King Edward VI student Ophelia Mantell-Jacob, 14, has only good things to say about the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme
Picture the scene: you are enjoying a quiet afternoon, sitting at home, when suddenly, your 14-year-old son James bursts through the door, demanding to be bought walking boots, a 65-litre rucksack, a survival bag and 25 packs of Maoam sweets.
You look up, confused. And then you remember: he must have had his first Duke of Edinburgh Award meeting.
It is a scheme that changed my life, but for those not familiar with D of E, it involves more than 280,000 young people annually.
They devote a minimum six months to achieving an award we are told countless times will look fantastic on a cv!
The award website advertises a ‘fun adventure and major challenge’, at Bronze, Silver or Gold level, and activities offering ‘endless possibilities to anyone aged 14 to 24’.
The scheme encourages open- mindedness, creativity and commitment in young people through tasks, two to be completed over three months, the other over six months.
They are based on volunteering, skills and physical activities.
Then there are the infamous expeditions.
Each section promotes a different aspect worth developing in a child or young adult. Volunteering is particularly interesting. If you were to type into your search-bar right now “What are the benefits of volunteering?”, Google would tell you that it reduces stress, prevents feelings of isolation and gives you a sense of purpose, while also increasing personal confidence – I’m sure the D of E website says the same.
Actually, they have both quite sensibly described the feeling that you get when you do volunteer, and although it is a new experience, volunteering is something we can all do, not just lucky D of E participants.
Most young people end up being propelled towards charity shops by eager parents, one issue being that a handful of shops will only take workers over 13, which is a problem if you are younger.
However, you can choose other volunteering options. I found work in an Oxfam bookshop, which was a great experience.
And then there’s the Expedition section, which I must stress involves self-sufficiency. I can’t say I’ve ever felt happier than when I was tramping through the woods with a group of sweaty children, carrying a 20-kilogram rucksack – I probably walked away from that experience never wanting to walk anywhere again, and with a permanent shoulder injury.
Nonetheless, it was a memorable experience, walking through the beautiful countryside of Cannock Chase and bonding closely with my group.
So, is it worth the effort? I think so, as it may not be enjoyable to prepare for, but looking back, I relished every task, and it changed me as a person.
As for the expedition, it is gruelling, but life-changing, moulding you into a more independent, braver and confident young person, and who knows? You may develop a love of camping.
As for James and his demands for equipment? Don’t worry, the organisers give you a list of recommendations – and then you can research the cost-cutting options.