Awards Plus

Supporting Young People to Achieve

As the youth awards landscape evolves in exciting ways, an award scheme that’s been around since 2011 is having a revamp. Spring 2024 sees the launch of the Join in Award Scheme, or JAS, a refreshed version of JASS, the Junior Award Scheme for Schools.  

Designed as an entry-level award for children and young people, the Join in Award Scheme is for anyone who might enjoy and benefit from using it. It’s a self-guided way to encourage and record a range of activity and celebrate personal achievement. JAS also works well with older pupils with support needs and with adults who have learning difficulties.  

Read the full article here, download a summary here.


Here’s our first Awards Plus Newsletter of 2024. Read about what’s next for our 1:1 Mentoring work, a 25th anniversary celebration and an opportunity created by new 3-year funding…

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Three years of funding for Awards Plus 1:1 Mentoring work from the National Lottery Community Fund and Scottish Children’s Lottery concluded in November 2023. This generous backing, with a strong focus on our longstanding partnership with CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service), meant that hundreds of young people experiencing difficult mental health received direct support towards youth awards participation.  

We’re looking for 3-5-year funding and partnerships to take a longer-term and qualitative approach to this vital work. Read about the need and the opportunity, and let us know what you think of the priorities we’ve set out. 

Heather Hughes, 1:1 Awards Mentoring Manager, chats to E about her experiences with Awards Plus. For a download of this news item click here.

Read about E’s journey through Bronze, Silver and Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and John Muir Award participation, and the role of 1:1 mentoring support. “I needed support gaining confidence and new skills to be able to put myself out there…I’ve learned I can do things I never thought I would. It’s quite weird to reflect on that and remember all the things I’ve done which I didn’t think was possible for me.”

6 months of volunteering with Natural Connections at Heugh Community Garden sparked an interest which led to a course in Rural Skills. Overcoming Expeditions challenges built confidence to attend a residential on the Isle of Eigg, run by The Green Team: ” I thought it would be too stressful, but I really enjoyed it. Me and my mentor spoke about the things that were a barrier for me going, things that I was worried about. The leader was curious about my needs and took them seriously, which made a big difference for me. It was so much better than I thought. I want to go back! It was a fun and special place.” E has a target of reading 50 books for her DofE Gold Skills Section, a thread through all 3 DofE levels: “When I was younger I didn’t read at all, you couldn’t pay me to pick up a book! It’s been a big change for me to get so passionate about reading.”

Download Heather’s full interview with E here

To download a PDF copy of this news item click here.

A triple-header event in late-November combined a celebration of 25 years of Friends of the Award, a launch of a new identity as Awards Plus, and a presentation of current work covering nature-based youth awards, Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Expeditions and 1:1 Mentoring. Yes, it was an evening packed with personal reflections, visuals and ‘aha!’ moments of reconnection. 

FOTA-Founder Peter Wright kicked things off with a reminisce about founding principles, radiating a perennial enthusiasm. Accessibility and inclusion, a mission to create resources, a focus on targeted support were original key ingredients and still evident in 2023. An approving nod from Peter is always welcome: “It was a joy to see all of the varied contributions to the proceedings – and to see the rebranded organisation. Many congratulations!” 

Two groups gave presentations about their Silver DofE Qualifying Expeditions in the Scottish Borders. The words ‘error’, ‘5k detour’, ‘dilemma’ and ‘challenge’ accompanied navigation descriptions. The Tweed Valley and Glentress plantation forest bike trails were explored more extensively than might have been expected. Still, the blue skies of group photos looked more like June than November and the enthusiasm for expedition aims shone through. Goats Team researched the history of the area and visited the Polish Map of Scotland war memorial whilst the Milky Law Team took an impressive photography lens to the scenery and wildlife.  

Rob Bushby explained the journey from ‘Friends of the Award’ to ‘Awards Plus’ by way of consultation, partnering with Bold Studio’s Brand for Growth programme, a name and logo debate (noting that this was no longer up for a vote), to arrive at a fully-fledged new identity. Consider Awards Plus launched!

