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Blair Atholl head teacher given top Scouts Scotland role will lose title to attract volunteers

Barry Donald-Hewitt will juggle the new role with his position as head teacher of Blair Atholl and Logierait primary schools.

Barry Donald-Hewitt, will become Scouts Scotland's chief commissioner on September 1 2023. Image: Barry Donald-Hewitt.
Barry Donald-Hewitt, will become Scouts Scotland's chief commissioner on September 1 2023. Image: Barry Donald-Hewitt.

A school head teacher in Highland Perthshire will lose the title of the top Scouts Scotland role he has been given.

Barry Donald-Hewitt, 42, will begin his position as the organisation’s chief commissioner on September 1.

The role is voluntary, which means he will remain in his existing post as the head teacher of Blair Atholl and Logierait primary schools.

One of Barry’s key aims is to increase volunteering in the Scouts movement, which he hopes can be partly achieved by stripping the word ‘commissioner’ from his own job title.

The term is disappearing across scouting in Scotland and he is fully behind the idea.

Barry (far left) with a group of scouting volunteers in Braemar. Image: Barry Donald-Hewitt.

“We have never recruited enough adult volunteers,” he said.

“Bar the pandemic we have always had waiting lists of young people who want scouting – that’s never been the issue.

“We need to focus on getting more adult volunteers.

“One of the things we can do is demystify some of the terms.

“My role is chief commissioner but we aren’t going to use the word commissioner that much longer in scouting.

“It will be called lead volunteer, or something like that.

“The word doesn’t mean much to people.

“We recognise that it can also be intimidating so I will be the last chief commissioner using that word in Scotland and that’s a piece of work that is live at the minute.”

In this article Barry reveals his other plans for the role and how the new position will affect his current commitments in the Pitlochry and Blair Atholl area.

Pitlochry the ideal place to live

Barry was raised in Leeds by mother Sharon Kerr, who grew up in the Northern Irish town of Carrickfergus, and his Scottish father Martin Hewitt.

Holidays were often spent north of the border in Jedburgh, where Martin grew up.

Barry graduated from Cumbria University with a degree in outdoor education before, in 2005, moving to Edinburgh where he forged a career in teaching.

He taught outdoor education in several of the city’s schools before becoming depute and then acting head teacher of Wester Hailes Primary School.

In November 2020 he took over at Blair Atholl and Logierait primary schools.

Even before arriving he had fond memories of the area from attending the Blair Atholl International Jamborette, which takes place biannually in July.

The event, next held in 2024, brings together 1,000 teenage scouts from across the world.

The international scout jamborette in 2022. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson.

“We wanted a place to grow up as a family and where my little boy can play with friends locally,” said Barry, whose husband Ross is a nursery teacher in Auchterarder.

“Knowing Pitlochry well we felt it was a place we would like to be and it has proven that. We love it up here.”

Scouts off to Switzerland for ice adventures

Since joining the Scouts at the age of six Barry has held various positions at section, district and Scotland levels.

His current role is leading Pitlochry’s explorer Scouts section, which is open to all 14 to 18 year olds.

Barry with young people in Switzerland. Image: Barry Donald-Hewitt.

“When I started in late 2020 there were two young people and now have eight young people coming on a weekly basis,” Barry said.

“We provide a place to come and relax and make friendships while offering a varied programme around adventures and skills such as swimming and kayaking.

“Rami Cohen, the other scout leader, owns The Bakery Pitlochry and the other week we went there and made hot cross buns.

“This summer we are going to the international scout centre in Switzerland and going glacier walking, ice climbing and mountain biking.”

Scouting ‘changing with the times’

Such a programme of events surprises people, says Barry.

Barry leading an activity on a camp. Image: Barry Donald-Hewitt.

“We have tried really hard to update our programme to be more relevant,” he said.

“Its called a scouting movement because it continues to change with the times.

“This includes being more inclusive – we welcome people of all faiths and none, and those with protected characteristics.

“We also ensure that our programme stays relevant to young people but too often we don’t communicate this.

“We want young people to lead scouting more. The key voice leading the movement belongs to them and as adults we are there to support them.

“If you are leading something like explorer scouts they will vote with their feet – if you don’t do something that they want to do then they won’t turn up.

“People have a perception of scouting that has built up.

“And maybe we need to be a bit better at shouting about what scouting is and what impact it has.”

New approach to attract volunteers

Across Scotland there are 35,000 Scouts who are served by 11,000 adult volunteers.

Attracting more volunteers requires more than just changing terminology, as Barry explains.

In his new role Barry (centre) will work closely with Gordon Robertson, volunteer trustee chair of board at Scouts Scotland (left), and Graham Luke, chief executive of Scouts Scotland.. Image: Scouts Scotland.

“We need to change our approach to look at what people can give rather than what we want,” he said.

“Maybe in the past we have been inflexible.

“Now, if people can only give one weekend or an evening once a month then that’s great.

“It’s about encouraging adults who want to give their time to do that.”

Replacement Pitlochry leader wanted

While Barry will continue working as a head teacher, he will leave his current role at Pitlochry Scouts once he is up and running as the chief commissioner.

Barry teaching in Cambodia. Image: Barry Donald-Hewitt.

“I have been given a three-year appointment and I will stay for maybe five years before going back to be an explorer leader at Pitlochry.

“I will be stepping down from my position in Pitlochry so they will be looking for another explorer scout leader to join Rami.

“I only have a certain amount of time to give and I want to give this national role my best.

“But I will still be involved and help out occasionally. After all, my son goes there.

“My passion is working with children and young people and this strategic role is a great chance to give more children the same opportunities I had in scouting.”