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  • Katherine Grugeon

Keeping Busy with the Duke of Edinburgh Award

With the Walking Group currently curtailed again because of the latest Covid 19 restrictions, there is another walking activity which has been keeping me busy and outdoors over the last few weeks.

I first got involved with the Duke of Edinburgh award when I was a trainee teacher some 20 odd years ago. My own school did not run the awards at all. It was not as popular then as it is now. Most people associate the award with the expedition alone, but there is a lot more to it than that.

Duke of Edinburgh Award candidates have to complete a volunteering section, learn a new or develop an old skill and undertake physical exercise before they can take part in the expedition. The length of time they take to complete these sections depends on the level of the award and previous awards held and ranges from 3 to 18 months.

The expeditions range from 2 days and one night for Bronze to 4 days and three nights for Gold. The terrain becomes more challenging and the Gold expedition involving wild camping. The candidates need to follow a project during their expeditions, the complexity of which increases with the award. The expeditions must take place between 31 March and 31 October. This spring, along with many other things, all the expeditions were cancelled and there is now a flurry of activity as providers try to get some expeditions under ‘Covid compliant conditions’ completed before the end of the season

For the expeditions the key is ‘self-sufficiency’. The candidates plan their own route and menus. On the expedition they should carry everything they need in their backpack. Shopping en-route, including stopping for an ice cream, is definitely not allowed.

In my role as an assessor, I get to meet the candidates after much of the hard work has been done by teachers and trainers to help them get ready for the big event. I see the candidates at the start, during and end of their expedition, often staying on the same campsite. It’s a privileged position and I meet a wide variety of children. Some are experienced campers, are well prepared and love every minute of it. Others are not so well prepared, perhaps having less appropriate kit, but never-the-less slog their way to the end with dogged determination. This second group of children have my utmost admiration. Last weekend we had torrential rain for two days. The Bronze candidates I was assessing were utterly soaked by halfway through each day. Not one of them gave up; each carried a heavy wet rucksack for 17km. They supported each other and were so pleased and proud to reach the end point.

I also really enjoy getting to see little bits of the countryside I would never have visited before. The candidates are given a start point and an end point and they join them up themselves with a network of rights of way. I’ve visited delightful little places, streams, fields, woodland and villages I didn’t know existed, often really close to main roads or places I pass through regularly but never stop to look.

D of E Centres welcome volunteers. If you want to see some of our young people excelling outside of the classroom, it’s a great place to start. Get in touch with your local secondary school or look up DofE.org and see if anyone near you needs some help. Pitching a tent or teaching them to knit, it all makes a difference.

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