The Scout Network is the fifth and final youth section of The Scout Association in the United Kingdom, catering for those aged between 18 and 25 years. The section was formally introduced in February 2002 alongside Explorer Scouts with both replacing the former Venture Scouts section for fifteen-and-a-half- to twenty-year-olds.
Scout Network was created as a result of the Scout Association's Programme Review that began in 1995. Throughout the 1990s, the Scout Association had been losing 30,000 members each year and so a new programme was developed to be implemented in the new millennium.
The new section was launched in February 2002 with all Venture Scout Units switching to the new system by December 2003. The section originally formed part of the Scout County, with responsibility for the Network coming from there, and its members were every member of The Scout Association in the section's age range of 18 to 25 years. The Network would therefore include normal youth members as well as leaders, skills instructors and members of the Scout Fellowship, providing a social base for all members of that age, although no meeting was mandatory. The revised age ranges were chosen to ensure that the Explorer Scout section received a suitable number of members and to align both sections with the age ranges of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award. All meetings were to be led by the Network itself. Because members could come from and take part in several different parts of Scouting, the uniform chosen was the same as that used by adult Leaders and members of the Scout Fellowship (now Scout Active Support) with the addition of a Scout Network identifying badge.
One of the early problems suffered by the Scout Network involved the transition from a four section to a five section system, with many of the existing Venture Scout Units changing into Explorer Scouts leaving the Scout Network initially without support. Scout Network has consistently experienced significantly lower levels of membership when compared to the rest of the movement. As a result, a review was undertaken over eighteen months between starting in mid-2004. The outcome of this review led to the introduction of Scout Network Leaders to help administer and guide the Network, additional local Networks rather than a single County Network and the introduction of a District Scout Network.
Since the review of 2004-2006 there have been three distinct types of Scout Network structure. The first is a modified version of the original structure and sees the Networks run and operated by a County/Area/Region. This model also allows for multiple Networks in one County as long as each come together for some shared events each year. In addition to this model Networks can also be run on a District level, with the District team taking the roles of the County team, and there are some Specialist Networks, usually based at an Activity Centre, that focuses around certain activities only.
The Leadership structure of a Scout Network consists of a Scout Network Leader, who is essentially an advisor or mentor to the members, and elected members of the Network who help to run it. This usually includes a chairperson and a treasurer to manage the day-to-day affairs of the Network. In larger County networks there can often be large committees made up of representatives from all the Network groups.
In contrast to other Scout sections, members of the Scout Network cannot achieve any Challenge or Activity badges with the programme instead focusing on skills that could help in future life.
The main three awards of the section are the Chief Scout's Platinum Award, Chief Scout's Diamond Award and the Queen's Scout Award which members are encouraged to undertake. These awards share a similar structure to the Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme and these latter awards can be used to complete the Scouting equivalent. The awards require members to undertake an extended period of physical activity, voluntary service and skill improvement as well as an expedition and a residential experience for the Queen's Scout Award.
In addition to these three awards the Network members can also undertake the Explorer Belt Award, which was pre-existing from Venture Scouts and allows members to undertake a 10-day international expedition, the International Scouts of the World Award which focuses on making a social impact through an international journey, and the Partnership Awards for working on large scale projects with another group.
The Scout Network programme is based around activities in three self-development areas of international, skills & development and community. Aside from this, individual events are the choice of the Network members themselves.
In addition to the programme, Network members have the option to attend several events held annually. The main national event, held by the Scout Activity Centres subsidiary, is the Intense camp at Woodhouse Park Scout Activity Centre. In addition however, Network members are able to take part in local events, County organised events and other large scale events held by Network groups nationally.