Reflecting on the historical significance of the Promise Path at Gilwell Park and how the park became the home of Scouting.

Every week at Scouts thousands of volunteers make an impact through the skills we share, lessons we teach, positive influence we make. By transforming young people’s lives volunteers like you make a remarkable mark on the world.

The Promise Path offers a way to honour this service with a commemorative brick. It’s an opportunity for individuals to leave a sign of their legacy, and pay tribute to all those Scouts who change lives and whose lives have been changed through Scouting.

But what’s the significance of leaving a name? Well, from the time our names are printed on our birth certificates, we carry them with us. We use them to sign letters and contracts.

They get engraved on proudly won trophies or inside hearts carved on the trunk of a tree. People scrawl their names along graffiti walls, bathroom cubicles, park benches, simply to let the world know that so-and-so ‘was here’.

Like Scouts leaving tracking symbols on a trail, our names are our metaphorical coordinates. They’re a small reflection of who we are, what we discovered, where we’ve gone. On trails we may leave symbols made of twigs and stones: crosses to indicate danger, arrows pointing left or right, warning signs of an obstacle ahead, or a circle with a dot in the centre to let people know we’ve ‘gone home’ – a tracking symbol which took on deeper meaning during WW1, when the symbol was placed on the graves of the fallen to signify that they had ‘gone home’ to a final resting place.

Scouting has long held space in the hearts of people across the globe, representing youth, friendship, learning new skills, and adventure; but  as people pulled together after the Great War we found that the movement needed a place of its own.

How Gilwell Park became the Spiritual Home of Scouting

Over the past century Gilwell Park has become the spiritual home of Scouting. The grounds were purchased in 1919, care of a £7,000 donation from William Maclaren. Ever since, it’s been a space for Scouts to meet, train, camp and explore. Initially purchased so Scouts in London had a place to explore the outdoors, the local young people transformed the space into a home for Scouting. They planted fruit trees, cleared camping fields, and breathed life into the derelict white house.

It was here in 1919 that the first Wood Badge Courses were run. International Scouts from all over the world would come to learn on the Wood Badge Courses and develop life skills and friendships that crossed continents. The Wood Badge Course would be adapted and taught in other countries; some of these leaders would even replicate the experience of the place elsewhere and name their training grounds Gilwell Park.

Scouts across the world had a place to come home. They had a place where they would be welcome, a place where they could learn and share new experiences with a global community through the common bond of Scouting. World leaders and international Scout organisations contributed to the textures and story of Gilwell Park by gifting statues, creating memorial features, and holding major ceremonies.

Gilwell Reunion started as an opportunity for Wood Badge Course attendees to reunite with Scouting friends they had made across the world. Though the Wood Badge Course is no longer held at Gilwell Park, the tradition lives on, and that original course will be replicated at Gilwell Park this year to celebrate its centenary anniversary. And Gilwell Reunion of course continues to be heartily celebrated year after year.

During the Second World War, Gilwell Park was called for duty. Overlooking Enfield where military arms were produced, it was requisitioned to protect this strategically-important space from air raids, but this also made the park a target and when a bomb fell at the back of the site, it made a large hole which, over time, was filled with water and turned into a place for water activities. In the face of great adversity, this new opportunity was created. 

As the war ended and the country began to recover, Gilwell Park continued to support the Scouting community and beyond. A fully functional hospital operated here for many years and in 1956 it hosted Hungarian refugees, giving shelter to those who were fleeing political persecution.

Much like the movement, Gilwell Park is a sanctuary welcoming all. This symbolism is resonated by the commemorative brick on the Promise Path dedicated to Carl Sterman. Born in Vienna in 1933 as war loomed, Carl was sent away for safety when he was only four years old. Narrowly escaping the advance of Nazi Germany, Carl escaped to England. His parents arranged for Carl to join them but with his father joining the British Army and his mother going into service, Carl was evacuated to Eye near Peterborough. At 12, he was reunited with his parents in London.

Carl joined the movement as an adult as he wanted to give back to the country that had given him a safe haven as a child. He gave over 45 years of service as a leader, was awarded the medal of merit and the Silver Acorn, and his four children went through the Guide and Scouting Movements too. He is fondly remembered by all his ex-Scouts, many of whom attended his funeral in March 2017, and his legacy is lovingly engraved on the path at Gilwell Park.

Today, the lodges at the park continue to bring that spirit of the worldwide movement home as international volunteers stay onsite, bringing all the depth and meaning of Scouting from nations across the world to share with new generations of Scouts.

But Gilwell Park is far more than the sum of its history; it is a living, growing place. Across its 100 acres over the past 100 years, young people have taken the opportunity to unite – at events like Gilwell 24 and Winter Camp, and on camping trips throughout the year. It’s a place to meet new friends, share skills, have fun and together, to thrive.

The park has been hand crafted by the commitment, care, and celebrations of the Scouting Movement. The Promise Path offers the opportunity to join 100 years of life-changing positive influence. To mark your memories and your promise at the home of Scouting, visit https://fundraising.scouts.org.uk/promise-path-appeal.