The strong visuals in resources are down to photographer Anna Pultar. Her stunning PowerPoint of expeditions, navigation training and 1:1 Mentoring sessions transported the audience to an East Lothian summer evening, a verdant Dalkeith Country Park, the Water of Leith and a soggy Pentland Hills.

Duke of Edinburgh’s Award participation has grown year-on-year at Gracemount High School. Teacher and DofE lead Laura Bird explained the nature of the partnership with Awards Plus and how this has made a difference. “They all turned up, every single one, no flakers. 32 pupils have been supported through their DofE journey, cost-free to the school, in a disadvantaged learning community. It’s an opportunity they’d never have had without this support.” 

Heather Hughes, 1:1 Mentoring Manager, then outlined the nature of this mental health support work, ably assisted by Amy and Jerome with Arran (plus artwork) and Erica in attendance. Amy spoke so well that her line “I always thought of myself as a shy person” got a chuckle from the audience. Jerome’s deeply personal story captivated all. Post-event, a parent spoke of being “blown away by all the people doing so much to help young people”.  

Despite unavoidable absence, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services/CAMHS Occupational Therapist Julie Blackwood reflected on her 15 years of referrals via Heather with awards ceremony in absentia styling. “For young people attending CAMHS their experience of mental health difficulties has often interrupted and disrupted their access to opportunities available to other young people of their age. Being able to access a range of activities and develop skills can help them in ways that can stay with them into later life. The benefit of this cannot and must not be underestimated. I have witnessed for myself the difference that this project makes not only to the young people they work with but also their families. For some, it has been transformational. Working with Awards Plus can be a stepping-stone for young people, introducing them to experiences that can help contribute to their recovery, sense of mastery and wellbeing.”   

Time for certificates. As if to validate a rationale for ‘Awards Plus’, recipients of Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards, Heritage Hero Awards, John Muir Awards, National Navigation Awards, and Ramblers Scotland Out There Awards were represented.  

To wrap up, Chairman Patrick Neville outlined that ever-present need for a small charity to have security and funding and a 2023-25 Strategy. “We’ve looked back, celebrated our work in 2023, now we need to look ahead with confidence and ambition.” Trustee Dave Pyper thanked all the speakers, spanning decades and generations, with a heartfelt nod to the “inspirational” reflections of young people on their experiences and the impact of their relationship with Friends of the Award/Awards Plus. 

A parent commented “I was completely inspired by the young people’s stories, and how evident it was that this kind of support makes a difference. It’s been a wonderful representation of what support and achievement can look like for different people.” A final word goes to a young person as they left: “Yeah, it was alright”. 

Rob Bushby, Awards Plus Chief Executive, December 2023 

Thanks to all who attended, presented and contributed to a memorable event. Special thanks to City of Edinburgh Council and the Outdoor Learning Team for hosting at Bangholm Outdoor Learning Centre. 

To download a PDF of this news item click here.

Day walks…Walk-and-talk sessions…Expeditions. Walking is at the heart of Awards Plus.

The full spectrum of walking abilities, however, includes ‘limited walking’ and ‘not walking’. Bringing ‘Proxy Walks’ – walking for others – into our work with young people across Edinburgh and The Lothians as they participate in a range of nature-based youth awards adds a dimension to volunteering and sharing. It embraces creativity and consideration of others whilst prompting inter-generational exchanges. 

Losing the ability to walk might be due to age, disability, or chronic illness. It will have been a feature of life for some since birth. Long covid has impacted 2.3 million people in the UK, restricting walking abilities and creating new limits in life-changing ways for many.

Proxy Walks concept-creator, artist Alec Finlay has been exploring how walking for others has become an invaluable lifeline for many living with chronic health conditions. “It’s only in losing their freedom to walk that people realise what walking meant to them. Being unable to doesn’t switch off the desire to walk”. “All of us with chronic or terminal illness still have hopes, dreams and aspirations”, says Proxy Walk recipient Juliet Robertson.

