In delivering her opening address at this year's DofE Celebration Evening Mrs Kyle, Head of Girls’ Division at Bolton School, reminded the audience of pupils and parents about the dedication that is required to achieve the award and of all the lifelong benefits that successful completion brings. In the last year, 96 boys and girls achieved their Silver Award and 29 their Gold Award.
Prior to the presentation of awards, several students offered their perspective on achieving Silver or Gold, recounting some of their experiences and the life-skills that they had learnt along the way. Silver Award recipient Olivia Melling recalled paddling for three days on a canal for her practice expedition and how one of her group ended up falling in! Lessons were heeded, she said, and the girls then knew what to take when it came to the actual expedition. She also recalled how she volunteered as a netball coach for Year 7 girls, how she got involved with Young Enterprise and developed her physical fitness through netball.
Charlotte Harris, also a Silver Award recipient, spoke of her adventures canoeing on the River Ouse and how this inspired her to take up kayaking, which she has since enjoyed in North Wales, the Lake District and on the River Irwell. Tennis at Markland Hill Racquets Club enabled her to pass her physical section, where she also volunteered. The undertaking of a First Aid course saw her fulfil the requirements of the skills section. Charlotte told how she had been given a new set of skills for adulthood, including a new-found confidence, the ability to work collaboratively and advanced map reading capabilities!
The third Silver Award speaker, Veer Patel, told how he had found the DofE experience to be ‘incredibly rewarding’. He told the audience how he had developed his resilience and perseverance during an arduous expedition in the Lakes, volunteered as a Troop Leader at Scouts, played hockey as his physical challenge and an instrument in order to pass his skill section. He felt the award would be hugely beneficial to him as a person.
Gold Award recipient Arian Pomian spoke about the five days and four nights on expedition and about how much he enjoyed his residential in Oxfordshire working for Mencap. He told how the qualification is hard work but well worth it, as it is so highly valued by universities and employers. He said it had given him a great sense of achievement and helped him build up a whole range of personal skills, including working independently and as part of a team.
Two Gold Award Sixth Form girls, Hannah McKee and Halimah Natha, spoke about their experiences – one had undertaken a Christian outdoor pursuits challenge in the Lakes for five days and the other had resided at an outdoor activity centre with the NCS scheme. They both agreed that the expedition was a big challenge but character building as they fought off midges, the fog, a disintegrating boot and struggled with wet, heavy bags. They recalled how they had needed to dig deep when, after four hours, they realised they were only halfway up Skiddaw. Having learnt from bitter experience, they advised the audience that public signs are there to help you! Despite getting lost, they had no regrets whatsoever.
The guest speaker for the evening was John McCarthy, an outdoor enthusiast and expedition leader, who occasionally works with groups from Bolton School’s adventure learning centre, Patterdale Hall. John reflected on how being an instructor is the best job in the world. He recalled how, aged 10, he went on his first residential with school and had his first experience of climbing. He realised his body could do amazing things and, from then on, he had a role – as the boy who rescued footballs stuck in trees and on school rooves. He also recalled the liberation of walking up Skiddaw with a group of friends as a 15 year old. He admitted to not achieving the Gold DofE Award but did get to go to Buckingham Palace to collect his Chief Scout’s Award. In his late teens and early 20s, he said the great outdoors became his life.
John told of once being on the outskirts of the music industry and of managing the largest record store in London for 3 or 4 years. During that time, he said, his life was about earning money, going to gigs and having fun in the outdoors. He reflected on how music had given him lots of great lines which he often quotes to people and told of Pink Floyd’s track Free Four, from their 1972 Obscured by Clouds album, which tells the story of an old man looking back on his life – the memories of an old man being the deeds of a young man.
John admitted to not always making the most sensible decisions and told how as a young man, having hitchhiked to Acapulco, he dived off the 100 foot cliffs in an attempt to emulate Elvis in one of his movies!
The speaker then recalled how, in his 40s at a dinner party with three friends, they conceived the idea of ‘lunarantics’. The idea was that every full moon, they and like-minded souls would head out for different moonlit micro-adventures. The project has grown in size from the initial four friends to up to 42 participants; a group, which he said, has become a supportive gang of mates. He quoted the saying ‘people like people like themselves’ and told how there is always a great deal of laughter on their outings and how cheese is their supper of choice. At Christmas, he said they like to indulge in a 10-course outdoor meal.
John admitted to there being a fine line between adventure and misadventure, recounting the story of their first jaunt to ‘invade Scotland by boat’ and how, on their return, they were met by the coastguard in the Solway Firth! He told how he had done 110 lunarantic evenings and how, on the whole, they have been remarkably incident-free. Except, he said, the night we lost Andy and the night Tim only had one job to do! These two events were actually chapters in his book ‘Full Moon Lunarantics’ which, he said, captures the fun, adventure and friendship enjoyed by the group. Membership involves a certain amount of risk and people need to be resilient and committed. He told how the concept has inspired others who have set up similar groups around the world – in places as diverse as Munich, West Virginia, the Forest of Dean and Inverness! The next full moon, he advised the audience, is on Friday 5 May – why not have an adventure?
John finished by telling students that he hoped they would all become leaders of industry and his parting advice was that if you find something you like doing, then do it to the best of your ability and practise until others will pay you to do it.