Matt Hyde: Bruised but not beaten, we are still open for business

We have had to take some painful decisions, but are looking to the future with courage

I grew up in a family business that sold furniture. We lived above the shop and next to our home were the grandly titled "showrooms" which, for four generations, stored furniture to be sold.

When I was 16, I was studying at home (we were off school on a 'snow day') when I suddenly heard a scream.

I then realised I couldn’t see across the street because it was shrouded in smoke. The showrooms were ablaze. It’s believed a delivery had been placed next to an old heater; it caught fire and then took the whole building with it, which lit up like a tinderbox. 

The blaze was intense – and many family heirlooms went up in smoke with it.

My father, meanwhile, was filling up his van with petrol when someone remarked: “There’s a big fire in the High Street, Richard, I think it might be your shop.” He sped down the road, and sprinted to the front door of the shop. 

When he saw that my mum and I were both OK, he smiled, because he knew no one was hurt, or worse. His voice broke as he said to me: “I want you to make a sign to put on the shop door that reads: ‘We are still open for business.’’’ 

Remembering what matters 

This year has given me cause to reflect on that memory on many occasions. It’s a story about loss, and remembering that, ultimately, what matters is our health and our loved ones.  

People are more important than buildings. It’s also a story about resilience, of bouncing back, no matter what life throws at you; that you can, and you must, keep going.

This year, and the impact of Covid-19, has presented the ultimate leadership challenge for many of us. Week after week we have had to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and say: "Let’s go again." 

As charity leaders we did not need to remind ourselves to be humble. Every hour has been a humbling experience. We have had moments when we have realised that the worst-case scenario we have been working on has now become the best-case scenario. 

We have been having painfully difficult conversations with members of staff who have had to leave the organisation after years of service. We have had to break incredibly difficult news to volunteers and supporters.

Here at the Scouts, the single most important driver throughout has been to deliver on our mission – to keep going for the good of young people, whose lives have been turned upside-down and who need us more than ever.  

This week, we’ve announced a definitive plan that includes further proposed redundancies (meaning 30 per cent of our staff are likely to have been made redundant by the end of the year), as well as the sale of assets that we’ve owned for decades. 

This includes a campsite and Baden-Powell House, our building in central London. These are incredibly challenging decisions for our board to have to make.

I know of no leader who enjoys making unpopular decisions, and we felt the full weight of history and responsibility on our shoulders as we deliberated.

To build the future, sometimes you have to give up some of the past

We are clear that decisive action is needed if we are to continue helping current and future generations to develop skills for life. We have made a promise to help young people step up, speak up and find their place in the world, and are not going to break it now. 

To build the future you sometimes have to give up some of the past. This is particularly true if we are to support frontline volunteers and protect those communities and parts of the movement made most vulnerable by Covid-19. 

It is our duty to protect our local groups, and this has meant agreeing a bold plan that confronts the realities of what is happening. We are also being incredibly honest with our people.

This means we mustn’t optimistically assume things are going to get better soon, however difficult that is to accept.

By taking these difficult steps, we are now confident we can withstand whatever the crisis throws at us next. It means we’re better positioned to support young people both during and after the crisis.

However, unless there is urgent funding support, I’m afraid we’ll have lost so many other youth sector organisations. That’s when the full impact of Covid-19 will be felt. 

Building a bridge to the future

And so we must take the difficult, courageous decisions now needed to build the future.

We need to build back better, which means laying the foundations for a truly inclusive movement. When the history books are written, we want them to say that the Scouts did everything in its power to support those parts of our movement and communities who were most affected by Covid-19.

This has been traumatic for all of us, and these remain incredibly challenging times. I’ve had to say goodbye to many good, loyal people who I never dreamt we would have to let go. 

We have all lost things that we valued and, tragically, some of us have lost loved ones too in this crisis.

There are big things at stake, but, as I was reminded after the blaze at our family business, nothing is more important than our health and our lives.

We’re bruised, and battered, but we have a plan that is a bridge to the future for the good of young people. We are still open for business.

Matt Hyde is chief executive of Scouts 

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