Unsung Heroes

Matt Hyde

Matt Hyde is Chief Executive of the Scouts, the UK's largest coeducational youth movement. Formerly Chief Executive of the National Union of Students (NUS), he has undertaken a number of leadership roles in the charity sector and as Chief Executive of the Scouts has contributed to a period of record membership growth since he joined in 2013. He has overseen the development and delivery of a rebrand, award-winning campaigns and has spearheaded work to support the growth of Scouting in areas of deprivation.

His volunteer work is equally important. As a trustee of Step Up To Serve, he has helped change the conversation about youth volunteering, attracting support and investment to grow youth social action. Matt is also a trustee of Comic Relief, a Patron of UNLOCK (the charity for people with convictions) and was previously Vice-Chair of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). He was named as one of the 25 most influential charity sector leaders by Charity Times in 2019.

Matt was awarded an OBE in the 2020 New Years Honours List and an Honorary Fellowship from Queen Mary University of London in 2012.

What was the path that lead you to today?

I have spent most of my career in the charity sector – as a senior manager, trustee, consultant and Patron – and charities featured heavily in my childhood.

The first time I led anything, volunteered or fundraised was in Scouts. I passionately believe what you do outside of the classroom (whether it is leading a sports team or getting involved in a youth organisation) fundamentally improves your life chances. Undertaking social action (carrying out practical action in the service others) builds character, shapes your values and gives you skills for life.

I was a student at Queen Mary University of London and got involved in my students' union, becoming elected as President and subsequently became President of the University of London Union (ULU). It turns out I was President of ULU when Bear was studying at Birkbeck College in the building next door!

After that I switched from being an elected student officer to becoming a students' union staff member, ultimately becoming Chief Executive of the National Union of the Students (NUS) and then Chief Executive of the Scouts.

Who inspired you to do what you do?

My parents. They ran a small family business, which I lived above, selling furniture and drapery. But in many ways the family business was run like a social enterprise because its main focus was how it could best support the community, whether that be fundraising for youth groups like the Scouts or promoting local charitable events. Mum and Dad always took on leadership roles in local charities like the WI or Rotary (and still are involved today in their late 70s), with a belief that you have a duty to make your community better, so social action and volunteering is very much a part of my DNA.

What have been the biggest obstacles you have encountered?

Even though we have grown so much in recent years in Scouting we still have 60,000 young people on our waiting list. And the biggest obstacle to that is needing to recruit more volunteers. So if you're inspired by what Bear does and want help more young people benefit from Scouting don't hesitate to get involved at scouts.org.uk – it's enormous fun, will make you feel great and you develop your skills there as well as those of the young people.

Biggest triumphs?

I'm very proud of the fact that Scouting has grown for the last 13 years. I can't really take the credit for that as it's down to our amazing volunteers. But I'm particularly pleased that we have grown in over 1280 areas of deprivation in the past five years. When I joined as Chief Executive I wanted to have a clear focus on growing Scouting in deprived communities. We now have a target to open 500 more scout units in areas of deprivation by 2023.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

That no matter how tough life gets things move on, so live in the moment, cherishing the good times, and stay strong in the more challenging times (never give up!) It's therefore really important to surround yourself with great people with strong values – in work and at home – who have your back, pick you up when you're down and keep your feet on the ground if your head gets too big!

Why is getting outdoors so important in modern life?

Quite simply getting outside makes you happier and healthier. A few years ago the University of Edinburgh and University of Glasgow produced research that demonstrated people who had been in Scouting or Guiding were 15% less likely to suffer from mood disorders or anxiety later on in life. I'm certain that's because being so much of Scouting involves being outdoors. It's really important we encourage our kids (and adults) to get off their screens more and re-connect with nature, recognizing this is a foundation for improved mental health and wellbeing.

Amongst all the endeavours you have been involved with, which is the most unforgettable and why?

I have been lucky to have led organizations that have created a lot of change for the good of wider society, so it's difficult to pick out one project that has been unforgettable. But I'm very proud of what we've achieved through our A Million Hands campaign. Through this we have mobilsed over 250,000 young people in Scouting to take action in their communities on issues that mattered most to them. Young people choose to take action on mental health, disability, access to clean water and sanitation and, perhaps most surprisingly, dementia. Because of the A Million Hands campaign over 25,000 Scouts are trained Dementia Friends.

Why is this particular project so important to you?

The A Million Hands campaign has won awards and we'll be announcing new issues chosen by young people later in 2019. But the strength of the campaign is that it's a collaboration between young people, adult volunteers and charity partners. Its evidence that you make a bigger impact by working with others.

Who has been an unsung hero in your life?

Every one of our 160,000 volunteers are unsung heroes and heroines. On average they give 22 hours a month so that our 460,000+ young people can experience fun and adventure and develop skills for life.

Do you have a motto you live by?

Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.

This is critical when you're in a leadership position and particularly when you're leading a membership organization. It's why I volunteer as well as being a Chief Executive and why I spent so much time on the road meeting volunteers and young people around the country.

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