Duke of Edinburgh’s Award: how Prince Philip’s greatest legacy shaped the lives of five young people

June 10 this year marks what would have been the Duke of Edinburgh’s 100th birthday.

As his youngest son, the Earl of Wessex, writes for The Telegraph, Prince Philip would not have wanted any celebration to be held in his honour.

But it only seems fair to say that of all of his achievements, the 99-year-old, who died on April 9, was most proud of the eponymous award scheme he founded in 1956.

Designed to help young people build life-long belief in themselves by supporting them to take on their own challenges, follow their passions, and discover talents they never knew they had, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme has transformed the lives of millions, not just in the UK but around the world.

In the past year alone, despite the coronavirus pandemic, 330,000 young people in Britain have been “doing their DofE”, 22 per cent of whom are from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Telegraph spoke to some current participants to find out what makes the award so special.  

Shehbaaz Patel: 'When the opportunity came to do it, I definitely had to take it up'

‘We’re kind of like a family’

Shehbaaz Patel, 16, is doing his bronze DofE award through his local Youth Zone activity centre for young people. His parents moved to England from Mumbai about a year before he was born. His father doesn’t currently work and his mother works at Primark.  

“I remember the school told us about DofE at an assembly in Year Nine, it looked like a very prestigious award and lots of fun but I couldn’t get the application in in time so I was really gutted. So when the opportunity came to do it at the Youth Zone I definitely had to take it up because I knew what it was about and how fun it was because my friends had done it," he said.

“Before I was just helping my friends or the mosque but now I can help even more people just by giving them food. 

“Now I know first aid skills and navigation skills. You might not need them at work but in the outside world they’re small things that help you in life. Teamwork is such a vital thing.

“DofE has definitely helped me during the pandemic because I was stuck at home all day and used to being out with my friends at the weekend or having fun in lessons. I used to be constantly out of the house so it’s been weird. Having the DofE calls every Wednesday at 5pm has been the one thing that sticks out that I look forward to because it’s a large group and we check on each other. We’re kind of like a family.”

Lily Naidu: 'Before DofE, I didn’t really know what life was'

‘I’ve learnt to never hold back, always give it your all’

Lily Naidu, 15, started her silver DofE award in June and has been volunteering at her local food bank. She would like to become an actress or  a lawyer. 

“When I first heard about DofE, that was in school at a special day when people came in to talk to us about it and I was sat there thinking, ‘Hmm, I think it will look good on my CV if I did this.’ I thought I might as well give it a go," she said. 

“DofE has shaped my life in so many ways. It is a great experience and I can’t wait to get on to the next level. You meet all these new people and try all these different skills, you just become a better version of yourself. When you move on to the next level, you feel yourself slowly progressing and I feel like that was really important.  

“I’ve learnt to never hold back, always give it your all. You could succeed, you could fail but that’s the best thing about life – there’s always a door for you, there’s always something that will guide you. 

“Before DofE, I didn’t really know what life was, it was like a piece of crumpled up paper, but when I did DofE I saw that there’s a whole world waiting to be discovered.” 

James Verdin: 'If I get my gold it would be the biggest achievement in my entire life'

‘The most challenging thing was climbing a mountain’ 

James Verdin, 17, went to a special school for young people with autism. Instead of studying GCSEs, he followed the Outdoor Learning Pathway. The qualifications embrace activities outside and include the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.  He was encouraged to climb a mountain with his teammates – a mission that James would previously have found overwhelming. 

“I have learnt that I am brave, adventures are fun and I can do anything if I try hard enough. I did my silver last year and my bronze two years ago. If I get my gold it would be the biggest achievement in my entire life so far," he said.

“The first time I went camping was five years ago with my school in Wales. I like camping. I wanted to do my silver expedition, I wanted to finish it properly. When they said I didn’t have to do the expedition (because of Covid) I felt a bit confused. So, I started it on the 19th of June with my mum and I ended it on the 21st June. I couldn’t have done it without my mum. I did the planning. I had lists for everything. Last year my mum gave me a book of photos and it shows how I did it. At the end of my book it says ‘Super Star’. 

“The most challenging thing I’ve done was climbing to the top of a mountain in Wales. I climbed to the summit. It was cold and mostly really windy. 

“I like doing DofE, it has made me more confident. When I first started DofE I was sad and upset when I missed my mum and dad but I managed to stay brave.”

James Drury volunteers at the National Trust's Longshaw Estate in Derbyshire

‘The DofE has been life-changing for James’

James Drury, 22, is a member of the team at Longshaw Estate in Derbyshire where he has been volunteering for three years. Once a week, he helps with gardening, clearing and tidying the National Trust parkland and is currently working on his gold award. James has Down syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder and severe learning disabilities. 

His father, Peter, said: “The DofE has given James a social life. When he was at the local primary school we would always meet people who knew him but, having been spirited away to a special school, he had no community. Being able to walk around your neighbourhood and say ‘hello’ is important, it’s so isolating when you don’t have that. At the National Trust James sees people he knows and, although he can’t talk, he can interact with them which has given him a sense of purpose. 

“The DofE has been life-changing for James. When he did the silver he was offered a further year at college on the strength of that – they extended his education plan because of the fact he’d done the DofE and they’d seen such fantastic progress because of it. 

“There’s nothing out there for so many young people with special needs, no groups to attend. Once you finish college you are in isolation with your parents and any groups out there tend to involve bingo or jigsaws. How many 22-year-olds want to do those things by choice? James doesn’t understand that he’s doing something worthwhile but it’s important that he is. We want him to get the maximum out of life, to have the same sense of purpose that everyone else has and volunteering gives him that.”

‘It is something that makes you stand out’

Bilal Valley, 23, began his DofE journey in 2017, a year after becoming a trainee engineer at Amey Consulting, which gives all its apprentices the opportunity to achieve the gold award. He is part of a team contributing to the maintenance and development of Walkden Gardens in Sale as well as volunteering as a junior coach with children at All Star Sports in Bolton. 

“At school I passed all my subjects but, although I wasn’t the one that messed around in the classroom, I wasn’t the one that went the extra mile either," he said.

"I guess I felt that opportunities like the DofE and other school extras weren’t for me. I now look back and think, ‘Why the hell did I say no?’. I really regret it now that I’ve completed the DoE and know just what goes into it in terms of meeting new people. I suppose I was in a comfort zone before: just me and the people I considered my friends.

“I think at school it was an opportunity that was given to the cleverest kids first which automatically makes everyone else think that it’s not for them. Another thing was that a lot of Asian kids didn’t do it, we didn’t want to be the only brown kid that got involved, that’s how it was. All my friends were Asian, they weren’t doing it so I assumed it wasn’t for me.

“When I went for the interview with Amey I talked about the DofE and the guy made me aware that it is something that, if he had two identical CVs, same grades and experience, the one with the DofE would get picked for the job because it is something that makes you stand out. I realise that now and I tell a lot of kids to do it. Maybe I didn’t have someone older to explain it to me, now I’m that figure in the family, I can be that guide to the younger ones.”

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