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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 April, 2004, 20:11 GMT 21:11 UK
Going for gold the Duke's way
Duke of Edinburgh
The Duke of Edinburgh set up the scheme for young people
The Duke of Edinburgh's Award programme has been held up by Education Secretary Charles Clarke as an example of what extra-curricular activities all young people should be offered.

BBC News Online spoke to a few well-known award holders and asked them what they got out of the scheme, which spans various areas from personal interests to community service and gruelling outdoor expeditions.

DEBRA VEAL

Debra Veal became the youngest woman to row single-handed across the Atlantic in 2002, aged 27. She now runs two businesses and works as a BBC television presenter, as well as being a trustee of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme.

She started on the award scheme while at school in Devon and completed her gold Award while studying to be a teacher at university.

She said: "I just absolutely loved everything about the expeditions and it led to a really big obsession with going on these trips.

"I loved going to dig a hole to go to the loo. The whole basic way of life really appealed to me. When you are on an expedition life is simplified - it's about people, the team you're with and how you're going to cope in your day-to-day life.

"But the expeditions are just one part of the award. When I was at university and doing my gold, I organised a sports day for special schoolchildren with another teacher.

"We invited all the mainstream schools along as well and got all the kids doing things like wheelchair basketball, which they loved. It was great for the special school kids because for once they were the best at something, whizzing around in their wheelchairs.

"I wasn't particularly an academic achiever at school, but the award made me feel like an achiever and gave me this massive rush of confidence.

"It gave me the kind of skills which are very transferable and the confidence to start my own first business when I was about 24. It has led me to be effective in my businesses in a way I wouldn't have if I had done an MBA, which wasn't for me.

"This was the also first opportunity I had to do the things I loved and gain a qualification. It wasn't like at school where I hated the fact I had to do maths and had to do English and all these things I didn't like."

ALICE BEER

picture of Alice Beer
Alice Beer is a journalist and presenter who shot to fame on the BBC's Watchdog programme.

She got involved with the scheme while at school where she completed her bronze and gained her gold the summer before her first year at university.

She said: "I got involved mainly because it was organised by school. I had a very supportive school and very supportive parents.

"I did hiking in the North York Moors and worked in an Oxfam shop for six months, as well as learning Esperanto. There are several categories and I had to complete them.

"My worst experience was when a girl got hypothermia on the North York Moors. It was bloomin' horrible, carrying literally everything on your back for three days.

"But it is such a brilliant award scheme. Working in an Oxfam shop suddenly made me learn about real life, not just the people who came into the shop, but also the people who worked there. I was not just a schoolgirl anymore, it really makes you grow up.

"I used to think 'this would look good on my CV', but now if I saw a Duke of Edinburgh award on someone's CV, I would think this person is good at sticking at things.

"I now present gold awards, so I get to swan around Buckingham Palace. I remember Prince Philip commented on my hat when I went to get my award. He said something like 'nice hat', but for me, a 20-year-old, and my mother - well, we were just bowled over."

ANDREW COONEY

Andrew Cooney became the youngest person to walk to the South Pole in January 2003, aged 23. To achieve his goal he walked 730 miles and climbed 11,000 feet in wind-chill temperatures of minus 55C. He now spends his time touring schools, aiming to inspire young people to achieve their dreams.

"I left school in 1995 aged 16 and with dyslexia. I started doing Duke of Edinburgh while I was still at school, where I completed my bronze. After I left, I went on to complete my gold award with an independent group in Nottingham.

"I was also involved in the Scouts doing a lot of outdoor things with them. It was very much my life. I just loved going outdoors and being given opportunities for new challenges.

"It gave me such a feeling of achievement from the start, when I couldn't read a map, to my gold expedition when I was walking across the Outer Hebrides for three weeks.

"It really gave me the confidence to say I can do things, I can achieve things in my life and I can take up a challenge and go for it.

"It helped me with building personal relationships, working with other people and being part of a team.

"The thing everyone remembers about Duke of Edinburgh is that it rained on their expedition, but looking back on it, it doesn't really matter because you've achieved something and if you got a bit wet, well so what?

"I'd encourage all young people to try the award and not to give up just because it's hard. Life isn't easy but the more you persevere, the more satisfaction you get when you finish."


SEE ALSO:
Minister calls for variety in school
14 Apr 04  |  Education


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