My name is Sandy White and I’m the leader of 5th Abbey Wood Brownies. I have been a Brownie leader for 43 years and for the past 33 years with my present unit in Thamesmead. I have lived in the town since 1986 and have seen it evolve over the years from new homes being built in the late 1980’s into the 1990’s, to the building of new flats now.
Sometimes a trip to Thamesmead Town Centre to quickly get some shopping can take a few hours when I bump into people I know through my work with the Brownies, and we stop and have a catch-up. My Brownies journey started when I joined my local group aged seven and loved it straight away. Then at 10 I moved to the Girl Guides.
As a Guide I was fortunate enough to take part in many different adventures, camping in lots of different parts of the country, attending many Girl Guiding events, hiking trips in the countryside, and lots of other exciting things while making lots of new friends, some of whom I am still friends with now.
At the age of 13 I started to work towards a badge called the Service Flash, part of which involved helping out in the local community for six months. My Guide leader suggested that I help at the Brownie unit that met in the same hall as us. I loved working with the girls and at the age of 16 I left Guides but continued helping at Brownies and started working towards becoming a young leader.
The Brownie leader became very sick, so at the age of 18 I stepped in and became the Brownie leader or Brown Owl. It was very daunting being in charge of the Brownie unit at such a young age, but
I had two other leaders there to help things run as smoothly as they could. To enable me to take my Brownies away I first had to obtain my Brownie holiday licence, this meant I had to organise a weekend away at our region camp site (where I work now).
I had to plan the whole weekend from Friday evening to Sunday morning. During that weekend we experienced heavy rain and hailstones, causing a major power cut that left us with no lights and heating, but we coped as best as we could, still had great fun and I got my Brownie holiday licence. In 1986 I moved from Sydenham to Thamesmead and eventually had to give up running the Brownie unit. I was talking to a friend about leaving my Brownie unit in Sydenham and her seven-year-old daughter overheard and told me her group in Thamesmead was closing because the leader was going. She said if I took over it could stay open, so I began running the 5th Abbey Wood Brownies.
I love being a Brownie leader and have had lots of girls from Thamesmead attend my unit. I have enjoyed seeing many of the girls grow up from shy seven-year-olds to confident women and now I even have the daughters of mums who were in my unit as youngsters. In 1993 my eldest daughter turned five and so I started the 5th Abbey Wood Rainbow Unit so she and her friends could join until they were old enough to become Brownies. The Rainbow group is still going strong today.
The organisation has changed over the years. From changing its name from Girl Guides to Girlguiding UK (in this country), uniforms have become more comfortable and practical to wear, brighter badges for the girls (leaders love a badge too) and more opportunities for them to learn they can do anything they set their minds to. Being a leader has had its ups and downs, especially during the COVID 19 pandemic, going from meetings with the girls face-to-face in the hall or outside in the sunshine to holding our meetings every week on Zoom, with risk assessments needed for everything to ensure everyone is kept safe. But despite it all I love being a Brownie leader and will continue for as long as I can.
Girlguiding is very supportive in every aspect, providing a safe place for the girls to have fun with their friends during meetings, encouraging them to safely try new things and hopefully assisting them to start their own unit up when they become adults.