Leslie's Guiding History Site




Rainbow history dates back to 1965 - but only in Northern Ireland!  There, a group was run for the 4-7 year old girls who were too young to become Brownies - called Bunnies.  In 1979 it was adopted by the Trefoil Guild in Ulster as part of their "International Year of the Child" project, and they helped to coordinate the existing "warrens" and provide support and equipment.  This was because they believed there was a need for a group for the younger girls who would go on to become Brownies.  Thus by 1980 a Bunny programme was established which Northern Ireland units could use - they had a badge with a sitting rabbit shown in black on a white background, and worked for 'Bunny Bobs' - different coloured round badges with a grey dot in the middle, one for each topic, which were sewn on the back of their grey neckers.  The topics were: 

Green Bob (nature) Make a scrap book - birds, fish, animals, fruit, vegetables, flowers, trees, butterflies, insects, seeds, zoo animals.  Grow things and take nature walks

Blue Bob (scripture) - Read a bible story, learn a simple hymn or prayer

Yellow Bob (bright bunny) - Tidy clothes, care for teeth, nails, hair, tie shoelaces or buckles

Pink Bob (busy bunny) - Help mummy - tidy toys, clear table, care for books, tidy bedroom, help others.

Orange Bob (road safety) - Know Tufty and friends, Green Cross Code, have a knowledge of road sense around own area.

Red Bob (activity) - Skip, bounce a ball, throw and catch

Purple Bob (craft) - Make something of own choice, make cards, draw or paint a picture, make a puppet, make a frieze or collage

They didn't have to make a Promise, but did have to memorise their name, address and date of birth, know the Bunny vesper and song, and remember to wear uniform.  Though they were well known within Northern Ireland, in the rest of the UK most Guiders were not aware of their existence at all.  They were only officially recognised by the UK association in 1985.

At that time, in the rest of the UK, under 7's were not admitted to Guiding.  There were two reasons generally given for this - that getting insurance cover for the younger girls would be very difficult and costly, and also that girls who were so young wouldn't be able to really understand the meaning of a promise and what they were committing themselves to in making one. But - they did start pilots in a number of parts of the UK.  These pilot groups had no structure, name or uniform set, so had to develop for themselves.  Several of the groups independently chose some sort of tabard to wear over their ordinary clothes as uniform, as many of the children attended the groups straight from school and wouldn't have time to change their clothes, the tabards were often in colours related to the theme the group had chosen to follow, such as brown for owlets, yellow for sunbeams, red for robins or green for foresters.  At the end of the pilot, it was agreed that the scheme was a success, and Guiding could be rolled out to the younger age group in the rest of the UK - but with so much diversity of uniform and name amongst the pilot groups, what name and programme to choose? 

Finally, in 1987 a decision was made, and Guiding launched a brand new section which tried to solve the debates over names and colours - Rainbows!  It was open to 5-7 year olds (although Northern Ireland were allowed to continue admitting 4-year-olds, and they still do).  For uniform, they wore tabards over their day clothes, and had a triangular cloth promise badge with a picture of a rainbow on it which was sewn centrally against the neckline of the tabard.  Although it was known as a Promise Badge, for many years the pledge did not specifically include the phrase "I Promise. . . . "as it continued to believed that the concept of a Promise was too much for the age group.  Initially the tabard colours available were red, green, blue and yellow, later orange and purple tabards became available.  Information on what should be in the programme wasn't plentiful, so it was left entirely up to each unit to invent their own opening and closing ceremonies, own programme, customs and traditions, and to choose their own leader names too.  It was only in the early 1990s that the "Rainbow Guides Starter Pack" and "Rainbow Guides Eight Point Pack" were introduced to give some ideas to Leaders on how to structure meetings, what programme areas should be covered, and how to set up and managee a unit.

 In time a green baseball cap, t-shirt and shorts were produced too - but these were all optional, and thus rarely seen, most girls sticking with the original option of putting their uniform tabard on over whatever clothes they were already wearing that day.  Rainbow Rabbit was introduced, to help the Rainbows with remembering to keep their Promise, and the soft-toy version with her felt tabard was adopted as a mascot by many units.  When Guiding standardised the design of the Promise badges in the 1990s a new Rainbow Promise Badge was introduced too, in green - but it was produced in cloth only, as it was felt that pin badges weren't safe for Rainbow-age girls.  (Mini metal versions of these Rainbow Promise badges were produced solely as part of a 'souvernir set' of all the section badges, mounted on a display card, but they were never issued as metal Promise Badges, which can cause confusion!).  Having the same style of badge as the other sections was popular, but there was disappointment that that badge did not actually feature a Rainbow anywhere on it, nor anything which seemed to represent rainbows - so soon a felt embroidered arch-shaped badge in Rainbow colours was produced, to be sewn above the Promise badge.

The Rainbow section celebrated it's 10th Birthday in 1997 with 'Rainbow Riots' being held in many parts of the country.  

