Gold, Silver or Bronze - How the Duke of Edinburgh Awards inspired a Generation

With the recent sad passing of HRH The Prince Philip of Edinburgh, a spotlight has been firmly set on the impeccable level of service that he gave both to the UK and the Commonwealth throughout his long life. A life spent highlighting and supporting good causes both home and away, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh also advocated the importance of young people. Championing youngsters by encouraging them to learn essential skills and to gain valuable life experiences through his unique scheme - the Duke of Edinburgh Awards.

duke of edinburgh

The Duke of Edinburgh or DofE Awards have inspired many throughout its history, influencing millions of young people over generations, including some of our most famous explorers and celebrities alike.

In a post-war Britain, His Royal Highness was keen to think of a national solution to support the development of young people. The scheme was originally inspired to ‘bridge the gap’ between a formal education and National Service, giving young men (at the time) the opportunity to utilise their free time in order to discover new interests and to build self-confidence. In February 1956, a pilot for The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award was launched. Focussing on four sections: Rescue and Public Service, Expeditions, Pursuits and Projects and Fitness.

The pilot quickly built momentum and expanded rapidly to include Local Education Authorities, the Navy, Army and RAF. After its first year, 7,000 boys had started the awards scheme and 1,000 Awards had been achieved. In its second year, a programme for girls soon followed, with the number of organisations and young adults taking part, more than doubling.

Throughout its history, the Duke of Edinburgh Awards’ popularity continued to grow and develop. Fast forward to 2021 and although we live in a completely different digital age to date, over 130 countries and territories around the world offer DofE programmes. With an impressive 6.7 million young people taking part in the scheme within the UK alone.

Chief Scout Bear Grylls recently shared with BBC Radio 4 that the Duke of Edinburgh had been “a total inspiration to me because he was all about encouraging other people, and empowering young people to get out there and live their lives with eyes wide open and full of anticipation and excitement and service”. (2)

duke of edinburgh awards map reading

Credit: Pixabay

But it’s not all backpacks, tents and muddy hiking boots, although these do feature highly amongst the challenges within the plethora of activities within the DofE scheme. There is much more to it than that. There is a sense of deep fondness for the scheme from its participants, past and present. Listening to people’s experiences there is a common theme that runs throughout; an element of the life experiences learnt and the quality time spent, bonding with friends and like minded individuals, whatever the weather, across a variety of landscapes. These experiences have helped to shape the lives of so many.

“Everyone should have adventure in their life and the DofE gives you the taste for it. Going outside your comfort zone, trying new things, visiting different places, meeting new people - these are all character building experiences that set you on an exciting life journey.”
Charley Boorman

It is no surprise then that The Duke of Edinburgh Awards gave insight and drive to youngsters to follow their dreams in exploration and have inspired much loved modern explorers and adventurers.

Speaking to National Geographic, explorer Levison Wood describes how his experience of completing a DofE Award “gave me an insight into life beyond my own village as a teenager, it inspired me to travel, taught me the beauty of the outdoors, saved me from getting into serious trouble and got me into the British Army as an Officer. I can thank the Award scheme for providing me with the confidence, skills and motivation to embark on the life of my choosing. I can say honestly that I would not have achieved any of the things I have done without that lift in life early on.” (2)

Sir David Hempleman-Adams whose epic adventures saw him both become the first person to climb every continent’s highest mountain and reach both the North and South Poles, completed the DofE’s bronze, silver and gold awards as a young adult. Speaking to ‘i’ he explained that the Duke of Edinburgh awards “influenced me in such a powerful way at such an early age, it’s done the same thing for millions of people around the world.” (3)

Other famous faces who have completed a Duke of Edinburgh Award include The Duchess of Cambridge, Olympian Dame Kelly Holmes, Paralympian and Five Times Gold Medallist Hannah Cockroft, actress Alice Beer and naturalist Steve Backshall amongst others.

 duke of edinburgh hiking

Credit: Pixabay

We spoke to Marcus, owner of The Future Mapping Co. who also has fond memories of his own DofE journey as he recalls: “I remember The Duke of Edinburgh for time spent walking in the hills with school friends. We were at an age when our maps skills were maybe not as honed as they could have been and we got seriously lost on many occasions. We soon realised that getting lost meant more miles and we quickly got better.

These were days where much time was spent trying to read a map and I am sure my love and appreciation for an Ordnance Survey map bloomed during these hikes.

I will still never forget the morning I woke up in my tent to the sound of rain, unremarkable as it was the sound I had gone to sleep to! I was though aware that something was different, yes I had somehow been granted the lavish addition of a water bed. I unzipped my tent (thank goodness no canvas!) and was greeted with the sight of a field of tents floating on a lake. Admittedly not very deep, but the decision to laugh or cry had never been more present in my life.”

With an impressive roll call of high achievers who have participated in the Duke of Edinburgh Awards to the thousands who are currently taking part in their own DofE journey be it Bronze, Silver or Gold. The legacy HRH Prince Philip leaves behind with this unique award scheme for young people is mightily impressive. May it long continue and go from strength to strength in future years by continuing to inspire the next generations of travellers, explorers and adventurers.


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Main Image - Credit : The Hertfordshire & Essex High School and Science College