Kerr's Corner

Kerr's Corner is a regular feature in East Antrim and Newtownabbey editions of The Wizard. David Kerr would like to hear your memories of life in your own area. Maybe you'll trigger some thoughts for a future column.

Monday, August 01, 2005

In Conversation with … 3rd Cloughfern Brownies

RECENTLY I came across an old copy of the Newtownabbey Times. One of its main articles was a photo-feature, which celebrated the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Brownies. The article also specifically looked at Cloughfern Brownies who were founded in the 1950s. It was a fascinating story – complete with some excellent pictures both from yesteryear and more recent times.

I’m particularly interested in traditional groups or organisations that have stood the test of time. However, I must admit I knew next to nothing about the Brownies themselves. To find out more I spoke to Leanne McConnell, who is Assistant Brownie Guider for the 3rd Cloughfern Brownies.

I must admit I had no idea of the type of person who would volunteer to become a Brownie leader. To my surprise I found out that Leanne was only 22 years old. She gained a Higher National Diploma in Social Care Practice at East Antrim Institute of Further and Higher Education. At the moment she works as a Senior Project Worker for the Praxis Care Group. (The Praxis Care Group, a registered charity, established in 2002, is a major provider of services for adults and children with a learning disability, mental ill health, acquired brain injury, and older people. The group was established in 2002 by the merging of four well-established charities in Northern Ireland). In time Leanne hopes to compete a degree in social work and explore a range of differing client groups to work with.

She told me that she’d been in the Brownies herself. “I attended Mossley Brownies from age eight until I was ten. I really enjoyed those two years. I was 15 when a family friend asked me to help out with her Brownie pack and I jumped at the chance”.

So where and when do the Brownies meet – and where do they come from? Leanne advised me that the 3rd Cloughfern Brownies were just one of a number of differing groups who meet in the Church Halls at the Church of the Ascension, near Cloughfern Corner. “Although we’re now on our summer break, our Brownies meet every Tuesday at 7 pm to 8.15pm. There’s around 13 Brownies – all girls between the ages of seven and ten. I help look after them along with my Guider-in-Charge, a Unit Helper and two Young Leaders”.

Leanne advised me that most of the 3rd Cloughfern Brownies came up through the ‘ranks’. They started in the Rainbows, which takes girls from age four to seven. They then join the Brownies until they’re ten. They can then move onto the Guides until they’re 14. After that there’s the Rangers which caters for girls up until they are 18. (The Rainbows, Guides and Rangers also meet at the Church of the Ascension). The vast majority of the Brownies are also local – from Rathcoole, Rathfern, Rushpark and Fernagh.

I was also interested in their range of activities. Leanne told me that the main activity would be badge work. “There’s a range of differing badges. Girls choose interest badges that suit their own likes and hobbies. We also complete general badges - for example, studying about world cultures, art, disability awareness and so on. Badge work involves a complete range of activities such as artwork and role play”. The Brownies also have guest speakers at their meetings. These range from the PSNI, Fire Service and even a snake handler! They also play games have quizzes but above all the emphasis is on having fun.

However, for many Brownies the highlight of the year must be the Pack holiday. Holidays are usually taken at Lorne (Guide HQ – Ulster Division), the Ulster Folk Museum at Cultra and Dunluce Guide House near Portrush. The Pack holiday is very much a working holiday as badge work – relating to subject as diverse as housekeeping, cooking and hostess - continues. However, there are also activities such as day trips, treasure hunts and nature walks. The Pack holiday always ends with a themed party with prizes and certificates.

The 3rd Cloughfern Brownies are now on their Summer break. However, they resume their activities in September and Leanne told me that they expect to have about six spaces available. These spaces are always at a premium so “if any parent wants to find out more about the Brownies I’d encourage them to phone me on 077 3247 7373 as soon as possible. I’ll contact them nearer our start date and they – and their daughter - can come along and see what sort of activities we do”.


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