Do something you love: Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award

I RECENTLY received my Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award at St James’s Palace, London. The experience was one I won’t soon forget, but there are aspects of the process (especially in receiving the award) that I was not aware of beforehand, and if other people are expecting to receive it soon – or are still working towards completing it – then this may be of use to you.

DofE-logosI started my Gold Award when I had finished my Bronze and had the ‘I want to that all over again and I want to do it now’ mentality. At that time, getting my Bronze Award was the biggest thing I had ever really accomplished, and the feeling of self-satisfaction was amazing. I had earned this. It was me, who had come home sunburned and covered in blisters from my expedition; who had slogged through months of hockey despite being a terrible player; and who had progressed in singing lessons and succeeded in passing a singing exam. Bronze was good… but Gold was better.

For Gold you have to do an extra section, the residential, and each section you have to do is for a longer period of time. For my residential, I went on a week’s work experience course at RAF Henlow, home of TPW. We had talks on topics including serving personnel in the RAF police and all its different sections – we had to endure an hour of RAF style PT: we did fitness tests; we got to make forensic swabs in a pretend crime scene; and we had a tour of the base and got to see the police dogs in action. The week was both educational and fun. I met people from all over the UK and formed a better idea of what life in the RAF is really like.

For my skill I took on the laborious task of learning to drive (it may have not been so for other people but I found it a real struggle). I kept getting things wrong and panicking in my tests. Over a year and three tests later I passed, and completed my pass plus. For my physical I intended to be at the standard to pass the RAF fitness test, so I went to the gym to get fitter. Those people who know me now may think I am fairly sporty, but I can assure you that when I was doing my DofE I was by no means ‘sporty’. I could barely run to the end of my road. My fitness definitely improved by the end of this award. In regards to the volunteering section, I did a number of things including helping out at my local Cubs section and doing paired reading in year seven English lessons with students who struggled to read.

I canoed Loch Lomond for my qualifier, Loch Ken for my practice, and some of the Lakes including Windermere and Grasmere for the expedition itself. This was definitely the most memorable and exciting part of the award, but it was by no means the easiest. The qualifying expedition was much harder than the real one – everything that could possibly go wrong did. Getting lost on a Loch, spewing out of a canoe, and midge bites. Canoeing alone because my partner dropped out, gathering large car parts on route, managing to by-pass any major group fall outs, and coming home with hands covered in deep blisters – it was all worth it. We successfully completed our expedition and we overcame our problems as a team. My favourite part of the expedition would have to be camping overnight on an island in the middle of a Loch – something I’ve always wanted to do.

All the people who completed their expedition with me, and had finished all the other sections around the time we finished sixth form, received their brooches and badges at Carlisle Cathedral in early September 2013 – just before I headed to Aberystwyth to start university. It wasn’t until the 17th November 2014 that I received my certificate at St James’s Palace, London. My mum and I decided to combine this with a theater trip and a spot of tourist activity. This included going to the British Museum, getting lost around Covent Garden and wandering around Regent Street and Leicester Square.

After a bit of a stressful morning and losing our admittance cards, we made it to the palace. My expectations included being greeted with a glass of champagne, and to be given your award by a member of the royal family. They were way off. You are not given any refreshments in the palace, and the member of royalty does not come and speak to you individually, never mind give you your award. It was the motivational speaker who gave you your award. You have to stand in semi-circles and try and get the member of royalty to stay and talk to your group for the longest. The palace itself was beautiful, and is a place not every person will get to see. I was in the picture room, which is filled with portraits of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and Lord Byron.

My speaker, however, was genuinely quite inspirational – an entrepreneur and not long out of university. He spoke about having a get-up-and-go attitude and doing something you love for your career. Something struck me when he was speaking and I could see a portrait of Lord Byron; I knew I had made the right decision coming to Aberystwyth. You have to make these decisions for yourself, and not for anyone else, because you are the one who will have to wake up every day to slog out that job or that degree. It was this man’s wise words of wisdom that led me to believe that, despite the fact other people in the room may have done more original or adventurous things to complete their award, I still did it – and it wasn’t easy. I am part of the one in a thousand group who have completed it, and I would do it all again.