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He's a very modern Scout leader
Tony Kilburn, 62, the Scout Association District Commissioner for Swindon North, recently backed the plan to introduce an alternative pledge for non-religious members. Tony lives in Swindon with his wife, and has two grown-up daughters.
TONY Kilburn has been with the Scout movement since he joined the Fourth Worcester Park Cub Pack in his native Surrey more than 50 years ago.
“I think it was very much that all my friends were members,” he said. “It was either that or the Boys’ Brigade.”
Later he was Scout, Senior Scout and Venture Scout, and was then promoted through the voluntary leadership ranks.
His only regret about his early Scouting days is that he didn’t become a Queen’s Scout, the movement’s most prestigious youth award. He’s proud that both of his daughters did, though, and also have their Gold Duke of Edinburgh Awards.
As District Commissioner for Swindon North, Tony oversees 14 Scout groups north of the Great Western main line. Those groups have a total of 1,200 members, both boys and girls.
His message to parents wondering about the benefits of membership is simple: “I think it will help them to become better people.
“It will motivate them and give them skills for everyday life – things like first aid, working together, respect for themselves and others. That sort of thing. It makes an all-round better person.”
The modern Scout movement blends traditional activities with very modern ones. There are still badges for camping, cycling and crafts, for example, but there are also ones for conservation, public relations and street sports such as skateboarding.
Modern Scouting also involves more paperwork and more risk assessments before activities are considered, although there is still plenty of opportunity for adventure. As far as Tony knows, the only activities that have disappeared are rougher ones such as British Bulldog, a game in which the person who is ‘it’ must get from one point to another without being upended.
There’s also a great emphasis on diversity these days – hence the pledge concession on religious observance which means non-religious youngsters can opt out of referring to God in their promise to serve. Tony backs the change.
“We have a very secular society now so I think this is a way of catering for all,” he said. “There are promises for people with different beliefs.”
Tony moved from Surbiton to Swindon with his parents and younger brother when he was 10. His father was an electrician at Pressed Steel. His mother was expecting a third child, Tony’s sister.
“We moved here in 1961 as part of the great exodus from the London area,” he said. “We had lived in a two-bedroom flat that wasn’t big enough. They had a choice between Bracknell, Swindon and Welwyn Garden City.”
The young Tony joined a Cub pack based at St John’s Church in Park North, which was led by the Akela from his old pack in Surrey, who had also moved to Swindon.
He went to Park North Junior School and Park Grammar. His first job after leaving was at the Royal Military College of Science in Shrivenham. “I was an assistant scientific officer in the physics department.
“I used to produce experiments for degree course students and Army officers who were studying science. I was there for seven years.”
Tony then spent four years as an assistant environmental officer before starting a seven-year-stint with electronics firm Racal as an exhibitions officer at trade shows. “That took me to Bahrain, Qatar, Czechoslovakia and Poland before the Iron Curtain came down and most of Europe.”
His next role, again for seven years, was as exhibitions manager with the Central Electricity Generating Board, explaining nuclear power not just at trade shows and industry gatherings but also at political party conferences.
Redundancy was followed by a job with a PR company doing precisely the same thing, meaning he left the CEGB on a Friday and was back at his old desk there the following Monday, working for a new employer. Later he set up his own PR company and ran it for four years, but suffered a health crisis he believes was brought on by the stress.
“I had a heart attack. I was 48. I think it was the pressure of working for myself. I remember it quite well – I’d lost a contract which had been virtually guaranteed and they pulled the plug at the last minute.
“Then I went and joined a shopfitting company as a project manager out in Faringdon.”
Later Tony spent 18 months as a Civil Servant working at a Job Centre and a further 18 at a lettings agency. Although now retired, he still works occasionally as a school exam invigilator.
Through all these changes his commitment to Scouting has been constant.
The movement has 400,000 members nationwide and another 30,000 on waiting lists, mostly because there aren’t enough Scout leaders to go around.
“It’s a time commitment – a lot of it. There’s a commitment you have to make to training to become a leader. We get most of our adult help now through parents.”
There are also recruits from among Scouts themselves as they grow older.
“All potential recruits are interviewed and given the same background checks as anybody aiming to work with children and young people.”
To any adult wondering whether becoming a Scout leader is for them, he says: “You’re going to be helping young people to evolve, to become the best that they can be.”
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