31 July 2020 will be the final day of Abi Salter's appointment as Chief Commissioner of Girlguiding Midlands, and what an amazing five years she has given to the Region. If we had been able to hold our thank you event in June as planned I would have said the following words to her as one way of thanking her, but as that opportunity was not possible I have turned the words into a letter which I wanted to share with you all:
My first recollection of you was back in around 2007 when the Centenary Management team were launching the Centenary plans to the County Champions. We were at Chancellors in Manchester and sometime during the evening Sal arrived with her younger protegee in tow, someone who she said was going to run the Great Guide Getaway to Switzerland. I remember thinking that you were obviously a capable person if Sal had asked you to do it - and that you were someone who was obvious in the room (in a good way!!). How right I was about both things! You are immensely capable, and you are not someone who can nip into something and sit quietly unnoticed at the back of the room!
I don't think our paths crossed all that often during the Centenary because you were busy with the Adventures and I was busy with the Centenary Champions. At that time I was guiding in Anglia so we would only have met up at national events. However I moved to Midlands in 2010 and we then met up again when Sal invited me to take on Adult Support in 2014 and I began attending the Region Execs which you were also at as a CC. That was when I began to realise how you were able to identify what really matters and put forward practical solutions to address any issues. As someone who needs to be able to know how things will work in practice before I can get on board I found your input very helpful.
It still came as a huge surprise to me when you rang me out of the blue on 11 August 2015 - a phonecall which had to be stopped and re-started because your sister gave birth to Charlotte in the middle of it! - to ask me whether I would consider becoming your Deputy. For me it was a big decision because I still felt relatively new to the Region, I was enjoying the Adult Support role, I didn't feel that we knew each other very well, and I wasn't sure whether I could offer what you would need ….. but you seemed to think those were not insurmountable problems, and I couldn't resist the challenge, so of course said "yes".
I remember Gill Gates saying to me that whatever the 5 years would bring one thing for sure was that it would be fun - and how right she was. It has been hard work, sometimes frustrating, sometimes a bit scary, often challenging, and occasionally disappointing - but it has always been fun. We have usually managed to find a laugh through everything and most of the time we have found a lot of laughs along the way. We have been to lots of lovely places, met lots of lovely people, and I have constantly felt both amazed and reassured by the dedication of leaders to ensuring their girls get the greatest possible guiding experience. As a Region we offer a lot of events, probably considerably more than most, which I sometimes have questioned because of all the hard work involved in delivering them but now I can also see that they bring us so much closer as a Region and it is a privilege as a Deputy Chief Commissioner to have been able to meet so many leaders from across the Region, and at times when they are relaxed and having fun rather than just at a more formal County AGM type event. I now feel at home in Midlands Region and I am grateful to you for giving me that opportunity.
We are so alike in many way and so very different in other ways. I think we usually think alike but we get there in different ways - I need to listen, cogitate, come to a decision, and then voice it whereas you seem to be able to listen, cogitate, decide, and speak all in one go! There have been times when I've thought you were mad (Celebrate!) but I've learned that you are usually right, and to trust the direction you have wanted to take us in. All I can say is - what a journey it has been.
It took us a while to reach the stage where we had a Region Plan in a format that we liked, to create a structure that we felt would work, and to find the right volunteers for the various roles - but all that careful planning has certainly paid off because we finally reached the stage where we have some amazing women in place who are now really taking the Region forward. I have loved seeing them develop into their roles and that is because you have had the vision, gave them the right amount of support, and then let them loose - something you are so good at. I also want to recognise how you have given some excellent younger leaders the opportunity to take on Region appointments, which can only bode well for the future of the Region. I also know the high regard that all the County Commissioners hold you in - they know you are always there to provide a listening ear, advice, encouragement, or whatever is needed and it is not a coincidence that several have felt able to extend their roles beyond the basic term. I know you are totally committed to unit guiding, often saying that without that we don't have guiding, but you also recognise that for unit guiding to be good the leaders need great Commissioners to support them and I am proud that as a Region we offer lots of training for Commissioners of which you have always been a big supporter.
We've said many times that we were lucky to have such a great team to work with - but a team can only be great if it has a great leader and that is what you have been. You have consistently amazed me with your ability to understand a situation, to question in a positive way, to find a solution, and to ensure decisions are acted upon. You have been an inspiration to me and I've learned a lot from you. It has been an amazing 5 years, it has been a privilege to be your Deputy, and I want to thank you for everything you have done for Midlands Region. Thank you Abi for sharing your journey with me - and I hope you can now look forward to having more time to play in a field.