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leslie's guiding traditions

1932 - Our Chalet

For many years, at each World Conference that was held, there was a plea for an international Guide Centre which everyone could share. There was the training centre at Foxlease, certainly - but it was a training centre, and it belonged to the UK, for all that internatonal visitors were welcomed. The problem was, lovely dream it might be, but how could it be afforded?  

In 1929 a 'fairy godmother' emerged, in the form of one of the USA delegation. Mrs Helen Storrow stated that she would like to gift such a house, and the only condition she made was that she would like it to be located in Switzerland. The Swiss Guides confirmed they would be willing to act as hosts, so the next task was to decide 'where in Switzerland?  

Mrs Storrow, accompanied by a Swiss Guider known as 'Falk', began researching possible locations. Some beautiful locations were considered, but while Mrs Storrow amired one possible site as offering 'peace for the soul', Falk was concerned that it's low situation would not offer the skiing and hiking opportunities that young members would seek. So the search resumed, and a site near Adelboden was found. Building work went ahead, and the official opening planned for 31st July 1932, where the Chalet Song was first sung, and Falk took up post as Guider-in-Charge.

On 24th August 1939 the decision was taken to evacuate and close Our Chalet, hopefully temporarily, due to the threat of war. During the war there were several camps held for Swiss Guides, and as Switzerland remained neutral throughout the war, correspondence could continue. The World Chief Guide arrived at the Chalet on VE Day, and although there was no formal re-opening, from that time onwards the visitors kept coming.

The staff house, Stockli, was opened in 1956, and other buildings have been added over the years.

1939 - Our Ark/Olave House/Pax Lodge

The idea of an international Guide House in London was the idea of two UK Leaders - Mrs Rose Kerr, and Dame Katharine Furse.  

In 1936 the World Bureau was moving out of it's room in the UK Guide Headquarters in London, and into new larger premises in Palace Street. So an appeal was launched to raise the money for a hostel within the new Bureau headquarters, and a 21-year lease was taken on numbers 9-13 Palace Street, which were originally built in c1672. So no.9 was to be the World Bureau, and no.s 11-13 the hostel - following extensive repairs the first guests arrived in February 1939. The opening ceremony was held on 2nd May 1939, by London's Lady Mayoress. Despite many difficulties, the hostel stayed open throughout world war 2, and provided a home, especially for Guides from Europe exiled from their homelands.  

By 1957 the lease was shortly to run out - and both Bureau and hostel were outgrowing their space. Regulations meant that the hostel and bureau would need to move to separate buildings. So an appeal was made, and the funds raised to move the hostel into a former hotel at 45 Longridge Road. The keys were received on 30th July 1959, and refurbishment work began. The house was re-named on November 5th, 1963, as Olave House, in a ceremony attended by the World Chief Guide.

But the time came when the premises at Longridge Road, too, were becoming inadequate - both for the numbers who wanted to stay, and the maintenance costs. At long last, a suitable location had been found to house the World Bureau, and as it was now possible to have the World Bureau and the World Centre in the same building, a third building, Pax Lodge, was built.

1957 - Our Cabana

The story of Our Cabana actually begins 9 years earlier, at the first western hemisphere conference, in Cuba. Leaders from 9 countries were there, seeking ideas on how to grow and develop Guiding in their area, and a World Centre was suggested. At subsequent events the thought recurred.  

By 1952 the World Conference had given permission, and the search for a location began. Having considered many options, Mexico was chosen as host, and a site within Mexico sought - hence the result was in Cuernavaca.  

The site selected, next came the usual problem - money. This time the 'fairy godmother' was the USA's 'Juliette Low World Friendship Fund'. The building work progressed rapidly, and the dedication was carried out on Thinking Day by Lady Baden-Powell and the Bishop of Cuernavaca. One guest at the opening ceremony decided that a swimming pool was needed - so gave the funds to build one! Another provided a fountain. And the Western Hemisphere committee provided the now-famous front door. So all was ready for the opening ceremony in 1957.

1966 - Sangam

In 1956 the International Commissioners' meeting was held in New Delhi, India. The majority of the Commissioners present were from countries around Asia, and the suggestion was made of having a World Centre for Asia. The suggestion was approved at the 1957 World Conference, and the work began. Australia, The Philippines, Pakistan and India all submitted proposals to the World Conference to host the centre in 1960, and at the next Conference in 1963 India's offer was formally accepted, of a centre in Poona, to be called Sangam.

The Government of Maharashtra donated the land with some funds, and the Central Government of India also donated generously. A fundraising appeal was launched, and the foundation stone was laid on 23rd January 1964 by the Director of the World Bureau, with the centre itself being opened by the World Chief Guide on 16th October 1966.

2009 - Kusafiri

There remained one major area of the world which did not have a World Centre - Africa. The first difficulty was the question of viability - would a permanent centre in Africa be realistic, would it be affordable, both for the initial cost, and in the longer term? It was in doubt. And - which country would host?  

An inventive solution was found. Rather than a permanent building, with all the maintenance costs it would have, and the pressure it would put on whichever country hosted, they could have a 'travelling' World Centre. Any country in the continent could apply to organise an event and host the World Centre for that duration.  

As a result of this, may countries have been able to host the world centre, and a number of further events are 'in the pipeline'.