Sunday, 22 September 2019

Skip the boy scout leader steps down after 58 years

Skip the boy scout leader steps down after 58 years

A SCOUT leader is stepping down from front-line duties after 58 years.

David Cooksley took over the Goring scout group in 1961, when he was 17, and formed a new one in 1982 which operates independently of the Scout Association.

The 2nd Goring and Streatley Scouts is instead affiliated to the British Boy Scout movement, which claims to be closer to Lord Baden-Powell’s vision when he launched the Boy Scouts in 1910.

Members wear a traditional uniform with a broad-brimmed hat and shorts and the emphasis is exclusively on outdoor pursuits whereas the better-known association has broadened its focus to include indoor sports and hobbies.

Last year, the group hosted a camp in Goring with 85 scouts from across Europe and they were visited by woodsman and survivalist Ray Mears, who gave the youngsters a bushcraft demonstration.

Mr Cooksley, who is known within the group as “Skip”, will stop leading weekly meetings and activities from next month as he is now 75 and wants to spend more time with his family, including two grown-up children who live overseas.

However, he will still manage it from behind the scenes as group scout master and will also remain in charge of the British Boy Scouts, which was in decline but now has six groups across Britain.

The cub leaders will take over his role initially but a replacement and at least one assistant are being sought as the group is expanding.

It has about 40 cubs and scouts and is about to re-open its beaver section after finding a replacement for a leader who left last year.

Mr Cooksley, an architect and lifelong Goring resident, says he has enjoyed working with young people for such a long time and will remain involved with the group in some capacity for as long as he can.

He said: “As both a member and then a leader, being a scout has given me some great experiences of self-reliance, leadership, teamwork and everything that’s valuable for employment.

“Whenever I’ve gone for a job interview, as soon as I mention my involvement with the scouts it’s a talking point with lots of stories to tell. It has allowed me to do things that very few people get to do, like the cycling camps.

“I’ve always pushed the children to achieve more and I’m sure most of them have gained tremendously even if they didn’t realise it at the time.

“I remember one boy who was afraid of insects when he joined but when I bumped into him years later he was working with alligators in the Everglades as a vet!

“I still feel very fit and healthy, for which I’ve probably got all that activity to thank, but I promised my wife that I would step back a bit at 75 so that we could travel and spend more time with family.

“It’s hard to go away because running those meetings is quite a commitment.”

Mr Cooksley grew up in Railway Cottages with his father Albert, a signalman, and mother Valentine, who helped to run the 1st Goring Scouts’ cubs section.

This was led by a Miss Woods, whom he recalls always wore a kilt and carried a dirk, a traditional Scottish dagger, in her sock.

He joined the group, which is still going, at age seven and served under Claude Storton, after whom its headquarters at Storton Lodge in Icknield Road is named.

He later saved it from closure when a dispute broke out among the leaders and he was the only one not to quit. 

Mr Cooksley was responsible for 24 youngsters, some almost the same age, and was later joined by his girlfriend Kathleen, now his wife, who took charge of the cub section with a friend.

He said: “I always loved it — I loved the camping and the excitement and I saw the opportunity to improve on what we had been doing. We always used to camp in the same place and I wanted to include some more adventurous activities.

“At first no one else was interested in helping, which was most surprising because I was sure that other people would come forward but I was determined to keep it going.”

Mr Cooksley increasingly disagreed with the direction the movement was taking in the Seventies and matters came to a head when a senior leader stormed into one of his meetings and ordered him to “get along or get out”.

He said: “I told him, ‘if that’s the way you’re going to treat your volunteers in the future then I want no part of it’ and just walked off, leaving him in charge of everyone.

“I felt that the training was becoming increasingly muddied and hard to understand whereas Baden-Powell’s original training programme was clear and as valid as it had ever been.

“The uniform was so practical and sensible — it was a way of distinguishing the scouts from any other organisation but it was being totally changed, based on the American-style uniform.

“When I launched the British Boy Scouts group there was good take-up from the outset. We’ve always done well for membership and it’s only in the past few years that we’ve struggled to find leaders as people often say they don’t have the time.”

He said his successor would benefit in the same way he had.

Mr Cooksley said: “You get to see the children change and grow in confidence. We receive a lot of compliments from parents who say their children can do so much more and would never have progressed without our help.”

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