Awards Plus

Supporting Young People to Achieve

Opportunities which celebrate Edinburgh’s rich arts community are an important facet of Awards Plus mentoring work with young people experiencing mental health difficulties. They can tap into creativity that might be tucked away, or bring new outlets for imagination and expression. As part of a bigger picture of community engagement they can help build confidence and independence, whilst broadening horizons for young people.  

While much of our mentoring focus supports youth awards progress on a 1:1 basis, facilitating relaxed social meet-ups between participants in stimulating settings has a valuable role to play. We’re increasingly finding value in arts-based partnerships, like the ones below. 

Edinburgh Fringe Engagement 

A number of young people receiving 1:1 mentoring support were invited to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August, to socialize with other participants and to catch a show which aligns with their interests. Most had never seen a Fringe show before; some actively avoid the busyness of the festival.  

A key aim of the Fringe Society is to break down any barriers that might prevent groups and individuals coming to the Fringe, in particular those who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to experience the festival: “We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to experience the thrill of live performance”.  

All had a great time! 2 young people with a keen interest in history, currently pursuing a Heritage Hero Award alongside their Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, saw ‘epic tour-de-force’ one-man show In Loyal Company. It tells the extraordinary true story of missing WWII soldier Arthur Robinson, written and performed by his great-nephew David William Bryan. Both remarked on Bryan’s impressive stage presence, carrying the story and playing all the characters in an emotive and personal performance. One young person said they were “really glad [they] got a chance to see it” and “will have to go and see more shows during the Fringe!”  

3 more young people, along with staff Heather and Rob, saw Aloft Presents Sanctuary at the Circus Hub – a ‘punk rock circus cabaret’. It was a spectacular show in an atmospheric Spiegeltent setting that was “amazing” and “so cool to see”. “I haven’t been to the Fringe since I was a youngster, and I’ve definitely never been to a venue like this”, said one. Seeing the show made their day “really fun”, and they too plan to see more Fringe shows in the future. We look forward to bringing the Fringe to more young people in 2024. 

Thanks to Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society’s Community Ticketing Initiative and City of Edinburgh Council. 

Jupiter Artland 

Jupiter Artland is an award-winning contemporary sculpture garden located just outside Edinburgh. Founded in 2009 it has grown into one of Scotland’s most significant arts organisations, with an international reputation for innovation and creativity. Its educational vision – ‘to create a place that through art that would have a real transformative effect on the viewer, to spark something in an individual that might be life changing’ – and its 100+ acres of woodland, meadow and unique site-specific sculptures from emerging and established artists make it an ideal place for mentoring activity. 

Taking advantage of Jupiter Artland’s Learning Foundation offer of free visits (its ambition is to engage every child and young person in Scotland), two participants in the Awards Plus 1:1 Mentoring programme joined staff for a self-guided exploration in June. As part of a Proxy Walks initiative – sharing excursions with someone who is walking-limited – the following summaries were offered: 

Nature and perspectives   
found and recalled all around Jupiter Artland  
An excursion shared 

I noticed art in the trees – pine cones that looked like a bee, bark that looked like eyelashes…  
The place put me in that mood to see things differently.   
It makes you think about the art. I still remember things from 10 years ago, like the poster effect on Jim Lambie’s “A Forest”.  

We walked from the car park to the first art piece, a bottomless pit, encaged and tantalising.  
We slowly ambled through the forest which is home to all these art pieces. The paths are well worn. 
Everyone enjoyed the spider’s web, it was placed there to give perspective. 

Daundering, pondering and discussing took double the anticipated time, such was the richness and stimulation of the nature setting and artworks. A waiting parent, far from frustrated at the delay, enthused at the engagement: “It’s wonderful to see this level of interaction with the place and with other people!”

Thanks to Matt and Jupiter Artland colleagues. 

Tansy Lee Moir – Permission to Draw 

Tansy Lee Moir’s online Permission to Draw course encourages participants to “reconnect with an enquiring view of the world” and learn to draw “what you see in your own way.” Aimed at sketching beginners and session returners, it’s an ideal offering to complement mentoring sessions.  

S, working towards their John Muir Award with a focus on perspectives in nature, has valued this sensitive and accessible way of exploring creative curiosity. With attendance funded by Awards Plus/Young Start, sessions have added insight and skills to an investigation of Midlothian’s ancient woodland and the folklore which surrounds its flora and fauna. 

Tansy Lee Moir is an Edinburgh-based artist who draws inspiration from woodlands and the “forms and stories of old trees”, spanning Edinburgh and the Lothians and further afield.  

Photo Credit: Anna Pultar

Do one wild thing each day for the entire month of June. That’s the challenge set by The Wildlife Trusts’ annual 30 Days Wild challenge. Friends of the Award/Awards Plus is no stranger to getting out and about with young people on activities and expeditions, but perhaps not every single day.  

So, for June, could staff, Trustees, volunteers, partners and young people make sure that a daily dose of nature was experienced at least once? 

From outdoor meetings to walk-and-talk 1:1 Mentoring sessions, from school expeditions to end-of-term picnics, the answer has been a resounding YES! See below for a summary of wild encounters. 

