THE Scout Association is launching Squirrels, its first new brand for 35 years - and Somerset children will be able to attend. 

Squirrels will be aimed at four and five year-old children and will open in more than 200 UK locations, with priority given to communities most affected by the pandemic. 

After a pilot programme which had success in Black, Asian and other minority ethnic communities and areas of deprivation, Squirrels will join existing early years groups Beavers and Cubs. 

Squirrels members will wear red uniforms and have their own sets of badges. 

The association wants Squirrels to reach at least 12,000 families within its first three years. 

The early years programme aims to build up a positive, safe environment for young children to develop, and will include activities like pitching a blanket tent, planting seeds or learning how to spending 50p in a local shop.

Somerset County Gazette:

New badges that Squirrels can earn will include Feel Good, Be Active, Explore Outdoors, Brilliant Builder and Exciting Experiments.

In Somerset, there will be Squirrels groups in three locations: Bishops' Lydeard, Burnham-on-Sea, and Minehead and Alcombe.  

The Bishops' Lydeard Squirrels group, known as '3rd Taunton', will run on Tuesdays during term-time from 5-6pm. 

The Minehead and Alcombe group, '1st Exmoor', will run on Mondays during term-time from 5-6pm. 

In Burnham-on-Sea, interested parents should get in touch with the group for information on its day and time. 

The Scout Association wants to recruit more than 5,000 volunteers to help roll out the programme, and it is calling on parents to participate as part of its #GoodForYou campaign.

Chief Scout and celebrity adventurer Bear Grylls has encouraged volunteers to get involved.

He said: "I’m so glad that younger children will now have the chance to join our family of Scouts and develop skills for life.

"All of us at the Scouts believe that by offering opportunities at this early age, inspiring a sense of wonder, fun and curiosity, we can have a long-lasting, positive impact on young people’s lives.

"To make this work we need more volunteers to join the team and donors to get behind us."

Somerset County Gazette:

Matt Hyde, chief executive of Scouts, said: "Squirrels is part of our commitment to help young people, families and communities come back stronger from the pandemic.”

“What we learn up to five years old lays the building blocks for everything that follows. If you’re four, you’ve spent a third of your life in lockdowns. 

"We know this has especially impacted children in communities hardest hit by the pandemic. That’s why we are opening the first Squirrel dreys (nests) in the communities that need it most."

Last year, a series of reports by Ofsted suggested that the children hardest-hit by nursery and school closured regressed in some basic skills and learning.

The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood’s recent report on early years also recognised the lifelong benefits of good quality early education and recommended creating communities of support.

The development of Squirrels was supported by the #iwill fund, The Department for Education and the Charity of Sir Richard Whittington. 

Squirrels pilot group leader Jess Fortune said: "Being a Squirrels Volunteer is amazing. I have learnt so much. I hope more people volunteer so that children everywhere can experience these brilliant opportunities." 

You can find your nearest Scouting Association group HERE