospitality stay in one of 18 European countries. It meant that UK Scouts could learn about the food and culture of their European Scout hosts and carry on the theme of the World Scout Jamboree – meetings, solidarity and nature.

Be prepared

In total, a 40-foot shipping container and three artics carried the necessary kit for a long stay from home – everything from tents and cooking equipment to matches, hand gel and a 40-foot x 40-foot inflatable structure. The structure was used as the UK Scouts big pavilion, which played host to special events, video screenings and scheduled activities, showcasing what UK Scouts do.

Each unit was also allowed their own box to pack with specific items that would make their stay on-site easier. The boxes were shipped to Rinkaby and collected upon arrival.

“I had a rough idea of what to expect,” continues Parkes, “I’d visited jamborees in Chile in 1998 and in Thailand in 2003. When I saw this role advertised I thought I must be a glutton for punishment but I threw my hat in the ring, got the job and started planning things with a big blank piece of paper.”

And Parkes vowed to visit the 89 units that were travelling to Sweden.

“It seemed such a good idea when I stood up and said I would like to visit every single unit before we departed. It has been great to be able to sit down with the young people and give them a ‘walk through’ of the event and to answer their many questions.”

But, it also was a long and tiring process. Parkes listened to the fundraising efforts of each unit and liaised with over 700 adult volunteers who had not only paid to attend the jamboree but who had also pledged their time to the international service team (IST). The IST serviced the site, doing everything from cleaning toilets, emptying bins and doing a shift in the scout shop, and the UK contingent joined more than 6,000 other IST crew to ensure the smooth running of the camp.

“We held a number of events to give volunteers information and to set some expectations. The events also meant that volunteers and IST’s could meet the wider team. Being a volunteer can be lonely because once you sign up to become a volunteer you don’t know what job you’ll be given until you turn up at the jamboree site. You could be doing a job on your own or working with a group of people. You just don’t know but when you volunteer at a jamboree there’s a will to go to the event anyway because you want to be a part of it.”

Almost 40,000 scouts enjoyed the 12-day event, which saw Bear Grylls, UK chief scout, abseil onto the stage at the jamboree’s opening ceremony. Local Swedish and Scandinavian bands entertained the audience, and Europe performed Final Countdown at the jamboree’s closing ceremony. The 23rd World Scout Jamboree will take place in Japan in 2015.

But will Parkes be organising the UK contingency? That depends on whether he wants his social life back.