Maurice says “Go for it – you won’t regret it!”

07 January 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 Maurice Wells’ story,,…

We are used to hearing about children inheriting things from their parents like the colour of their eyes or the shape of their nose, but Maurice and Anna Wells share more than the average father and daughter – they have both achieved a Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award, albeit it 36 years apart.

Maurice said “I never pushed her to do it – she knew I loved it, but she just wanted the challenge and I’m proud of her for it.”

Maurice was encouraged to sign up for his Gold Award whilst volunteering at his local youth club. In the 36 years that followed, he enjoyed a successful career in BT before coming full circle back to volunteering for the award in Hertfordshire.

Maurice Photo 2

Maurice, centre, at Buckingham Palace to receive his award, with his father (left) and General Manager of central area telephones in the GPO Mr Hitchcock

Now he is a part-time youth support worker running a busy community based Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme in St Albans. Maurice explains “I have seen so many changes, but essentially the award remains the same: exciting, challenging and an experience that gives you memories you never forget.”

One of those changes is reflected in Anna’s choice to undertake the Award. “When I first started in 1977, the DofE was still mainly considered a young man’s thing. There were a few girls but they were far outnumbered by the boys. There were even different rules for boys and girls!”

This gender difference was not confined to Maurice’s area. Founded in 1956, the Award was originally for boys aged 15 to 18 and whilst this changed in 1958 to include girls, a single programme for young people aged 14 to 21 was not launched until 1969, extending to up to age 25 in 1980. Fast-forward to today and Maurice reports the vast majority of young people taking the challenge in the St Albans centre are female, with only three young men attending out of a group of thirty.

Huge shifts in social acceptability are also apparent in the choices Maurice made for this award compared to Anna. In 1979 Maurice undertook wine making for his skills section, which included a visit to sample the product as well as learning about the fermenting and bottling process; in 2014 his daughter developed her driving skills to complete the Pass Plus test. Whilst accepting that Maurice was over 18 at the time so no laws were broken, it is hard to envisage modern DofE award leaders agreeing to a skill that involves alcohol!

Both father and daughter undertook their Gold Expedition in the Lake District. The beauty and wildness of the area, as well as the 50 mile walk, had a profound effect on Maurice. “I fell in love with place, despite the extreme cold and hardships we faced along the way. One of our team had hyperthermia and Mountain Rescue was called, but the rest of us kept going and made it to the end. I have visited the Lake District every year since then, including taking young people for their expeditions.”

Similarly, Anna says that despite wet boots, below zero temperatures and pouring rain, it is the team spirit and the friendships forged over long hours walking that make the expedition her favourite part of all three awards. As Maurice puts it, “out there normal rules don’t apply. You are in the countryside and have to sort yourself out. You need to be properly trained and ready for anything – but it is still a great thing to do.”

Unlike her father, who undertook an assessment to become a direct entrant to Gold level, Anna has progressed through Bronze, Silver and Gold and is currently awaiting her invite to the Palace to receive her Award. Maurice still remembers his own Award Ceremony clearly, from walking across the gravel at the front of Buckingham Palace to looking out of the palace windows at the back garden, sipping tea from china cups as he enjoyed the sense of tradition and, of course, using the Royal toilets!

So what would he say to any young person considering signing up for the DofE challenge today? “Go for it – you won’t regret it. The more you put in, the more you get out!”

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.

Find out more about the award here.