Brownies hoping to set up a new guide group at Skelton have been left distressed after permission was refused by the county commissioner.
The county commissioner said that setting up a new unit at Skelton, when there were places at neighbouring ones, would affect the sustainability of existing groups.
In an email to parents, Girlguiding county commissioner for Cumbria Ann-Marie Steel said: “After lengthy discussion, we have come to the difficult decision that opening a new unit in Skelton at this time would not be in the best interests of the division.”
It has been suggested that the Skelton brownies should join existing guide units in Penrith, Greystoke or Carlisle.
However parents have said they are dismayed by the decision and levelled strong criticism at the organisation.
Caroline Brammer said her daughter Charlotte attends Skelton Primary School and has been able to attend Skelton Rainbows and Brownies because of the pick-up service from Skelton’s after school club offered by Brownie leader Karen Quinn and her team.
Caroline said: “The suggestion that our girls should simply join alternative units should they wish to progress on to guides, demonstrates a clear lack of understanding of the logistics that would be involved for families with working parents living in such rural locations.
“Our current arrangements are already at the limit of what we are able to achieve and would not lend themselves to travelling further to any of the areas that have been suggested.”
In addition to their gold award, 1st Skelton Brownies received a digital Brownie badge, which was awarded to only a handful of units across the country in recognition of virtual unit meetings continuing throughout COVID lockdown.
Kimberley Lawson, whose daughter Milly was a founder member at the 1st Skelton unit, added: “We have been told that the decision not to allow us to have guides at Skelton is in the best interests of the division.
“Why have they not thought about what is best for our girls?
“Zoom brownies has been an absolute godsend during lockdown and the only way my daughter has been able to keep in touch with any of her friends.
“To be told that she cannot stay with that same group now, after everything our children have gone through already this year, because of some perceived organisational benefit, is just wrong.
“She’s so upset. It’s not what you expect from an organisation that is dedicated to girls’ wellbeing.”
Georgina Stephenson, division commissioner for Cumbria East, who spoke to the Herald at Ms Steel’s request, said: “Ordinarily we would be delighted at the prospect of opening a new unit, but before doing so there are guidelines set out by Girlguiding headquarters that we are required to follow to ensure that all of our units — both new and existing — are sustainable for the benefit of all of our young members and volunteers.”
Ms Stephenson explained that following these guidelines, leaders mapped the location of the four most local guide units — Greystoke, Penrith and two units to the south of Carlisle — all of which have capacity for new members.
That was overlaid that with the addresses of the girls at Skelton brownies, who come from a wide area including Penrith, Ivegill, Unthank, Dacre, Newton Reigny and Wreay.
“In a rural area with a low population, it is important to ensure that all of our units have a critical mass of young members, rather than multiple units with small numbers, to ensure that we can continue to offer the fantastic range of experiences including activities, events, camps and residentials.
“All of the units mentioned have friendly, enthusiastic leaders and welcome girls from a variety of schools which is great as the girls make new friends and expand their social circle, especially important as they move into secondary school.”
Taster sessions have been offered to the Skelton Brownies as they are to all Brownies potentially moving up into guides or girls joining Girlguiding for the first time.