Meeting cloud units for Guides and Rangers

For girls with access needs and long term conditions, virtual guiding has been a lifesaver

10 July 2024

Did you do any virtual guiding during lockdown? This Disability Pride Month, we caught up with Lucy, a guiding volunteer who wanted to tell us about how Girlguiding North West’s ’cloud’ units (virtual units) are helping to make guiding more inclusive.

For some girls and volunteers with long term conditions, like long Covid and chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), meeting virtually has been a lifeline that keeps them connected to all the joy and fun guiding can bring.  

Here's what Lucy had to say.  

How did the cloud units start?  

‘It was during lockdown – with Rainbows we didn’t have a break at all. We met face to face one week, and then the next week I started doing Facebook videos. With the Guides, I asked them if they wanted to follow along with Facebook videos, or if they’d rather do something on Zoom. They choose Zoom, and so I started doing that.

And then later on Girlguiding North West reached out to me – they were looking into setting up virtual units, and knew I’d been an early adopter. And so now I’m a leader with cloud Guides and cloud Rangers – we have a fantastic team of leaders online.’  

Who are the cloud units for?  

‘They’re for anybody that can't, for whatever reason, go to face-to-face meetings. We’ve got one girl that lives rurally, and hasn’t got a unit that she can easily get to, but we’ve also got lots of girls who have long term conditions. Some have difficulty doing everyday tasks or moving around, and need to rest in bed or stay at home more often. And they come along for a bit of socialisation.

It’s brilliant because they get to meet other people that are in the same position. If they say, “I’m not feeling good, I can’t stay for the whole meeting”, somebody else will always say, “No worries, we’ll see you next week”. And that’s not just coming from us as leaders – the girls are so empathetic to each other.’  

How do you run the meetings to make sure they’re accessible?  

‘We tend to do part of a badge in unit meeting time, so that they’re keen to get it finished on their own. And we’re extremely flexible – if any part of the badge is difficult for them to complete, we just try and think of another way that’s similar. And we don’t require a lot of writing – we’ve found that can be really tiring. So we’ll accept voice and video recordings or anything really, to make it as easy as possible for them to achieve their badges. And then we make sure we send them out.  

‘I remember we had a meeting with the parents of a few girls who had long Covid. We reassured them that they don’t have to have their camera on, that it’s fine to join from bed - all that kind of thing. And they told us what a relief it was to get support without having to fight for every adjustment. We’ve had so many lovely messages from parents, including things like, “It’s the first time we’ve heard them laughing in so long”. We’re just glad if they can rock up and we can put a smile on their face.’ 

You must get a lot out of it too!  

‘Absolutely – I’ve had a kidney transplant myself, and I’m immunosuppressed, so it’s a lifeline for me as a leader. It’s brilliant going to cloud Guides and cloud Rangers – they’re just amazing. I hate hearing people complain about “teenagers today”. If more people stopped and took the time to speak to them, they’d realise how fantastic they really are.’ 

Do you have any advice for leaders who want to set up virtual units, or make guiding more inclusive?  

 ‘Go for it! In a lot of ways, it’s easier than face to face meetings – there’s no lugging huge amounts of stuff to and from a meeting place. And if you’re a leader that’s looking at giving up guiding for health reasons, or anything else, virtual guiding could be a great option. There’s a place for you there.  

‘And then for everyone, I would just say to listen to your girls. Ask them what they need – they’re the experts in their own experience. It’s so important to believe them, and respond.’ 

Thank you, Lucy! And here are some thoughts from some of her cloud Rangers and Guides:  

Without an online option, there’s no way I'd be able to be a Ranger. My chronic illness makes me clinically vulnerable so attending indoor events is problematic, and additionally my energy restrictions leave me mostly housebound. This makes the option to attend via Zoom invaluable. I love how all the Rangers in my group are so understanding of my illness, from the leaders being so accommodating to my peers listening to me rant. Being chronically ill can be a very isolating experience and being part of a community is really helpful.’ - Katie, Ranger, 17

‘I come to cloud Guides because of the community feel, to hang out with girls each week and do interesting activities. It’s my favourite thing to do all week!’ - Mia, Guide, 13

‘Cloud Rangers is great because it means everyone can join in no matter what their ability, you can also take things at your own speed and socialise without having to leave your home.’ - Hannah, Ranger, 17

‘I enjoyed doing my investigating interest badge during meeting time. The leaders did an amazing job creating activities we could do as a unit so that we could earn our badge and we had great fun!’ - Beatrix, Guide, 14

Cloud Rangers makes guiding incredibly accessible, allowing us to wear comfortable clothing (like Oodies and pyjamas) on days where chronic illnesses are taking their toll, and the relaxed online nature helps massively. I think in this day and age, girls are judged and feel scrutinised for the smallest things, and having a place where that is eliminated is sacred and special, and has been incredible for my self esteem.’ - Olivia, Ranger, 15