A recent blog describes the first Proxy Walk and explains some of the thinking behind it.  

What’s a Proxy Walk? 

In a nutshell: walk | for someone else | share it with them

“The idea is that someone, anyone, will make a walk in a place for someone else, sharing a description of it”, says Alec. “The shared experience of a walk can help people feel less isolated and recover a sense of belonging. It’s a very simple idea, but also very powerful. It returns the idea of belonging in the world, or on a hill or in a park, to someone who feels they can’t. It’s an act of solidarity and empathy.” 

Who Can do a Proxy Walk?

Anyone who walks can do a Proxy Walk.

It’s ideal for participants in nature-based youth awards. Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Expeditions or Volunteering and the John Muir Award Share Challenge offer great tie-ins, for example. Opportunities abound in the Awards Plus Open Programme, in 1:1 Mentoring sessions, in schools and youth club settings.  

Who for?

A Proxy Walk can be for a family member, a housebound relative or neighbour. Or it might respond to a request from someone who’s ill, hospitalised, or less mobile than they used to be. They may have special memories of a particular place or appreciate sharing in a walking experience. 

We’re creating partnerships around such requests. “Our community members would love to have young people sharing walks with them” says the volunteering manager at an Edinburgh hospice. “Ted used to walk his dog along Cramond Shore every day. Towards the end of his life his eyesight deteriorated and he could no longer get out and about. For someone to share the sights, sounds and smells of the Forth would have made his day, absolutely.”  


  • Think of someone you know who will appreciate having a walk shared, or respond to a request to walk for someone (maybe someone you don’t know)
  • Walk
  • Share

There are many ways to share, from short and sweet to creative and artistic narratives. It will depend on what the walker wants to do and feels comfortable with, and what the walk-recipient would like to receive. This might be “Anywhere! Anything!” Or it might be a specific request for a special location, particular things to be shared, or a way of sharing. For example: “A photo of the Hibs ground from the top of Arthur’s Seat”. 

  • Note some suitable words – a short text message, something descriptive, a haiku 
  • Take a photo 
  • Facetime, send/make a video message 
  • Make a scrapbook – over time, through seasons, see Make This Book Wild 
  • From Alec: On the same day, for one hour, the recipient (non-walker) remembers a walk in the place they’ve nominated and the walker then describes that place by making notes as they walk through it.

Share in person, or by text, email, WhatsApp…or even a good old postcard or letter.  

For an update on Proxy Walks – examples, partnerships – contact

Join us in walking for someone who’ll appreciate it. 

Thanks to Alec Finlay for concept, images, support. For more background see this Paths for All blog

Photos: Anna Pultar Photography

#AwardsPlus #ProxyWalks

Here’s our first Awards Plus Newsletter! Read about a change of name from Friends of the Award, a new strategy, how Duke of Edinburgh’s Award participation has grown at Gracemount High School, art partners and 30 Days Wild.

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From crisp winter training walks in the Pentlands to golden wild-camp sunsets at Yellowcraigs, Gracemount High School pupils and staff have been public-transported from Gilmerton to all parts of The Lothians on their expeditions activity during 2023. Working in partnership with Awards Plus/Friends of the Award (funded by City of Edinburgh Council and supported by its Outdoor Learning team) DofE participation has expanded from 5 pupils in 2019 to 32 Bronze and Silver completions in 2023. 

“It’s opening my eyes to new places, to Scotland, to what’s on the doorstep.”  Take a look at a case study  here.

What’s in a name?  

It’s the first thing that creates identity. It’s a doorway, a hook, the readiest of reference points. For an organisation, it creates recognition and affects how it’s perceived. A name carries meaning and influence. There’s an argument that what something is called is arbitrary – ‘a rose by any other name’ – compared to its intrinsic values: ideally, a name goes hand in hand with what an organisation does, what it stands for.  

