The Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award has some pretty important rules for its participants. Perhaps the most important rule is that it must be completed before your 25th birthday. For the average Gold-goer, this isn’t much of an issue; they’re probably somewhere between 16 and 20 years old.
The aim of the DofE is that these young people are pushed in all new ways. Its four sections does a brilliant job of this, as you’ve got to dedicate time to:
- Something physical – for me, it was achieving my Second Dan Black Belt in Taekwondo.
- Volunteering – I read with younger students when I was in Sixth Form
- A skill – like many others, I learned to drive
- Five days and four nights away from home on a residential with people you’ve never met before.
It’s all of that, on top of completing the actual expedition – walking 80km with a group that you might know across four days and three nights. It is, at times, incredibly challenging, yet I completed four fifths of the Gold Award before I left for University. That was seven years ago. The only part that I had left was a week-long residential. I’d planned to do it in between University semesters, but I spent all of my time working to earn cash for the next year of studies. So a lack of expendable money, plus not wanting to rely on my parents to fund my residential, delayed it until after graduating.
Even then, I spent a lot of the following year applying to teacher training, so never got round putting in the time to research opportunities.
That’s when COVID struck. Society shut down at a time when I was gearing up to finish off the Gold Award, leaving me to request an age extension. While it was granted, my first year of full-time teaching was so busy that I never did get around to organising it.
This year, I was working against the clock. I had to get it done before my 26th birthday near the end of this year, or I’d be left with a nearly-finished checklist for the rest of my life. Most people who start DofE do so to strengthen a CV or Personal Statement, but I’ve been to Uni; I’ve got a job. For me, at this point, it was all about knowing that I’d finished it.
Here’s what it was like to complete my DofE residential at the age of 25:
It took a lot of scouring the internet to find a place that I’d be happy to spend a week of my Easter break. After many emails back-and-forth, most places admitted that the majority of their participants were around 16 years old. Considering I teach people of that age, that would’ve been too weird for me.
Yet, other places either seemed too dull or were too expensive. Finally, I sat down during February Half Term and did some hefty research, eventually landing on a pretty local, affordable, exciting opportunity.
I spent a week at Mendip Activity Centre, Somerset, and have absolutely zero regrets. The total cost came to £325, though a few of the others there got it at a much cheaper price point through booking early. The place was stunning and I’m sure it ended up on most of our Instagram pages in some shape by the end of the week.
We stayed in a recently refurbished lodge, which had plenty of space for us to spread out and watch TV, play pool or bond over board games. When we weren’t socialising or on activities, we’d be sleeping, recovering from the tiring day. The beds were surprisingly comfortable too, though my roommate did hit his head on the bunk above him at least a few times (which was incredibly funny).
Thankfully, there was a range of ages there, and we all gravitated to new friends in our own age ranges – so I never felt too old or out of place. We tended to stick to these groups during the activities, though there’d be some overlap when the trash talking against other teams started.
The week itself was jam-packed, so there was never a dull moment. Day One was for team-building, though we were gratefully spared any awkward evening ice breakers and left to our own devices, which I think we all appreciated.
Day Two was for rock climbing and abseiling. We started with the former – and I clambered up a 60ft cliff face! (Which, of course, none of the students in my Form believed). As a result, abseiling was a lot easier than it otherwise could have been.
On Day Three, we took part in watersports. This included raft building, a muddy assault course and kayaking. Of the three, kayaking was a personal favourite. The level of control we had, coupled with how relaxing it was to paddle about in a river, was positively exhilarating.
Day Four was a lot calmer – and a lot drier. We were at target practice all day, which involved archery, shooting and axe throwing. While I’d always wanted to give axe throwing a go, it wasn’t nearly as satisfying as the other activities. I’d already enjoyed archery a few times at school, so I was grateful that it all came back to me when I stepped up to the board.
The final day was the shortest, but possibly the best. It was the end of the week, so we’d all got to know each other quite well, which is why Archery Active was such a blast. Picture paintball, but with a bow-and-arrow that uses what equates to giant Nerf bullets, and you get the idea. We did a number of rounds, such as teams, solo and duos. This was at its most fun when you weren’t afraid of getting struck by an arrow, lost all inhibitions, and went for it.
How could I write about my experience without highlighting the incredible instructors that took us through it all? We were with two of them all week, with different experts joining for each activity to support them (and us!). It was their hands-on personas that really made the whole thing even more enjoyable.
If you do end up spending any time at Mendip, try and request that it’s with Rosie and Mark – their brilliant work is hard to beat.
It all boils down to this: would I recommend completing your Gold DofE Residential at Mendip Activity Centre?
If it wasn’t abundantly clear already: yes, absolutely yes. The whole week was excellent value for money, the facilities and activities were brilliant, and you’ll meet some fantastic new people.
Now, would I recommend completing your Gold DofE at the ripe old age of 25? Really, that depends on your own goals. I’d hate to have gone without finishing after getting so close, but I’m also lucky enough as a teacher to have quite a lot of holiday. If you’ve only got 25 days every year, or if you’ve already started a family, completing your Gold DofE might not be your biggest priority.
To book time at Mendip (either by yourself, with friends and family, or as a stag/hen do), click here! (And Mendip, please sponsor me)
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