The Duke of Edinburgh’s DIY kit changes lives at King’s

 

“It’s what I like to describe as a do-it-yourself growing-up kit,” the late Prince Philip once said of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme which he set up in 1956, and which he observed “has helped countless young people on their sometimes difficult path to adulthood.”

 

With the Duke’s passing on April 9, many of his achievements are being flagged up and tributes from around the world have poured in – more than perhaps he himself would have expected. Among them have been expressions of gratitude from those who benefitted from the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme during their adolescence.

 

As former King’s student Ali Asaf says, his Duke of Edinburgh experience at King’s College is among one of his most treasured memories, particularly the three-day outward-bound challenge in La Pedriza.

 

“We had three days to cover three routes in the mountains to the north of

Madrid,” he says. “Although as a group of friends we were close, that trip brought us closer. What we remember is the sense of camaraderie that everyone developed. At one point we saw one of our friends struggling with her heavy backpack. Although she was a member of another group, we all came together to share the extra 30kg load.”

 

Providing a unique opportunity to volunteer, and nurture a sense of solidarity and resilience, the scheme was inspired by Prince Philip’s schooldays at the famous and somewhat alternative Scottish boarding school, Gordonstoun, now familiar to many through the Netflix series, The Crown.

 

There, in the cold and wet of Scotland’s north-east coast, the teenage Prince Philip managed to come to terms with an adverse set of personal circumstances that included a schizophrenic mother committed to an asylum, an absent father and the death of his beloved eldest sister and her family in a plane crash.

 

Founded by Jewish educator, Dr. Kurt Hahn in 1934, Gordonstoun set out to be character-building, producing tough, capable young men who could contribute to society.

 

Later, Hahn would not only provide inspiration for the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme, he would also be one of the driving forces behind it.

 

Renowned for what Hahn described as “his undefeatable spirit,” Prince Philip’s no-nonsense take on life was surely what he was trying to instil in future generations with a scheme whose scope broadened as time went on to cater for all personality types, not only the fierce and fearless.

 

Divided into bronze, silver and gold, the awards can also now be won through skill-driven challenges chosen according to individual strengths.

 

In line with King’s College founder, Sir Roger Fry’s philosophy on education, the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme was incorporated into the schools’ extra-curricular activities as early as 1986. Within the space of three years, participants had stacked up six Gold Awards, an unrivalled triumph in Spain.

 

The crowning moment came when these awards were delivered to King’s students by the Duke of Edinburgh himself in the Palacio Real de El Pardo where he and the Queen were staying.

 

Now, 35 years later, King’s is still committed to the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme and, as secondary teacher and scheme coordinator at King’s College Murcia, Sally Bengtsson says, “The pupils always come away from the trips exhausted but full of stories and everlasting memories.”

 

On the expedition agenda in Murcia is an 80 km walk from the school to Almeria’s Cabo de Gato or a trek in the Castril mountains.

 

Recalling a recent challenge, which divided pupils between these two locations, Sally says, “The four pupils who walked to Cabo de Gata were not the fittest of the bunch, and struggled with blisters and sunburn, but didn’t complain once over the four days, impressing themselves with their own resilience and determination to succeed.

 

“It was interesting to see how each one took on a defined role in the group,” she adds. “We had a map reader, who everyone turned to before making a final decision on direction, a carer, who made sure everyone was eating enough and putting on sun-cream, the one who kept everyone’s spirits up, with songs and encouragement, and a joker, who kept everyone laughing.”

 

To Sally, the merit of the scheme is clear.  “I would dare to say that everyone changes after doing Duke of Edinburgh,” she says. “It is an experience I would encourage everyone to have.”