Has it made a difference to what we do? It’s given an extra focus, a discussion point. Some groups have integrated it as a DofE Expedition aim. One young person who has additional needs faced significant challenges during their East Lothian expedition. Keeping a wildflower photo journal around campsites between Torness and Yellowcraigs gave a welcome opportunity for creativity; as one of their talents is making digital cartoons it offered plenty of inspiration for new characters and backdrops.  

Expeditions to previously unknown venues or neglected nearby nature have created new horizons. Reflections of “I’m coming back here with my family”, “I didn’t know we had this so close” and “Now I have camping skills I can do this on my own this summer” have been noted by teaching colleagues and staff. 

A recognition of the value of nature settings has been prompted, especially when talking about mental health support matters. “Calming”, “peaceful”, “relaxing” have been typical comments during 1:1 Mentoring sessions. Noticing nature, sensory encounters, describing and identifying wildlife – all have created opportunities for discussion and reflection.  

For staff, it’s brought a vital working context to the foreground. “Having a nudge, a reminder, works well for me. I then make sure that nature stuff is front and centre when supporting someone’s involvement in DofE, a John Muir Award or a Heritage Hero Award.” And it’s prompted more connections too. “Outdoor meetings and sharing these everyday nuggets – I’ve loved seeing what others have been up to. And it’s encouraged those ‘added value’ things, like a quick walk along the Water of Leith with a colleague after sorting a kit pick-up.” 

We may not manage 365 wild days in a year, but nature connectedness is at the heart of supporting awards involvement, particularly for young people who face barriers, have restricted access or limited experiences. With dappled woodland light, wildlife sightings and memorable sunsets, our 30 Days Wild has been a resounding success captured in shared moments and cracking photographs.  

Can Friends of the Award – young people on activities, staff, Trustees, volunteers, partners – do one wild thing every day for an entire month? 

30 Days Wild is The Wildlife Trusts’ annual challenge which asks everyone to do one wild thing a day throughout the month of June. It has over 100,000 sign-ups so far for 2023, including Friends of the Award. Last year saw over 16 million acts of wildness; the most popular activities were wildlife-watching, eating outdoors, planting wildflower seeds and listening to birdsong.    

In 2020, a five-year review of 30 Days Wild participants, run in conjunction with the University of Derby, found that people reported they felt happier and healthier from taking part, with positive effects lasting for at least two months afterwards. “This evaluation shows the positive power of simple engagement with nature” says Professor Miles Richardson, Professor of Human Factors and Nature Connectedness. “Doing simple things to enjoy everyday nature can bring considerable benefits. What really stood out was how the people who didn’t feel a connection with nature at the outset were the ones who benefitted most from taking part in 30 Days Wild.” 

We’ll be catching and sharing things from DofE Expedition encounters to lunchtime dips into Water of Leith wildlife. Add your own to the mix. On social media, tag @FOTA and use #30DaysWild and #AwardsPlus. Email with a summary sentence. And watch this space… 

Expeditions. Day walks. Walk-and-talk 1:1 meet-ups. Walking is at the heart of Friends of the Award. This May, National Walking Month, we’re excited to start using ‘Proxy Walks’ in our work with young people across Edinburgh and the Lothians. 

What’s a Proxy Walk?  

“The idea is that someone, anyone, will make a walk in a place for someone else, bringing back a description of it”, says artist Alec Finlay. Alec has explored the concept of ‘walking-without-walking’ as a response to Long Covid and debilitating disease, recognising that walks encourage acts of solidarity and empathy. 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, because it returns the idea of belonging in the world, on or a hill, to someone who feels they can’t.” 

In a nutshell: make a walk, in a place, for someone else. 

At Friends of the Award we’re exploring Proxy Walks as part of nature-based youth awards. DofE Expeditions and the John Muir Award Share Challenge offer great tie-ins, for example. We’re using opportunities as they arise in our Open Programme, in 1:1 Mental Health support work, in schools and youth club settings. 

A Proxy Walk might be for a housebound relative. For someone who’s ill, hospitalised, or less mobile than they used to be. For a resident in an old folks’ home. They may have special memories of a particular place. Or just appreciate sharing in a walking experience. 

We’ll collect and share Proxy Walks throughout 2023. Find out more about how to get involved with this summary and let us know about yours via, #ProxyWalks. 

For more background see this Alec Finlay blog for Paths for All. 

New Year, New Name, New Strategy

Friends of the Award is having a bit of a refresh. In discussion with staff, Trustees, partners, volunteers and young people we work with, a new name and a rebrand is being finalised. We were delighted to be selected for the prestigious ‘Brand for Growth’ programme and have been working closely with Bold Studio since Autumn 2022. All will be revealed in April!

Alongside this, we’re restating what we do, who with, and our priorities for the next 3 years. If you’re interested to see a draft Strategy 2023-25, please contact Watch this space…

Annual Report 2022

As with many third sector, youth and outdoor organisations, 2022 was an ‘interesting’ year of post-pandemic re-settling and re-setting.

