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A potted history of the nation's favourite outward-bound youth award programme, which celebrates its 60th birthday this year...

sunny scotland with no midges

Sixty years ago a new youth movement was born, designed to reward adolescents for self-improvement, independence and outward bound pursuits. Its founders were HRH Prince Philip, the German educationalist and founder of Gordonstoun Kurt Hahn, and John Hunt, the leader of the first successful climb of Everest three years earlier.

Initially set up in post-war Britain to address concerns about the development of teenage boys between leaving school at 15 and entering National service at 18, the Awards has grown into a world-wide movement which has helped over 9 million young men, and women, since its inception.

The philosophy of the awards was based on the antidotes to what Han called the 'Six Declines of Modern Youth': fitness, initiative (due to a pervasion of 'spectatoritis'!), memory, craftmanship, self-discipline and compassion.

The Awards were a hit from the start, as schools, youth clubs and outward bound businesses joined up to run the programme across the country. By the end of its first year, some 7,000 boys had enrolled. By 1971 it had spread to 31 countries, 48 by 1989 and now 140 worldwide.

A large part of the attraction must be that unlike the Scouts, participants don't need to 'join up', make pledges, or wear a uniform, and the Awards are non-competitive.

The DofE Award has always been about self-improvement, with participants conceiving, designing and completing challenges in four overall sections: Rescue and Public Service Training, the Expedition, Pursuits & Projects, and Fitness. These sections were later refined in 1980, when the age limit was also extended to 25.

But apart from those tweaks the DofE has remained largely true to its origins - not to mention kept the personal support of its founder, the DofE himself, Prince Phillip, who still gives out awards each year at St James' Palace.

Central to the scheme has always been the Adventurous Journey - an activity that is close to our own hearts - which sees tens of thousands of teenagers grouping into small teams every summer, before shouldering backpacks, sleeping mats and tents, and heading for Britain's wild places.

Over 25 and missed out? Then it's not too late to get your own award. In this 60th Anniversary Year DofE is launching a Diamond Award where adults of any age can sign up for a life-changing personal challenge, make a contribution and, of course, get the all-important badge.

For more, see dofe.org