By Martin Whelan, SSAGO Chairperson 2002-2003. Updated November 2020 by Larah Korrison, SSAGO Archivist. For questions and inquiries contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
SSAGO dates back to February 1967, but the roots of Student Scouting and Guiding are much deeper going back to the earliest days of the two movements.
Scouting and Guiding began as associations aimed at young people aged 11-18, but soon there was a demand to continue beyond 18. In the early days age ranges were informal or non-existent, but by 1920 Ranger Guides and Rover Scouts had begun for young adults. Even before the development of these two sections, Scouting and Guiding had begun to occur in universities and colleges. The earliest records to date go back to 1915 with Guiding or Scouting clubs. Among the first were Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester and London. Whereas the sections were controlled locally, and through membership had obligations to the local Scout and Guide Community such as “Bob a Job”, clubs were more informal and controlled by the grand sounding Imperial Headquarters. From the 1920s through to the late 1960s the clubs and sections happily worked together, with many institutions such as Oxford having a crew and club, whereas some had one or the other.
The first records of inter-club activities is back in 1919, with the creation of a magazine for all “Intervarsity Scout Clubs” run and edited by Oxford and having the title of “The Boy”. This was followed up by Intervarsity camps which appear to have run from 1920 through to 1927, before the effort of running them became too great. It appears that co-ordination of this kind was not resurrected for another 20 years.
The war had virtually destroyed much of Europe, and in the aftermath there appears to have been a renewed desire amongst the Varsity groups to work together. The Birmingham club began the process, with the Intervarsity rally which appears to have had a similar aim to the Oxford events of 20 years previously. During the summer of 1947 the Varsity clubs gathered at Beaudesert for the camp, and with it began the concept of rallies. Up until 1960 the pattern was a long week (7-10 days) summer rally containing the conference (Sort of AGM) and a number of informal events run in the spring and autumn.
After the success of the 1947 event, the event was repeated the two subsequent years in Oxfordshire (Youlbury) and Lancashire (Clitheroe) but organised by HQ. In 1950 organisation switched back to clubs, and with the exceptions of the 1975 summer (SAGGA) and 1990 Autumn (Witan 90 team) . At the 1957 camp at Foxlease, Hampshire the first Conference was held and the slow movement towards SSAGO began.
Due to the spread of Scouting and Guiding (every university or college in the country had either a club, crew or unit), the small number of universities (20/30 in the early 50) and other issues the Varsity groups were keen to prevent admission of colleges. Colleges were never admitted to Intervarsity, with the odd anomaly such as Loughborough or University College of North Staffordshire, the latter not becoming a university until 1992 and the former in 1966. In 1956 the Federation of Scout and Guide Clubs in Training Colleges was formed, and the following year that became Intercollegiate. Intercollegiate was run on a similar basis to Intervarsity.
The SCOGUI Trophy being awarded in 1954
Manchester trip to Edale, 1960
One of the early problems was what to do with those who had graduated, and perhaps lost contact with student life. Changes to the programme in the mid 1950s were designed with the aim of increasing the leadership pool, so the Scout and Guide Graduate Association appeared in 1957. Initially called a Peter Pan organisation, as it suggested that these individuals had not grown up. SAGGA as it was soon known, was soon established as being an important part of the Scout and Guide Association.
In 1964 Intercollegiate and Intervarsity began talks with a view to creating a single Student Scout and Guide Organisation. This was accelerated by the dwindling number of colleges, as the Robins report advocating a radical expansion of the university sector was implemented in its entirety. It took until late 1966 for the two bodies along with headquarters to come to an agreement, and in February 1967 with the AGM now in the spring the new name was chosen. At the time of merger there were 52 clubs. In the wider Scouting and Guiding community, Rover Scouts and Senior Scouts were abolished from 1967 onwards and Ranger Guides were overhauled.
At the AGM there were 5 proposed names for the new organisation:
Birmingham Scout and Guide Group Annual Photo,1965.
Patrol at the Summer Rally in 1967 organised by Birmingham in Packington Park.
