Yesterday I went to London to collect my Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award. It was a lovely day out and the visit to St James Palace was really exciting. But really this was just the very last part of an eight year journey.
I started participating in the Duke of Edinburgh Award (DofE) scheme with my school when I was 13, working through Bronze, Silver and finally Gold awards. For each award you must complete an activity for a period of months from each of three sections, Physical, Skill and Service. As well as this for each award you must complete an expedition. Mine were all hiking on foot but can range from horse riding to canoeing or tall ship sailing. As well as looking good on a CV the award pushes participants to try new things and develop their own experiences further.
During my time doing the awards I learnt how to sword fight, use a compass, play three musical instruments and volunteered with both the Scout Association and as my university college's Environment Representative. This was one of my favourite activities as I got to work closely with staff and students to improve the green credential's of the college which is home to hundreds of students.
For the Gold Award there is also a residential section, for which you must spend 5 days and 4 nights away from home on a shared activity with people you don't know. I spent a fortnight on the RSPB's Fairburn Ings reserve volunteering with habitat restoration, path laying (after the very heavy floods in 2007) and membership events. It was one of the experiences that helped me choose environment and conservation as a career. I stayed in a house owned by the charity which was used by an ever changing group of volunteers.
The highlight of yesterday was meeting HRH the Duke of Edinburgh and briefly talking to him about Durham's DofE university group, with whom I completed my award two years ago. However, meeting royalty really doesn't compare to all the experiences I've had through the awards scheme and the skills and friends I've gained will stay with me forever.