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Squirrels: UK Scout groups near me, which children can join, what is the new programme - and how to volunteer

Squirrels is aimed at four to five year-old children and will be open in more than 200 locations across the UK

The Scout Association is opening its first new brand for 35 years.

“Squirrels” will join existing groups Beavers and Cubs, with members given red uniforms and their own sets of badges.

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The development of Squirrels was supported by the #iwill Fund, The Department for Education, and the Charity of Sir Richard Whittington.

Here is everything you need to know about it.

What is Squirrels?

Squirrels is being launched by The Scout Association to support early years children in learning essential skills for life following the pandemic.

The early years programme aims to build up a positive, safe environment for young children to develop, and will include activities like pitching a blanket tent, planting seeds or learning how to spend 50p in a local shop.

New badges that Squirrels can earn will include Feel Good, Be Active, Explore Outdoors, Brilliant Builder and Exciting Experiments.

Who can join?

The programme is aimed at four to five year-old children and will be open in more than 200 locations across the UK from Thursday (9 September), with priority given to those communities most affected by the pandemic.

The programme aims to reach at least 12,000 families in the first three years.

Matt Hyde, chief executive of Scouts, added: “Squirrels is part of our commitment to help young people, families and communities come back stronger from the pandemic.”

Hyde said he hopes Squirrels works to equip young people with skills for life, which is very important for children who grew up through lockdowns.

“What we learn up to five years old lays the building blocks for everything that follows. If you’re four, you’ve spent a third of your life in lockdowns,” he added.

“We know this has especially impacted children in communities hardest hit by the pandemic. That’s why we are opening the first Squirrel dreys (nests) in the communities that need it most.”

Squirrels will include activities like pitching a blanket tent or planting seeds (Photo: PA)

The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood’s recent report on early years recognised the lifelong benefits of good quality early education and recommended creating communities of support.

Last year, a series of reports from Ofsted also suggested that children hardest hit by nursery and school closures regressed in some basic skills and learning.

Where is my nearest Squirrel group?

To find your nearest Squirrel group, head to the Scouts’ map tool to see what is available near you.

How can I volunteer to help?

The Scout Association said it wants to recruit more than 5,000 volunteers to help roll out the programme, and is calling on parents to participate as part of its #GoodForYou campaign.

Chief Scout and celebrity adventurer Bear Grylls has encouraged volunteers to get involved: “I’m so glad that younger children will now have the chance to join our family of Scouts and develop skills for life.

“All of us at the Scouts believe that by offering opportunities at this early age, inspiring a sense of wonder, fun and curiosity, we can have a long-lasting, positive impact on young people’s lives.

“To make this work we need more volunteers to join the team and donors to get behind us.”

Squirrels pilot group leader Jess Fortune said she hopes more people get involved to open the programme up to more children.

She said: “Being a Squirrels Volunteer is amazing. I have learnt so much. I hope more people volunteer so that children everywhere can experience these brilliant opportunities.”

To volunteer, head to scouts.org.uk.

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