A MOTHER and daughter from Basingstoke took part in a protest with hundreds of members of Girlguiding, in opposition over the proposed closure of five national outdoor activity centres later this year.

More than 300 Girlguiding leaders, Guides, Rangers, Brownies and Rainbows joined the protest and overnight vigil at Girlguiding headquarters near Buckingham Palace, London, after it decided to close all of its overseas units and five of its national centres, including Foxlease, in the New Forest.

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Foxlease, which has been enjoyed by members for more than a century, was donated to Girlguiding UK as part of a wedding present to Princess Mary, the aunt of the late Queen Elizabeth II, and hosted the World Camp in 1923.

All the centres have been used by members to learn essential outdoor skills, build resilience and reconnect with nature in a safe environment.

They are also used to host festivals for Girlguiding such as Wellies and Wristbands.

More than 31,000 people have signed a petition against the closure of the centres, and say the decision was made without adequate consultation with Girlguiding’s 300,000 members.

Guide leader Alison Pinto and her nine-year-old daughter Penny, from Basingstoke, attended the protest wearing buoyancy aids and carrying paddles to highlight how difficult adventure will be without the centres.

Basingstoke Gazette: Girlguiding members protest in London

Alison, whose grandmother was one of the very first Girl Guides, had to close her unit in Basingstoke because it had too few members.

Alison joined Girlguiding aged eight in Essex, where she grew up, and said she has enjoyed being involved ever since.

However, she said her “Guiding light” is now “burning red with pain”, adding: “I recently had to close my unit as we ran out of girls. I feel we have wandered too far from what girls want from Guiding, which is why they are not joining us. The sale of the centres is symptomatic of this. It feels like I am losing everything at the moment and this is another bereavement.

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“I want to help girls to access adventure, in a safe, empowering environment, and our centres provide this. It breaks my heart to think that my own daughter will never experience an event like Wellies and Wristbands, especially when she has seen her older brothers gain so much from similar events held for Scouts. I don’t want her to lose the adventure. I don’t want to lose what we were gifted. I don’t want to lose my home.”

Alison described the protest as a “truly exhilarating experience” to join hundreds of others from around the country, adding: “We met people walking to the meeting point, and quickly joined together to make a little party, sharing stories and experiences. We saw Guides in climbing equipment, with a raft, with banners and in camp blankets. We shared our heritage and hopes for the future.”

Girlguiding said it made the “difficult decision” to close the centres because of the investment needed and the reduced number of members using them in the past decade.

The other centres are at Waddow Hall in Lancashire, Glenbrook in the Peak District, Blackland Farm, in West Sussex and Ynysgain in Eryri National Park.

Those at the protest hand-delivered letters and met Chief Guide Tracy Foster and Girlguiding CEO Angela Salt.

Kirsty Patterson, from the Save Our Centres campaign, said: “Although there was a very fun, light-hearted and party atmosphere there were extremely moving and poignant moments too.

"The biggest applause came from the British Girlguiding Overseas (BGO) outdoors activities advisor who had travelled from Brussels for the event, with many tears shed about the imminent closure of Girlguiding units across the world.

“Girlguides sang the famous ‘Thunderation’ Girlguiding song, which defiantly and loudly proclaims the power of Girlguides, before singing the hushed closing song ‘taps’ to round-off the event.

“Girlguiding has given girls and leaders all the tools and skills they need to run a campaign like this through their protesting, campaigning and speaking out badges. We hope Girlguiding shows girls that these empowering actions do work and carefully reviews the decision to close the activity centres and BGO.”

A spokesperson for Girlguiding said: "We are aware that a vigil and event in opposition to Girlguiding UK’s recent announcement on the recommendation to sell five of its activity centres took place earlier this month outside the charity’s headquarters in London. Girlguiding’s CEO and Chief Guide met with members during the events to listen to their views and answer questions.

"Girlguiding respects people's rights to freely and peacefully express their views. The organisation continues to encourage its members to address any questions or concerns relating to the recommended sales to the dedicated support line.

"Girlguiding is now in a period of consultation with staff who may be affected by any implementation of the recommendation and is unable to comment further during this time."