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Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme restarts in north-east

A group from the Aberdeen Open Awards Centre pitch a tent at Tyrebagger.
A group from the Aberdeen Open Awards Centre pitch a tent at Tyrebagger.

The Duke of Edinburgh awards scheme restarted at the weekend when a north-east volunteer group met for the first time in over a year.

The Aberdeen Open Awards Centre (AOAC) met on Saturday after more than 12 months following the relaxation of Covid restrictions which now allows for greater numbers of people to gather outdoors.

The session was also the first for volunteers following the death of the programme’s founder – the Duke of Edinburgh Prince Philip.

DCT Media photographer Paul Glendell, who also volunteers his time with the AOAC, attended to capture their training at Tyrebagger’s woodland.

Paul said: “It was great to finally see the students in person and that they all came along to the practice day.

“It has been difficult teaching them practical skills online but they soon got the hang of putting up the tents and simple navigation”

He added his own children completed the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme (DofE) three years ago, which inspired him to get involved with volunteering.

“It is so good to see the students learn to work together, navigate in the hills and experience the amazing countryside we have around us,” he said.

“For most of them it is the first time they have camped out and certainly the first time they have done wild camping. We supervise the groups from a distance, always being close at hand but trying to leave them to be together to experience the countryside without too much interference from the supervisors.”

Donald Grassie who helps coordinate the DofE scheme.

Donald Grassie of the AOAC, who helped lead the training at the weekend, added most people completed their DofE through school or uniformed organisation like the Boys’ Brigade.

“But some of them can do it through an open award centre – and we take people from all sorts of backgrounds,” he said.

“This is the first time we’ve actually got together because we’ve done all our training on Zoom over the past year.

“Normally we would have a lot of practical sessions through that, but we’ve been unable to hold them because we couldn’t meet.

“So this is the first opportunity for us to get together and go through various aspects of camp craft, navigation, and first aid.”

A group of scheme hopefuls begin to navigate Tyrebagger as part of the DofE programme.

Scheme hopefuls took part in four challenges during the weekend.

As well as navigating Tyrebagger itself, they were tasked with setting up tents, first aid, and cooking.

DofE hopeful Penny Irvine said: “It’s a bit weird (being outside together).

“We’ve been doing the Zooms online, but it’s good to be out here now and see everyone in real life.”

The DofE was started in 1956 by Prince Philip and is today completed in more than 140 countries.

Originally for boys only between the ages of 15 to 18, the scheme was expanded two years later to include girls.

It is now a year-long process in which participants gain awards from bronze to gold dependant on progress and length of time within the programme.

The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, died in April. Picture by PA.

Following the death of Prince Philip in April, former DofE volunteers have flooded the programme’s website with messages of thanks.

They include memories of meeting the Duke and tributes to his character.

Amy Lowbridge posted the DofE taught her “so much and made me who I am today.”

“Not only was it the best experience, I met my fiancé on my gold award and we have now been together 10 years,” she added.

And Mike Walters, who has completed more than 40 expeditions for the DofE, said: “They say it takes a village to raise a child.

“I say the DofE experience can help form that village. What an inspired idea the whole programme is: long may it continue!”

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