I was very surprised when one morning my boss asked me “Fancy lunch at the Palace?” – not least because she knows that I am not a fan of the British monarchy! but it turned out to be one of the best days of my career.
The invitation was from the Duke of Edinburgh, to several Housing Associations, to promote greater take up of the DofE Award scheme – after all most Housing Associations do a lot of community development work with young people so it would seem that there is a natural partnership in the making. Our Association had been invited as a bit of a role model, as we had been supporting DofE for some while, by sponsoring some young people and training staff as Leaders. I was to be there with some successful participants, to help persuade other organisations about the benefits.
I arrived at the Palace armed just with my passport and made my way into one of the ridiculously lavish rooms, with a posh buffet laid out, a polite sprinkling of primped CEOs and 3 of the most terrified teenagers I’ve ever seen – in their brand new, ill-fitting suits, waiting to receive their gold, silver and bronze awards personally from Prince Edward. Despite my republican tendencies, I have to say “Ed” was a star, he immediately put the 3 youngsters at ease by asking them“Have you tried the venison sausages? Are they any good? I’ve never had them before!”
followed by an entertaining chat about what he’d got up to on his DofE, getting them to relax and share their experiences.
There are around 2 million children of workless families in the UK, and Housing Associations know that unless we can provide the right opportunities and support, many will struggle to break out of a cycle of worklessness. The DofE Award programme is one way that young people can gain the skills and confidence for life and work and get that all-important piece of paper to prove it to potential employers and colleges. But more than that, the programme encourages young people to play an active role in their community, to think beyond what they need and to give something back, to help make other people’s lives better.
And it is on this issue that I got the biggest thrill of the day – not the royal company, the opulent surroundings, or even the glass (or two) of HRH’s own-label wine! But in listening to these three inspiring young people talk about their communities, where they had come from, what they wanted to do in the future, how they wanted to make a difference with their lives, their ambitions to make the world a better place. One was already training to be a Leader so they could support other young people to take part in the programme, another was making plans to do voluntary work overseas, and we’d made arrangements for the third to get work experience at our Housing Association, as she was interested in social work, or social housing, or something along those lines.
We hear so much rubbish from the media about benefit-scroungers and young-offenders, and this was a great day for reminding me what’s really important and inspiring me to keep on making the effort to provide decent homes and opportunities for training and work experience, for those that need just a little leg-up to make their way in the world.
If you want to find out more about the Duke of Edinburgh scheme, check out http://www.dofe.org