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21st-century Brownies are brickies

life in the Brownies can seem unattractive in a worldly age. But in West Yorkshire, Keighley college is helping to usher the movement into the modern era.

Brownies and Guides are now turning their hands to carpentry, motor mechanics and building brick walls.

The college's involvement has, says Vera Redman, Keighley divisional commissioner, stemmed the flow of girls away from guiding and helped them academically. "We are not losing children at the rate we were 10 to 15 years ago," she said.

"It is definitely because we are offering them more through the college - skills that we could not provide. Their confidence has increased."

In the Guide age group of 10-14, where peer pressure often persuades girls to drift away, a new programme, Go For It, obliges girls to pursue activities around a chosen theme. "As a result of the partnership with Keighley, we have got them involved in such things as construction," said Mrs Redman, whose association with the movement spans more than 40 years.

"We do not want to be seen just sitting in the corner knitting or making meals. I hope it will be a way of reviving interest across the country," she added.

Links began 10 years ago when a local unit sought help for Brownies who were studying for computer badges. What started with the college taking hardware to a local hall grew into a Partners for Study Support scheme, funded by the DfES to provide vocational training.

The college runs about 70 workshops a year for Brownies, Guides and Scouts, with an average of 20 per group. The souvenirs of hands-on experience include wooden patrol boxes - used to contain items such as cutlery when Brownies go off on camp - and flagpoles.

Such end products represent something much bigger for Keighley. "Our aim in five to seven years' time is to offer a support network to Guides and guidance to FE colleges across Yorkshire and Humberside, working through Yorkshire Forward, the regional development agency," said Mark Curtis, the college's pre-16 co-ordinator.

"This would be supported with links through primary and secondary schools. We are getting money from the New Opportunities Fund and bidding for pound;1 million over three years from the RDA. We would offer a template and back-up services, set up training courses, offer demonstrations though case studies, and funding and support money.

"If we could get the funding, we could, in time, roll out a programme nationally. The potential is unbelievable," he said.

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