By Martin Whelan, SSAGO Chairperson 2002-2003
SSAGO dates back to February 1967, but the roots of Student Scouting and Guiding are much deeper going back to the earliest days of the two movements.
Scouting and Guiding began as associations aimed at young people aged 11-18, but soon there was a demand to continue beyond 18. In the early days age ranges were informal or non existent, but by 1920 Ranger Guides and Rover Scouts had begun for young adults. Even before the development of these two sections, Scouting and Guiding had begun to occur in universities and colleges. The earliest records to date go back to 1915 with Guiding or Scouting clubs. Among the first were Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester and London. Where as the sections were controlled locally, and through membership had obligations to the local Scout and Guide Community such as “Bob a Job”, clubs were more informal and controlled by the grand sounding Imperial Headquarters. From the 1920s through to the late 1960s the clubs and sections happily worked together, with many institutions such as Oxford having a crew and club, where as some had one or the other.
The first records of inter-club activities is back in 1919, with the creation of a magazine for all “Intervarsity Scout Clubs” run and edited by Oxford and having the title of “The Boy”. This was followed up by Intervarsity camps were appear to have run from 1920 through to 1927, before the effort of running them became too great. It appears that co-ordination of this kind was not resurrected for another 20 years.
The war had virtually destroyed much of Europe, and in the aftermath there appears to have been a renewed desired amongst the Varsity groups to work together. The Birmingham club began the process, with the Intervarsity rally which appears to have had a similar aim to the Oxford events of 20 years previously. During the summer of 1947 the Varsity clubs gathered at Beaudesert for the camp, and with it began the concept of rallies. Up until 1960 the pattern was a long week (7-10 days) summer rally containing the conference (Sort of AGM) and a number of informal events run in the spring and autumn.
After the success of the 1947 event, the event was repeated the two subsequent years in Oxfordshire (Youlbury) and Lancashire (Clitheroe) but organised by HQ. In 1950 organisation switched back to clubs, and with the exceptions of the 1975 summer (SAGGA), 1990 Autumn (Witan 90 team) and 2001 Summer (Old Gits) all subsequent events have been run by clubs. The following year at Foxlease, Hampshire the first Conference was held and movement towards SSAGO began.
Due to the spread of Scouting and Guiding (every university or college in the country had either a club, crew or unit), the small number of universities (20/30 in the early 50) and other issues the Varsity groups were keen to prevent admission of colleges. Colleges were never admitted to Intervarsity, with the odd anomaly such as Loughborough or University College of North Staffordshire, the latter not becoming a university until 1992 and the former in 1966. In 1956 the Federation of Scout and Guide Clubs in Training Colleges was formed, and the following year that became Intercollegiate. Intercollegiate was run on a similar basis to Intervarsity.
One of the early problems was what to do with those who had graduated, and perhaps lost contact with student life. Changes to the programme in the mid 1950s were designed with the aim of increasing the leadership pool, so the Scout and Guide Graduate Association appeared in 1957. Initially called a Peter Pan organisation, as it suggested that these individuals had not grown up. SAGGA as it was soon known, was soon established as being an important part of the Scout and Guide Association.
In 1964 Intercollegiate and Intervarsity began talks with a view to creating a single Student Scout and Guide Organisation. This was accelerated by the dwindling number of colleges, as the Robins report advocating a radical expansion of the university sector was implemented in its entirety. It took until late 1966 for the two bodies along with headquarters to come to an agreement, and in February 1967 with the AGM now in the spring the new name was chosen. At the time of merger there were 52 clubs. In the wider Scouting and Guiding community, Rover Scouts and Senior Scouts were abolished from 1967 onwards and Ranger Guides were overhauled.
During the 1970s SSAGO struggled to develop a new identity in difficult times. SSAGO had taken over the accumulated funds of Intervarsity and Intercollegiate, but neither were particularly well endowed financially and inflation from the late 1960s onwards challenged the organisation.
After 1975 the viability of rallies in the long term was questioned, and a number of events were cancelled. This would bug SSAGO until circa 1985, and for nearly 20 years there has always been three rallies in a year (with a few close shaves). When rallies did actually happen, attendances were not great for example the 1973 summer rally in Charnwood Forest (Leicestershire) attracted just 35 (and none of the committee). In 1982 things got so bad that the ?Lufbra Rally? was proposed as the last ever rally.
Numerically however the organisation was overflowing with members, reaching of 1920 in 1979. Although these figures seem high, it should be noted that clubs paid a set fee to register with SSAGO so there was no reason to overly accurate with figure, this practice ended in 1994. At certain unions all members of the union were automatically members of all clubs. Matters were not helped when in 1971 one of the largest clubs broke away and registered directly with the Scout Association, a practice outlawed in 1988. The clubs re-registered in 1976 but a lot of damage with done to the reputation of the organisation in the interim.
SSAGO during this period acquired one of its current trophies, the Gaddaffy Duck Challenge Plate. Since the late 1950s there had been a camp called Witan (meetings of the mind in norse) had been held for groups similar to IV/SSAGO around the world. The 1984 event was in Florence, and included individuals from Libya who brought gifts (a plate from 1982 Arabic Jamborree) for each country. On return to the UK Bath SSAGO drew up some rules, and it became the aforementioned challenge plate.
In the mid 1980s the Scout Association launched a research project entitled ?Scouting and Education?. The project reported in late 1984, and its recommendations were not particularly great for SSAGO. In future it was proposed that SSAGO would be extended to the 16-18 age range; responsibility would be devolved to counties and that the central committee should be scrapped. As there were internal issues at the Scout Association the project was mothballed until 1987. The final recommendations which were actually implemented were essentially a continuation of the status quo, with changes to the registration process to aid SSAGO.
After Scouting in Education SSAGO moved forward into the 1990s, a decade which would see the organisation strengthen and firmly cement itself into the wider “Scout and Guide” environment.
During the 1990s rallies would consistently attract large numbers, with the odd exception. For instance the 1990 summer rally was so problematic that it lost £800 and wiped out, but the following rally recouped all of that. Early in the new millennium there was a renewed interest in the event with each of the last three autumn rallies attracting around 200, although the record is believed to by the 1993 Birmingham Rally (circa 260).
In 1996 the Scout Association launched what was initially called Programme Review Group (PRG) which looked at the existing problem. This arose due to a crisis in number, and a realisation that the post Advance Party settlement was no-longer working. The future of SSAGO between late 1999 and mid 2001 did not look great, as a new fifth section was being proposed for the 18-25 age range and no consideration appears to have been taken of SSAGO. As late of April 2001 the future of the organisation, or at least the independence of the clubs was threatened but by the summer it was resolved.
The constitution had always been a major issue to certain individuals and groups within the organisation, and in 2000 a project was launched to re-write it. Due to internal problems it was realised that the current version, which was basically the original constitution for SSAGO with a few revisions, was not as strong as it should be. Largely because of the way the organisation worked this dragged onto 2002, when it was taken up with ghusto and completed just two days before the AGM the following year.