BY ANGUS MACDONALD
CATHOLIC SCOUT CHIEFS have been heartened by a census which shows the total numbers of Catholic Scouts holding steady but reveals a trend towards fewer, larger troops.
Figures published in the latest edition of The Link, the news-sheet of the Catholic Scouting movement, show that the number of registered Catholic sponsored Scout groups has derlined from 535 in 1988 to only 459 in 1993.
But the number of groups with over 100 members has shown a dramatic increase. In 1988 there were only five groups of this size, whereas last year there were 22, mainly in large centres of population.
The total numbers of Catholic scouts have shown only a slight reduction over the same five-year period from 23,670 in 1988 to 23,416 last year.
"It's a simple matter of the survival of the species," said Denis Cleary, Chairman of the Catholic Scout Advisory Council. "The larger the group the better its chances of survival."
Children "tended to get more" out of the big, active groups, he said. "Big isn't always beautiful, but it usually means the programme of activities is more fun and that's what we're all about." A shortage of enthusiastic and qualified leaders had contributed to the decline of the small troop, he said. "Youngsters only come if they enjoy it and the more leaders there are in a troop, the more varied the programme" Smaller, local groups had tended to amalgamate in recent years, he added.
"We've got fewer groups, but very little change in the membership, which means larger and more efficient troops. I welcome that."
The large dioceses of Liverpool, Birmingham and Salford remain the bastions of Catholic scouting, with troops of 100-plus based on large, successful Catholic parishes.