Then a more formalised programme was brought in.  'Roundabouts' were introduced, with generic Roundabout badges with coloured edges, which were awarded (each unit rotating which one was issued so their girls ended up with a mixture) after a Roundabout was completed, and the 'pot of gold' for those going 'over the Rainbow to Brownies', also Olivia, a mascot to guide Rainbows through their Rainbow career, just as the Brownie handbook had featured Emily.  Where before each unit had had to write their own opening and closing songs, a nationwide Rainbow Song was now introduced, and Rainbows were encouraged to 'look, learn, laugh and love'.  Rainbow uniform changed too - a polo shirt, jacket and trousers were brought in, in scarlet and grey-blue - and tabards soon ceased to be uniform.  Rainbows celebrated their 21st birthday in 2008 with all sorts of 'coming of age' events, including a special sunflower growing challenge, and during Guiding's centenary, Rainbows were involved in lots of activities, including special zoo visits, and their 'Princess Parties' in various special venues where they got to dress up and enjoy all sorts of regal activities.  With the new uniform, a new Promise badge was introduced, in metal, with a pale blue background to match the uniform tops - initially with the older trefoil logo (which are comparatively rare) and soon after with the current trefoil design.  Rainbows were encouraged to sew any badges they gained onto the polo shirt above the hem - some gain enough to cover the whole of the front!

In 2012 Rainbows celebrated their 25th Birthday, they had a special anniversary badge, designed by a Rainbow, and all sorts of special events were organised including parties, outings, gatherings and sleepovers.  A special new Roundabout was introduced too, to mark the special birthday.


In 2013 new Roundabout badges were introduced, so instead of the Generic Roundabout badges which were the same design apart from the coloured edges, specific badges were then introduced for each Roundabout.

In 2017 Rainbows celebrated their 30th Birthday with a range of local events.  Countries and regions each created their own challenges and celebration events, such as Scotland's Mermaid challenge.

In July 2018 a new Rainbow programme was launched, with a 1-year transition period.  It saw the Roundabouts replaced by a programme which ran through all the Guiding sections.  It had six themes - Know Myself, Express Myself, Be Well, Have Adventures, Take Action, and Skills For My Future.  Rainbows on Skills Builders and Unit Meeting Activities - and at last, Interest Badges too.  And following pressure from Leaders, there were a series of 'high awards' to work for - Rainbow Bronze Award, Silver Award, and Gold Award.  The option of a Rainbow sash, in red fabric, was also introduced, as another option for displaying the badges.

In March 2020 Rainbows, as with all other sections in Guiding, had to stop holding regular meetings due to the Covid-19 infection.  As a result, Rainbows could not gather, but many units kept in touch, either through regular newsletters, or through meetings by videoconference, with each Rainbow logging on at the regular time.  Although in August 2020 limited options for outdoor meetings were also introduced, the complexities were such that most units continued remote meetings - and the outdoor option was soon withdrawn.  Outdoor meetings became available again in Spring 2021, and Indoor from August 2021, subject to a risk assessment, and the helpers all wearing facemasks or facecoverings.  By this time, many units had had a near-complete turnover of girls, and it gave units the option to review their customs, and start new ones . . .

Autumn 2021 brought another change - an option for units in the rest of the UK to pilot accepting girls from age 4, as units in Ulster had always done.  A large number of units signed up for the pilot, and started welcoming the younger girls, though mainly in areas where waiting lists were small - it tended not to happen in those areas where they were already struggling to cope with the demand from 5 and 6 year olds.

In June 2022 it was announced that the changed minimum age for Rainbows would be universal - and the temporary reduction in programme requirements was made permanent - 4 out of 5 Skill Builder activities rather than all 5, and and an hour fewer of Unit Meeting Activities for each theme.  It did, however, take time for units to adjust their starting age, and some were not able to do so, being unable to find enough spaces for the girls who were 5-7 who wanted to join, far less those who were younger.

Rainbow Timeline

Some highlights from Rainbow History

c1965 - Bunnies begin

In Ulster, as a group for the 4-7 year olds prior to Brownies - but they did not exist in the UK

1987 - Rainbows begin

Following pilots at various locations in the UK.  Most of the pilot groups opted for a tabard over dayclothes as their uniform, with different groups choosing different colours.  As a result, the decision was made to call the group 'Rainbows' and allow each group to choose which colour of tabard to have, initially from a choice of four colours (blue, green, red, yellow), eventually from 6 (including orange and violet).

1997 - Rainbows 10th birthday

In 1997 the 10th birthday of Rainbows was celebrated, mainly by local parties, but a national badge was produced - Rainbows being the first section to have a 10th birthday badge.

2008 - 21st Birthday

In 2008 Rainbows celebrated their 21st birthday

2012 - 25th Birthday

In 2012 Rainbows celebrated their 25th birthday.

2018 - New Programme

In 2018 a new programme is introduced - and for the first time, Interest Badges are made available to Rainbows.  They also follow the same programme structure as the other sections, with Rainbows getting to do Skill Builders and UMAs just like the other sections.