During the 1970s SSAGO struggled to develop a new identity in difficult times. SSAGO had taken over the accumulated funds of Intervarsity and Intercollegiate, but neither were particularly well endowed financially and inflation from the late 1960s onwards challenged the organisation.
After 1975 the viability of rallies in the long term was questioned, and a number of events were cancelled. This would bug SSAGO until circa 1985, and for nearly 20 years there has always been three rallies in a year (with a few close shaves). When rallies did actually happen, attendances were not great for example the 1973 summer rally in Charnwood Forest (Leicestershire) attracted just 35 (and none of the committee). In 1982 things got so bad that the Lufbra Rally was proposed as the last ever rally.
Numerically however the organisation was overflowing with members, reaching 1920 members in 1979. Although these figures seem high, it should be noted that clubs paid a set fee to register with SSAGO so there was no reason to be overly accurate with figures, this practice ended in 1994. At certain unions all members of the union were automatically members of all clubs. Matters were not helped when in 1971 one of the largest clubs broke away and registered directly with the Scout Association, a practice outlawed in 1988. The clubs re-registered in 1976 but a lot of damage was done to the reputation of the organisation in the interim.
SSAGO during this period acquired one of its current trophies, the Gaddaffy Duck Challenge Plate. Since the late 1950s there had been a camp called Witan (meetings of the wise in norse) that had been held for groups similar to IV/SSAGO around the world. The 1984 event was in Florence, and included individuals from Libya who brought gifts (a plate from 1982 Arabic Jamborree) for each country. On return to the UK Bath SSAGO drew up some rules, and it became the aforementioned challenge plate.
SSAGO first recieves the Gaddaffy Plate, 1984.
Newcastle's new mascot at the time. Photo from the 1989 SSAGO Journal.
In the mid 1980s the Scout Association launched a research project entitled Scouting and Education. The project reported in late 1984, and its recommendations were not particularly great for SSAGO. In future it was proposed that SSAGO would be extended to the 16-18 age range; responsibility would be devolved to counties and that the central committee should be scrapped. As there were internal issues at the Scout Association the project was mothballed until 1987. The final recommendations which were actually implemented were essentially a continuation of the status quo, with changes to the registration process to aid SSAGO.
After Scouting in Education SSAGO moved forward into the 1990s, a decade which would see the organisation strengthen and firmly cement itself into the wider “Scout and Guide” environment.
During the 1990s rallies would consistently attract large numbers, with the odd exception. For instance the 1990 summer rally was so problematic that it lost £800 and wiped out, but the following rally recouped all of that. Early in the new millennium there was a renewed interest in the event with each of the last three autumn rallies attracting around 200, although the record was believed to by the 1993 Birmingham Rally (circa 260), Birmingham broke the record again in 2019 at Chocolate rally with 310 members attending.
In 1996 the Scout Association launched what was initially called Programme Review Group (PRG) which looked at the existing problem. This arose due to a crisis in number, and a realisation that the post Advance Party settlement was no-longer working. The future of SSAGO between late 1999 and mid 2001 did not look great, as a new fifth section was being proposed for the 18-25 age range and no consideration appears to have been taken of SSAGO. As late as April 2001 the future of the organisation, or at least the independence of the clubs was threatened but by the summer it was resolved.
The constitution had always been a major issue to certain individuals and groups within the organisation, and in 2000 a project was launched to rewrite it. Due to internal problems it was realised that the current version, which was basically the original constitution for SSAGO with a few revisions, was not as strong as it should be. Largely because of the way the organisation worked this dragged onto 2002, when it was taken up with ghusto and completed just two days before the AGM the following year.
Cardiff April Fools Ball, 2006. Credit Mike Walters.
Bangor Blackadder Rally, 2006. Credit Mike Walters.
SSAGO has constantly been attractive to Students because of its ability to adapt to the changing world. In the 2000s technology developed exponentially which gave way to new communication methods such as email, instant text messaging and social media. SSAGO moved away from forums, updated it’s website and created a fully online membership system.