A 2022 consultation identified strong backing to move on from 25 years of ‘Friends of the Award’ whilst, crucially, staying true to its values. Why change? A singular reference to ‘the Award’ no longer represents the breadth of opportunities supported. Abbreviation to ‘FOTA’ has diluted a sense of identity. Even long-term associates are surprised that ‘FOTA’ is a charity in its own right, thinking it’s an offshoot of Duke of Edinburgh’s Award/City of Edinburgh Council/Child & Adolescent Mental Health Service (delete as appropriate).  

Contexts have changed, too. There’s a refreshed, progressive approach to nature-based youth awards promoted in Scotland; the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (and others) encourage awards interaction and integration – cross-pollination, if you will; and the direction of travel, strongly advocated by Scotland’s Awards Network and the Hayward Review, is for increasing recognition across a spectrum of youth awards. 

How did we re-brand? Selection for the prestigious ‘Brand for Growth’ programme in 2022 gave a timely consultancy and design exercise to create a new name and visual identity. Working closely with Bold Studio identified key themes to capture – Inclusive, Down to earth, Individual, Adventurous – with ‘Awards Plus’, a logo and a new look emerging from (not so) heated debate, consideration and reflection.  

A new name – Awards Plus – reflects three things: 

  • support for a range of youth awards – outdoors-focused, nature-based, adventurous. 
  • commitment to meet the needs of all young people; to provide extra, bespoke support, especially for those who benefit most from additional help that wouldn’t otherwise be available to them. 
  • an approach that identifies connections, pathways and progression between youth awards. 

In a nutshell ‘Awards Plus’ keeps youth awards at its heart. Extra help is central for young people who might need it. Awards routes and journeys are encouraged. 

There’s understandable affection for ‘Friends of the Award’, particularly from young people who have longstanding relationships with the organisation, its staff and volunteers – ‘FOTA’ is a vessel for their powerful experiences and positive memories. But there’s also recognition of the value of a refresh, excitement about the new look, and a strong commitment to explore the potential of Awards Plus. 

Take a look at the first Awards Plus-branded resources – 3 leaflets that outline its overall work, its Expeditions focus and its 1:1 Mentoring support. 

Click on each to view.

With thanks to Bold Studio staff Doug, Annie, Will, and the Brand for Growth programme, and Anna Pultar Photography. 

2023 marks 25 years since Friends of the Award in Edinburgh and the Lothians was established. From 1998 it has delivered and supported take-up of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award through local authorities, schools and youth groups. In particular, young people with no affiliation, and needing some extra help at an individual level, have been at the heart of its story. Thousands of young people – especially from marginalised and disadvantaged backgrounds, or going through mental health difficulties – have been helped.  

The reasons for establishing Friends of the Award in 1998 are no less valid now than they were then. It was set up to fill gaps in provision. To make sure that young people didn’t miss out. To look out for those not catered for, hard to reach, or in need of some extra help – for whatever reason.  

Today, there is still a ‘poverty of opportunity’ for many young people. 

This is where Awards Plus – building on the track record of Friends of the Award – comes in. 

A new strategy for 2023-25 focuses on three organisational priorities and three outward-facing agendas. This fits the work of Awards Plus with opportunities and challenges facing young people and educators in Scotland today. It builds on a 25-year track record of supporting achievement in accessible, inclusive ways. And it gives a foundation for future growth. 

Part 1 of the Strategy sets out what Awards Plus does, and who for. Part 2 outlines that as an organisation, Awards Plus will focus on: 
– Consolidation & Coherence – bring more joining-up and clarity to what it offers 
– Connections & Collaborations – strengthen current partnerships, build more, be more creative 
– Security & Longevity – planning, funding and staffing take a longer (3-5 year) view
and position work to contribute to:
– Nature-based Awards, Non-formal Learning, Personal Achievement
– Mental Health support, partnering with Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS)
– Learning for Sustainability

A re-set, building on its strengths, will set Awards Plus to confidently navigate its next 25 years. Please take a look, let us know what you think, and how you can be part of these vital next steps.