2017 DofE

An unexpected reward. July 2017

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I believe in the Award, I do so because I believe the expedition section delivers things to our future generations that the educational system does not.

We teach our participants to  deal with risk in a responsible fashion, we do not seek to remove the risk as so many of our institutions do, rather we seek to train these guys to act appropriately in the context of their situation and think for themselves.

We teach them how and then leave it up to them to prove they can.

I believe in high standards, I believe that failure to reach these standards can result in deferment of the individual or the group, I do not seek to defer groups and I see even the assessment as an opportunity for education and further training but I do believe that participants must show the correct attitude and ability to the level of the award being undertaken. They have to understand that failure/deferment ( call it what you will ) is a real option that only they and the actions of their group can influence, In other words its up to them. The participants have to be fit enough and mature enough to be safe and they have to show they are to take part in an unaccompanied assessed expedition, the physical challenge must be right for the group, not reduced to make it accessible for those who do not try to get fit. There are other expeditions that can facilitate individuals with special requirements. The groups have to show discipline and ability, be appropriately equipped and actually want to be there. I love my job, I love training individuals to cope in the environment I love.

However, at the end of “silly season” I have become a bit weary/jaded, a tad cynical, DofE battle weary. As a busy AAP ( Approved Activity Provider) we have just facilitated expeditions for over 100 groups ( approximately 700 participants ) in a three week period, predominantly at the higher end of the award system. This means that I have spent three weeks continuously in the hills and mountains of Wales being up at 0530 and getting into bed at around 2200/2300 hours every day. I walk the hills every day, I sleep in campsites and in remote car parks in my van.

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We deal with the spectrum of issues, arrogant kids who think that we will make the award happen for them and look down their nose at instructors, ones who do not listen to any advice, turn up ill prepared and expect the sun to shine and everything to be fine. Kids who think that the safety advise we give is designed to limit their enjoyment and end up with heat exhaustion, dangerous sun burn, dehydration, sliced digits and chronic fatigue through not eating properly. Blisters, exploding boots and rucksacks, damaged tents, sprained ankles, chaffing ( in the most embarrassing places ) you name it, we see it, most of it completely avoidable.

We also see and get the brunt of a whole range of other issues from badly managed and/or trained groups or other companies/organisations who do not take the award seriously and do not apply the same standards that we do.

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We and our groups are kept awake in campsites by other groups who think it is OK to run around and be loud till late, then we get the complaints from other campsite owners who do not separate our groups from thiers. We see five or six groups all following the same route, walking together, chatting to each other and their friends on their phones whilst our groups are all on discrete routes and in different campsites and we are asked why they ( our groups) have to follow such strict disciplines when others do not. We pick up litter and discipline other groups for their behaviour because their instructors are sitting in their cars parked in farm access tracks or on verges incurring the wrath of working farmers. We clean up remote wild campsites that are never checked by the groups instructors, we see other companies camping with their kids, asking them to phone in at every checkpoint, giving out tents and food at campsites blah blah blah, the list is endless. Trackers ! do not mention trackers to me, the bane of the DofE in my humble giving supervisors the ability to sit in cafes all day and never actually see what their groups are up to on the hill.

Do not think that I condemn all others, that is not the case, there are many other AAP’s and organisations out there doing a great job with the resources and funds that they have at their disposal, its just the one bad apple in the barrel syndrome.

I also have to deal with occasional instructors who think that our standards are too high, that they have to work too hard for us by pushing for the standards that we expect, after all it is much easier to let a group away with a rubbish project, poor camp craft or behaviour that to constantly pick them up on it. Other companies let groups get away with it and pay the same amount so why should we ask them to push for better.

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It is no wonder that we get just a tad weary, it could be so much easier, just go with the flow, let the standards slip, don’t worry, after all who will give us any hassle over it, there is no one out there checking after all.

We also of course have a whole load of success, kids and young adults who really benefit from the experience, have a life changing expedition with people who will stay friends for life. Who gain in confidence and just “get” what it is all about, that it is not just a “tick in the box” but an opportunity, something from which to really benefit.

It can be a fight tho.

Then out of the blue comes an e-mail from one individual that makes it all absolutely worth while. Someone who struggled through the expedition, was not particularly a physical person, someone who I pushed to complete a demanding route in difficult conditions. Someone ( part of a group ) of whom I asked the question at the end of the expedition whether or not they thought they had passed. The response was ” We are waiting for you to tell us” my answer, why do you need me to tell you you have done well, surely you must know yourself, if you go through life expecting people to tell you you have done well you are going to be disappointed, generally you will only be told when you are not doing well, fair, no its not fair but life isn’t guys.

KSG Bronze

I did not realise it would have such an impact.

Dear Chris,

I just wanted to write this email to express my thanks for speaking to us on our D of E expedition this week.

I had been suffering with an eating disorder and depression, and was incredibly unclear on who I was, what I wanted to do, why I was even doing medicine. But when you spoke to us at the seaside at the end of the expedition, I suddenly felt clarity. What you said about self validation, taking on challenges in life, and giving things a go without expecting reward from someone really struck me. Personally, I am the type of person who gets bored easily, and I love to be challenged. I want to live my life to the absolute fullest, and in that regard, you are one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever met.

