Goodbye to British Girlguiding Overseas

Our chief guide, chair of trustees, and chief executive look back on 113 years of BGO

29 August 2023

On 19 April 2023, Girlguiding's board of trustees made the decision to change our overseas operations, known as British Girlguiding Overseas (BGO).

This means that from 1 September 2023, BGO units will close in the Middle East and Africa, Asia, Benelux and France, and European countries. Units in British Overseas Territories will be part of Girlguiding until 31 December 2023. 

Many girls from BGO units will continue to be part of guiding or scouting through international partners, such as a local guiding organisation (which will be a member of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts), USA Girl Scouts Overseas, or British Scouting Overseas. Girlguiding in British Overseas Territories (Caribbean and Atlantic) will continue as we explore options for Girlguiding organisations in these areas.  

This means 1 September will mark the end of more than a century of British Girlguiding Overseas as we know it. Many of our members – both volunteers and young members - have written to say how much BGO means to them, and about the opportunities it has given so many. We want to take the time to look back and celebrate the difference that guiding overseas has made to girls' lives for over 100 years. And we want to thank each and every person who has been a part of BGO over the years. The sisterhood, support, empowerment and safe spaces that you have provided for girls across the world has been amazing and will always be remembered.  

Chief guide’s message  

Watch chief guide Tracy Foster’s message to all members about British Girlguiding Overseas. 

Beginnings in Portugal 

The first British guiding unit outside of the UK began in 1911 in Porto, Portugal. It was a space for both British and Portuguese young people to meet, make friends and enjoy time outdoors. Registered as ‘The First Peninsular Company of Guides and Scouts’, it was a place for both girls and boys.  

In the 1910s and 1920s, more and more units sprang up. And in 1928, the first overseas lones unit began. It was known as the wandering lones. BGO began to be known as British Guiding in Foreign Countries (BGIFC), a name attributed to then-chief guide Olave Baden-Powell. 

BGO galleon badge 

As BGIFC grew, there was a need to find something to help unify these different units. A competition was launched in the mid 1920s to design a badge which all members could be represented by. The winners came from the Île de France district in Paris, and the iconic galleon ship design has been a symbol of BGO ever since. A compass was added to the design when BGIFC was renamed as BGO in 2017, to show how BGO helped girls to find their way.   

Second world war and beyond 

During the second world war, BGIFC units faced a number of challenges. Many were disbanded as British citizens returned to the UK. Others, including units in Belgium, were forced to meet in secret. Despite this, there are many examples of BGIFC units contributing to the war effort in lots of different ways – from knitting for British prisoners of war, to helping air raid victims, and raising vital money for a guide gift week in 1940. This helped fund air ambulances and lifeboats.   

Anniversary celebrations 

BGIFC continued to grow after the war, and in 1960 Olave Baden-Powell (by then world chief guide) visited units in Germany to celebrate 50 years of Girlguiding. By the mid-1970s, there were units in countries from Belgium to Bahrain. The 1980s were an important time for BGIFC, as units took part in Girlguiding’s 75th anniversary celebrations. Members from Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Oman visited Buckingham Palace for an event with Princess Margaret.  

In 2009, BGIFC became the first to celebrate 100 years of Girlguiding, with a gathering at Foxlease during the centenary year. Shortly after, in 2011, BGIFC celebrated its own centenary. In 2017, it was renamed as British Girlguiding Overseas, and in 2020, units in British Overseas Territories joined BGO, so that it represented all Girlguiding’s operations overseas.  

Thank you 

Throughout this time, BGO has been an important space to make connections and get support for countless members – both girls and volunteers – on their Girlguiding journey. For more information about the history of BGO, read The History of British Guides in Foreign Countries 1911-2017 by Anne Dunford. Volunteers in BGO have been sharing their memories and activities on their website.  

We and all of Girlguiding are deeply grateful to everyone who has been involved in BGO over the years. Thank you to the BGO Executive and commissioner team for their work to close BGO, and for supporting members during this time.  

We want to share our heartfelt thanks for everything that has been done through BGO to help all girls know that they can do anything.  

Tracy Foster, chief guide

Catherine Irwin, chair of the board 

Angela Salt, CEO