BBC News Magazine

Page last updated at 12:24 GMT, Thursday, 29 October 2009

What is the scout post?

The Magazine answers...

Scouts in Bristol have delivered swine flu vaccination letters that would have been caught up in the postal strike. Others will deliver your Christmas cards, so what is the scout postal service?

Examples of scout stamps
Scout groups print their own stamps and have their own postboxes

Everyone is used to the idea of scouts doing their bit.

But perhaps not everybody is aware that in many areas of the country scout groups provide an alternative postal service at Christmas.

The Postal Services Act of 2000 confirmed an exemption that meant charity groups did not need a licence if they wanted to carry Christmas post, any time between 25 November and 1 January. But the idea of a scout Christmas post goes back at least to the 1980s.

There is no national scout postal service so you can't send a Christmas card from Dover to Inverness. Some scout groups may just run a service within their immediate area, but many will deliver across a wider area by co-operating with other scout groups.

Scouts and other charities are allowed to deliver Christmas mail to raise money
There is no national network

Wirral has a well-organised scout postal service that delivers Christmas cards across the borough and to some adjoining areas for 18p. Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan has a massive scheme that can sort and deliver up to a million cards.

Pam Robards has helped to run the scout postal service in Tiptree in Essex for the best part of two decades. The group charges 15p and co-operates with other groups in east Essex to deliver within a radius of about 20 miles. Special peel-off stamps are printed and distributed to participating shops which also have a special postbox. Signs in the shops explain where the post can be delivered to.

Many scouts enjoy getting a taste of the world of business

Mrs Robards and her husband collect the post daily and take it the local HQ, where it is sorted into Tiptree and outside. The external mail is taken the east Essex headquarters and the Robards receive mail for Tiptree in exchange.

Younger scouts tend to do their deliveries accompanied by their parents, while older children may do deliveries alone. The mail is sorted so that most deliver in the streets around their home. Delivery is guaranteed by Christmas Eve. Last year Tiptree scouts delivered 7,000 items.

"They learn about helping other people," says Mrs Robards. The children enjoy it and some groups, like pensioners, like both the price of delivery and seeing children out doing something constructive, she adds.

What happened in Bristol is outside the usual remit of the scout postal service, which is Christmas card delivery. In Bristol, no money changed hands in what was merely an ad-hoc arrangement with a health centre.

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A regular part of the BBC News Magazine, Who, What, Why? aims to answer some of the questions behind the headlines

For the normal seasonal scout postal service, the motive is typically fundraising for the scouts, or local charities, says a spokesman for the Scout Association. But many groups also relish giving the children a taste of community service and the world of business.

"Some kids will have spreadsheets and they will work out how many letters we've got, how long it takes to deliver them and how many people we need on the ground," he says.

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