Awards Plus

Supporting Young People to Achieve

From 25 years of ‘Friends of the Award’ to ‘Awards Plus’ – a celebration 

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.

Not signed up? Contact with your email address and we’ll include you in our mailing list.

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. 

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.