As Patrick Neville says in his Chair’s Report, “Although this year has been a transitional year for us, we are now very much back up and running. We are delivering many wonderful outcomes for the young people we support and brimming with ideas for the future. We can look forward to 2023 with a great sense of optimism, knowing that what we do matters more than ever.”

You’ll see that the 2022 Annual Report is illustrated by Tom Morgan-Jones – perhaps familiar via Mission:Explore activity books – who captured young people, quotes and experiences in ink at a Friends of the Award end-of-season presentation.

Staffing, Job Opportunities

We’re a small charity, so filling key roles with the right staff is vital to delivering a quality service, working with partners/funders, and as a foundation for ambitious plans.

We’re recruiting for 2 posts that have been re-structured to focus on expeditions, youth awards and meeting the support needs of young people (full time, 12 months).

Operations & Expeditions Manager – to programme and oversee all our outdoor activity.

Expeditions & Youth Awards Support Worker (scroll down) – to support young people, schools and youth groups in Edinburgh.

If you know of someone with suitable experience, please pass on details.

Sarah Kerr, our Expeditions Co-ordinator, is leaving for New Zealand in March after 4 years at the heart of Friends of the Award. The numerous young people, partners, volunteers and colleagues she’s worked with in organizing, leading, supporting expeditions and youthwork activity wish her well in her new adventures. We’re grateful for Sarah’s commitment and huge efforts in enabling such a range of powerful experiences for so many young people.

Thanks for your understanding. As key staff move on to pastures new, continuity can be a challenge. As these expeditions and youth support roles haven’t yet been filled we haven’t confirmed an Expeditions Programme for 2023, or the level of support we can offer to schools and youth groups at present. We’re grateful for your understanding and patience. We will update key contacts, volunteers and young people (including Open Group participants) as soon as recruitment is confirmed and support is available.

Day of Access – a Bings excursion

The shale bings of West Lothian create an unusual landscape, a wounded place, yet also a healing one. As part of a collaboration between Friends of the Award’s mental health support work and ‘Day of Access’, two young people spent an afternoon exploring the site.

It’s like a sci-fi film set, as if we’ve been dropped on Mars or Ayers Rock. I didn’t expect the red-brown colours to be so dramatic. It feels foreign and abstract!

It’s a secluded new environment. I didn’t think there’d be so much woodland, the harshness gives way to a soft green lushness. It’s so peaceful, weirdly silent, so cool. It has a sense of loneliness and desolation too, of being asleep, at rest. It makes you feel safe being away from the traffic and noise.”

Read a full account of the experience.

Volunteer help

The Annual Report 2022 recognises the valuable roles of volunteers in leading and supporting expeditions. Once key staff are in place we’d like to explore and expand volunteering roles in relation to expeditions, schools and Open Group support.

We’d also welcome help in the following areas:

  • Newsletter – set up a 2-3 monthly e-news for all our key contacts (template, GDPR needs).
  • Database – expertise in setting up a new database that will meet our needs for the next 2-3 years.

If you have expertise in these areas, please contact

And a couple of items of (possible) interest…

Juliet Robertson’s Creative Star Learning website ‘I’m a teacher, get me OUTSIDE here!’  is an absolute treasure trove of information and insights, ideas and inspiration. Take a look at Juliet’s Working outside in all weathers blog, for example.

The Awards Network is a brilliantly collaborative forum of providers of non-formal learning opportunities for young people throughout Scotland. Its recent Introduction to Youth Awards sessions include extensive links giving current information about the breadth of awards available, resources, policy contexts and much more. Well worth a look…  

On Tuesday 1st November, Silver and Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award participants from the Open Group Programme gathered to give presentations to complete their Expedition Section. The Friends of the Award Open Group welcomes DofE participants who wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity to complete expeditions as well as those who’ve missed out for any reason. This was a great opportunity to revisit adventures and celebrate achievements. For some, including participants on a multi-year Covid-interrupted journey and referrals from CAMHS, giving their presentation was the final stage towards completing their award, and every bit as challenging as walking with a rucksack and fending off midges. Some of the Bronze team came along to receive their Expedition Sectional certificates. All were warmly congratulated by family, support and youth workers and Friends of the Award staff and Trustees. 

Illustrator Tom Morgan-Jones – familiar to some who had used Mission:Explore activity books illustrated by Tom to liven up their expedition – captured young people, quotes and experiences in ink.

The Open Group is part of a Youth Development Project supported by City of Edinburgh Council, a valued longstanding partnership with Friends of the Award.

The shale bings of West Lothian create an unusual landscape, quite a wounded place, and yet also healing. As part of Friends of the Award’s mental health support work, and in a ‘Day of Access’ collaboration, 2 young people spent an afternoon exploring the site.

“It’s like a sci-fi film set, as if we’ve been dropped on Mars or Ayers Rock. I didn’t expect the red-brown colours to be so dramatic. It feels foreign and abstract!”

“It’s a secluded new environment. I didn’t think there’d be so much woodland, the harshness gives way to a soft green lushness. It’s so peaceful, weirdly silent, so cool. It has a sense of loneliness and desolation too, of being asleep, at rest. It makes you feel safe being away from the traffic and noise.”

Read an account of the experience by Rob Bushby, Friends of the Award Chief Executive.