Derek has seen DofE participation grow to record levels

01 February 2016

2016 is the Silver Jubilee year for the Duke of Edinburgh Award. Youth Connexions is celebrating the 60th year of this initiative with a series of experiences from people involved in the awards. This is Derek Clarke’s story…

Derek Clarke For Web 1

During the Autumn of 1974 a young volunteer accompanied his first Duke of Edinburgh’s Bronze Award group to the New Forest. Offering encouragement and sharing his expertise in wild camping with the six young people during that freezing cold weekend, twenty-one-year-old Derek Clarke would probably have laughed had you told him that forty years later he would still be involved with the Award – but he is.

Former teacher and Award Leader at Broxbourne School, now DofE Co-ordinator for Richard Hale School, Derek is just as proud of the 3000 plus young people who have subsequently enjoyed working towards a Bronze, Silver or Gold Award. He attributes much of the current year-on-year increase in registrations at Bronze level to positive peer pressure. “I started DofE eleven years ago at Richard Hale with 25 young men. At the time it was hard work encouraging them to sign up as they knew so little about the Award, but having completed it and shared their success with others we now have 100 each year.”

Peer recommendation is nothing new. Although Award holders today are more likely to use social media to share their achievements than an end of year slide show, amongst current expedition volunteers are former Broxbourne pupils that did their DofE with Derek, before achieving outdoor leadership awards. “The Award inspired them and they want others to have the same opportunity,” he says.

Asked to sum up what it is about the DofE Award that makes it different to other youth achievements, Derek explains: “young people get a lot out of it; they enjoy the challenge of working towards personal goals, as well as having an adventure to remember. Friendships are forged, along with the discovery of new interests and it also enhances their CV by demonstrating commitment whatever path they choose after school.”

It is not just the expedition section of the Award that is memorable. Derek smiles wryly: “They may say they only signed up to do the expedition but many end up saying that it is the volunteering they enjoyed most.” He explains that despite the name change to the more user-friendly, ‘Volunteering’ from ‘Service’, this section can still be met with reluctance, mainly due to the time commitment and the dedication required. However in reality many young people find they enjoy being a peer mentor, sports leader, or volunteering in the community, with some continuing to volunteer long after completing their Award.

This diversity of opportunities, which continues across all four sections of the Award, no doubt contributes to Hertfordshire’s consistently higher than average completion rate for the Award at all levels. 

A veteran Marshall at Gold Award Ceremonies at Buckingham and St. James Palace, Derek laughs whilst recalling some memorable moments over the years.

“Back in the day girls had to wear hats and gloves to receive their Award. One year a young woman had forgotten hers so she borrowed a teacher’s mortarboard. Curtseying to accept her Award and congratulating herself on getting away with it, she was amazed to hear a smiling Duke of Edinburgh whisper, “where did you nick the hat?””  

The dress code may have relaxed slightly but according to Derek, the Duke of Edinburgh, who still personally presents Awards, remains the same. “He is still interested and enthusiastic. He visibly enjoys talking to young people about their achievements and congratulates them on doing their very best.”

Do you have an experience you could share with us? Whether you are a volunteer or a previous participant, we would love to hear from you. Please email or call 01992 588225.

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