Rallies and membership numbers were continuously strong throughout the 2000s and 2010s.
Witan was revised in 2012, a “new style” Witan where SSAGO members go abroad and explore a new country for a week. From its success an international officer was appointed as a way to reconnect and maintain club connections abroad. From this SSAGO has had visitors from the Irish, and Dutch Rovers.
SSAGO celebrated its 50th Birthday in 2017 at Scout Park, London. Many current and past members attended, it became an opportunity to rekindle with old friends and meet current members. There were onsite and offsite activities as well as a traditional cèilidhband in the evening.
Like many organisations in 2020 SSAGO was pushed to its limits with the outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak. The UK was put under lockdown and all national and international events were cancelled or postponed. This meant that all national events had to be postponed including the Witan 2020 camp. With the help from technology SSAGO was able to run an alternative programme this included: virtual socials, badges at home, online games and SSAGO’s first virtual camp. Scouting and Guiding also took their programmes online and encouraged groups to continue to meet online, together but not apart.
The revised Witan in Kandersteg, Switzerland, 2012.
SSAGO 50th Anniversary Reunion - Scout Park, London.
Features Scouting and Guiding History for context.
1907 - The Boy Scout Association founded
1910 - Girl Guides founded
1918 onwards- First Rover and Ranger clubs are set up amongst the first was: Cambridge, Birmingham, Sheffield, Oxford, Manchester, London & Bristol
1920 till 1927- Creation of a magazine for all “Intervarsity Scout Clubs” run and edited by Oxford and having the title of “The Boy”. This was followed up by Intervarsity camps were appear to have run from 1920 through to 1927, before the effort of running them became too great
1946 - First week long Witan held at Youlbury hosted by Oxford. A post war reunification between countries around the world
1947 - First “Inter-Varsity” rally held at Beaudesert and organised by Birmingham. They were week long summer camps and usually had a service element to it. They continued to run formal summer camps till the 1960s and informal Spring and Autumn camps.
1956 - Kudu Bird. A benefactor donated a small sum of money (10 guineas) and a piece of a carved antelope horn.
The Antelope had been shot by Sir Harold West near the river Nile. Manchester was then tasked with the job of buying or making a small display box for it, it took till 1960 for this to happen! The name of the bird was given due to the name of the venue of the rally, Hesley Wood. Although over time it adopted a nickname, Kudu Bird.
1956 - The Federation of Scout and Guide Clubs in Training Colleges was formed, and the following year that became Intercollegiate. Intercollegiate was run on a similar basis to Intervarsity.
1958 - First “Inter-Collegiate” rally held at Kibblestone, unknown host.
1964 - Start of conversations to join Intervarsity and Intercollegiate.
1964 to 1966 - The Chief Scout advance Party Report established and published 2 years later. Aim was to study all aspects of the future of Scouting and to make recommendations, after consultation with the Movement, to the Chief Scout as to the development of the Movement, both in the immediate future and for the 1970s
1967 - Student Scout and Guide Organisation is officially formed at the Spring rally. Students across the country regardless of where they are studying their higher education course are accepted as members of SSAGO.
1976 - Girls officially accepted into Venture Scout (16 - 20)
1984 - Gadaffy ‘Duck’ Plate. The Commemorative plate was gifted by the Scouts of Libya to representatives of SSAGO at the 1984 Witan held in Florence, Italy. It was originally from the African Scout Jamboree held in Libya 1982 and was presented as a mark of friendship. Instead of gathering dust and getting lost it is used as a challenge trophy between SSAGO Clubs and is still actively used today.
2000 - The Programme Review launched to review Scouting for the 21st century. New uniforms and programmes were launched over the next couple of years. Venture scouts broken down to two new sections Explorer Scouts & Network Scouts
2007 - 40th anniversary camp of SSAGO
2007 - 100 years of The Scouts
2010 - 100th anniversary of Girl Guides
2017 - 50th anniversary of SSAGO