"Where are we?" my friend Laura asked as we looked at the map.
The answer to that was lost. There were at least three different places we could have been. We had no phone reception, GPS, or way of contacting our expedition leaders, so we began to retrace our steps. Finally, we spotted a farmhouse down in the bottom of the valley and scrambled down the steep hillside to ask if we could make a phone call.
Our teachers didn't have reception either, so after leaving a somewhat garbled message with one of our parents, the very patient farmer pointed us in the right direction. When our teachers eventually found us and accompanied us to the campsite, the sun was well and truly over the horizon, and our feet were sore.
The boy's team jumped into action. We'd been rivals on every expedition we'd done together: our two groups fiercely competed to outdo the other team and get back first - and play the odd practical joke when we did. But, when we shuffled into the campsite, they didn't boast about arriving hours ago. Instead, two of them grabbed our tent and helped us pitch it, whilst the others got out their stoves and helped us cook dinner. I have some fantastic memories of doing the Duke of Edinburgh scheme when I was at school, but this moment stood out for me. The team spirit that grew as we worked together to achieve a common goal was incredible, and it taught me what belonging to a team meant and how to work together when things went wrong.
I hate the term 'soft skills' because there's nothing soft about them. They are critical skills for success, and practising them is the only way to learn them properly. It's great knowing that you 'should' get out of your comfort zone, but until you do, it's difficult to know how good your problem-solving skills are. The Duke of Edinburgh scheme equips young people with these incredible success skills, allowing them to build things like confidence levels and resilience in a safe environment. Through a combination of learning:
A new skill
A new sport
Volunteering time in service to others and doing an outdoor expedition allows them to build skills that cannot be taught in the classroom but arguably have a far more significant impact.
I didn't get all the way to gold (in my D of E journey at least) because I started archery for the sport element. What started out as a beginner's course to accomplish one of the four corners of the Award took over my life and transformed into an international career that took me around the world. I am grateful that I said "yes" to the opportunity, and I had an excellent support team behind me who encouraged me to take part.
I'm now a very proud ambassador of the scheme because I truly believe in its power to transform the lives of young people. I believe that the skills it teaches spill over into so many other areas, help- ing their ambitions in and out of school, as well as their self-esteem and mental wellbeing. Over 4000 organisations run Duke of Edinburgh programmes across the UK, letting young people take ownership and choose their own activities.