The Gold D of E has truly been an enlightening experience and I cannot thank you enough. I feel like I have an entirely different perspective to life, and I want to carry this forward and apply it to every day life. That clarity that I feel now is indescribable. I feel like I know who I am now and I have you to thank for it.

In my gap year I plan to live in the slums of Mumbai, India for a month, and then I plan to teach English in a rural village in lakhimpur, Assam. Previously just the idea of having no wifi would make my heart skip a beat but now I cannot tell you how excited I am.

Perhaps this email sounds really odd coming from an 18 year old who went camping in snowdonia for a week. Nevertheless, I felt the need to thank you.

I wish you the best of luck in your future adventures. Thank you again for everything. Although we will never meet again, I will never forget the things you have said.

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The Year start afresh March 2017

Lets compare our traditional three score years and ten to the calendar year. March, by default, puts us squarely into the middle of the teenage years and firmly into adolescence. It’s a fair analogy, the year is blooming into beauty, cherry and apple blossom festoons the otherwise bare branches, Magnolia buds swell, open and display their hidden treasures in the village gardens, woodland flowers are bursting through the autumn mulch and turning their rosy cheeks towards the light, the hawthorns have a fuzz of green upon them like an adolescent chin sprouting downy growth. Its imminent, the energy is latent, you can feel it but whatever it is, its not here yet, the year in its teenage angst is full of incipient power.

A carpet of flowers

I travel through this on a day to day basis, the signs of coming spring are there but the temperature does not follow suit, the cold wind harries me through t-shirt and fleece and chills my bones, the sun has no real warmth, when it decides to shine, unless you can find a sheltered corner away from the wind.

The birds are singing in the morning and evening but my circadian rhythms are still set on winter time, its difficult to pull myself out of bed to face another chilly day under concrete skies. Like the rooks in the trees I know its coming but its not here yet.

Then one day, all of a sudden, the fields are green, the rape is not sprouting thorough the soil but its 18 inches tall and is turning the field the colour of the rising sun. The rooks are sitting on eggs in the smooth mud and feather lined interior of their twiggly jumbles, the year is afoot and somehow it caught you out, no one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.

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The DofE season is just a bit like this as well, we wander through January and February doing weekend work in the schools, training groups and setting routes for the coming season, the diary for the year ahead is full, the staff are in place, campsites are booked, tents and stoves are cleaned and serviced awaiting the whistle.

Then all of a sudden its upon you, the first expedition comes and you realize you were not quite ready, rucksacks are missing something, there is only one gaiter in the van, you forgot to pack your spork, or your lighter or your gloves, your compass has a bubble in it there is always something. The endless round of preparing course information packs, drying tents, turning them around in the time frames which seem to become ever shorter between each expedition, typing reports and watching the weather forecasts always takes you by surprise, a bit like a punch in the solar plexus, you can see it coming but it still knocks the breath out of you.

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Our first outing was with 14 groups on a Bronze practice in the Cotswolds, the weather was kind to us, the sun actually came through on occasion, it was warmish and the drizzle from the generally leaden skies never really warranted wet weather kit being hunted out of rucksacks, the cloudy skies meant however that night time temperatures stayed high, everyone slept well.

Navigational skills are sharpened, there is nothing like teaching a subject to someone else to make you good at it yourself, a sense of wonder returns as you point out the springtime environment to your charges. 80 odd kids leave, many having undertaken their first ever-camping trip, tired, sore footed but hopefully full of achievement, inspired and confident, to a degree, for their forthcoming asessed.

From there it was onto Dartmoor almost immediately and into the grim, Dartmoor when it is foul is foul, there is nothing afterall between the moor and the Atlantic.

Dartmoor Grim

Dartmoor Grim

The four gold groups exited the warmth of their minibus into rain which just got heavier and colder as the northerly wind pushed it through crack or crevice in wet weather kit. The cloud is down on the tops, the rain is turning to sleet, the first night wild camp was abandoned for the less soggy security of a basic campsite, the grim however did not persist and the days steadily improved to give us warm sunshine on the gently steaming and spongy moor.

The groups finished at Fernworthy, the house martins were crissing and crossing the surface of the water as they scooped up the emerging insects, its only mid March but the martins are back providing an ariel disply to the courting great crested grebes below their flight paths on the reservoir.

Now we are into it, twelve groups out in the Mendips suffer brutal nighttime temperatures but lovely warm daytime sunshine; this is followed by six expeditions over the next week or so.

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Mendips DofE credit Andy Chamberlain

Some in the Brecons, some in the New Forest the whirlwind is firmly upon us as we hit the first peak of the year.

I am not grumbling, I love it, the constant challenge, the stream of new participants in the differing levels all requiring a different approach. Revisiting the wilder places as they awake to a new year, watching the world come of age whilst its still fresh and full of rapid change.

Maybe I will find time to get a day out climbing in the sun, I can live in hope.