Identifying the Need and Method
It was during the operation of the Red Phonebox project in the City of Edinburgh – in which young people with a range of different disabilities or special needs receive an appointment based 1:1 support for their involvement in the DofE, that it quickly became evident their Expedition would require a distinctive approach. Although the Expedition section of the DofE has, for well over 20 years allowed for a flexible balance between time spent on a project theme and journeying, the reality is that the majority continue to focus much more on the distance travelled by the young people, on traveling. This approach tends to exclude rather than include those with special needs. So from the outset, it was clear that any Expedition for the Red Phonebox participants and a small number of other similar young people known to be looking for a Gold Expedition, would need to be a `project based` venture.
Running `open` Expeditions in which the young people come from different organisations or groups, and don`t know each other at the start, carries with it a number of challenges; especially given that a key part of the Expedition centres on the need for team-work.
With some earlier experiences in running Expedition ventures for this target audience, it was clear that a `mixed ability` approach seemed to work well, with non-disabled being supportive to those that needed that additional support. This same previous experience had shown the need for a higher level of volunteer and leader in-put as part of the training necessary, and that the training requirement would need to be at a pace appropriate to the young people`s abilities.
From these, and a number of other significant factors, emerged the need for a largely project based mixed ability open Gold venture which would expressly be inclusive for all concerned. This then was the genesis for what became known as Xplore 0-ten.
The Red Phonebox project provided the initial core leadership to take the venture forward, with Peter Wright and Louise Speedie venturing their time, talents and commitment. At various stages along the way, other leaders with specific skills or qualifications were brought in to provide particular training or supervision requirements. Hazel Oates a former leader with the City of Edinburgh OAG also volunteered her commitment to support some of the young people she had worked with earlier.
Throughout all of this, the maintenance or development of consistent relationships with the young people concerned, was clearly of much importance.
Recruitment and Group Development
The young people were recruited from three main sources: The Red Phonebox, the former City of Edinburgh Open Award Group, and from St Augustine`s RC High School. Following initial discussion with the young people to identify a theme or `purpose` for the project, a development weekend was held at Wiston Lodge which involved Penny Radway, Manager of The Green Team. With her range of skills and enthusiasm, the young people were able to start to explore the theme which they had chosen - `The Living Forest`. They were also able to use activities related to this theme to begin to get to know each other and share experiences as a group.
Locations and Funding
The two most suitable locations for the training and final project activity were identified as Queen Elizabeth Forest Park (QEFP) in the Trossachs, and Atholl Estates in Blair Atholl respectively. These locations were chosen as being suitable for wheelchair access and their variety of different woodland habitats. It was agreed to seek some external funding as it was clear that this venture could be a costly exercise. An initial application to Postcode Lottery Trust was unsuccessfull. The next target was Young Roots, which is administered by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). The application process for this is complex and detailed, so Kim Smith (one of the older participants) and Louise invested much time and effort on preparing the application, which was duly submitted, with FOTA as the applicant organisation. The bid was a success, and thanks are due to HLF for providing much of the funding for `The Living Forest` project.
Two training weekends were held in QEFP, with camping a few kilometres west of Aberfoyle. An introduction to the forest was kindly provided on each occasion by …… Education Officer from the RSPB and Forestry Commission. DofE leaders with specific qualifications provided the necessary group training and supervision. Their talents in providing the young people with the skills they would need was invaluable. Members of the leader team provided particular young people with support relevant to their specific needs. It was at this point that the importance of consistent relationships referred to earlier, really came to the fore.
The Final Project
The evidence for the success of this venture lies, in part at least, in the quality of project reports that both of the teams have produced, and are published within this document. Both groups also gave high quality verbal and IT based reports to the Assessor and other leaders.
But this is of course only part of the story. Having worked with and supported most of these young people for over 2 years, it gives real pleasure to see them complete this section of their DofE. There were challenges aplenty for them, and they responded with both good humour and determination – it was a joy to observe. Each brought their particular talent or interest to bear on the team effort. Some will have discovered that they are more creative than they had imagined hitherto, most will have found that they have developed new skills and even interests too, all have effectively explored the woodland environment in a variety of different ways, and every one can justly feel proud of their achievements.
Xplore-0ten was first and foremost a group effort, and whilst two of the young people encountered the limits to their involvement along the way, they added their contribution and resolve in ways that everyone both valued and appreciated. Together, all of the young people and the leaders have established another benchmark for inclusive and relevant DofE Expedition – others will surely want to adopt this model. Friends of the Award is pleased to have been the vehicle for this success story, and the leader team is simply delighted that a number of young people have achieved something special.
Download the full report: Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Group ‘The Living Forest’.