Young folk often get a bad press these days but volunteering on the Duke of Edinburgh scheme has shown me that it’s just not true. As a teacher at a large city school, we have nearly 80 14-15 year olds taking part in the Bronze award, and for most of them it’s their first experience of the great outdoors. When I was at school I was lucky enough to participate in the scheme to Gold level and this really started my love of walking – but I wouldn’t have had the chance without dedicated staff giving up their time to make it happen. 15 years on and I now find myself in a position to do the same, and it’s such a fulfilling role. Throughout the qualifying expedition, our kids have faced down blisters, sunburn and heavy rucksacks with nothing but enthusiasm and singing. Lots of singing! When reflecting on their expedition I asked them what they had found most surprising, and the answer was “that we actually enjoyed it”. I think many of them had been dreading the thought of 2 days hard hiking in the Lakes, but when it came to it they loved the sense of getting away from it all. It was heartening as well to see them getting off their phones in the evening for impromptu games of rounders and tag, and the enthusiastic response when asked if they wanted to carry on to complete Silver and Gold.
Personally, I had endured a really difficult couple of weeks in the grown up world before the expedition, but being in the company of these sometimes crazy, often hilarious young people for the weekend, seeing them play, support each other and discover how much fun they can have in the outdoors made all of the stress melt away, yet more proof of the benefits of the outdoors for mental health. So it was with tired legs but joyous hearts and happy memories that we returned to school on Monday, everyone having taken something really positive from the experience. So my message is this – let’s all do our bit to encourage young people to get into the outdoors, whether it be by giving up your time to organisations like the Scouts or D of E, or just smiling and encouraging them when you see them in the hills (or hear them coming from a mile away with “Where is the Love” blaring out!!!)