The lives changed by meeting the real Duke of Edinburgh

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When Simpson’s name was called, she walked into the ballroom where an orchestra was playing on the balcony. She curtseyed for the Duke and shook his hand. “He asked me if I worked and I said, ‘No, I’m in college.’ And you know what he was like – how quick he was: ‘Is that not work?’ And I’ve never forgotten,” she says. “I was so taken aback by his answer, I don’t think I said any more.”

She was surprised by his wit but also by his being “so interested in us, in anybody – he had the personal touch,” she says. After shaking the Duke’s hand, she was presented with her certificate – which she still has today.

How the DofE Award helps vulnerable young people

Contrary to public opinion, it’s not just boarding or grammar school pupils who take part in DofE, which has helped over six million young people since 1956.

“The public perception is that it’s for private school boys,” says Ed Thompson, DofE leader at Blue Sky Fostering (blueskyfostering.com), which has run DofE for children in foster care for the past six years. “Maybe it was like that once – but it definitely isn’t any more.”

The programmes help young people to develop a raft of new skills including initiative and a sense of responsibility, problem-solving, communication skills as well as community spirit and the chance to form new friendships. It can help young people from all walks of life to build their resilience and self-belief. At Blue Sky Fostering, Thompson says the DofE is an early form of intervention which can help children to become more independent and confident and to learn what they’re interested in.

Last year, one in five new DofE participants (approximately 40,000) were marginalised young people facing financial hardship, within the justice system or with additional educational needs or disabilities.

And the DofE is currently working to help the most marginalised young people in the UK have the chance to take part in the scheme. In south-east England, for instance, the charity is working with eight schools in Kent and East Sussex, mostly in deprived areas, to widen access to DofE. In the first year of the pilot, 286 Year 9s started their DofE – a great leap from the 40 predicted to take part.

The Telegraph’s charity appeal could help make all the difference to a young person’s life, says Thompson. “That funding that we can get from The Telegraph can go towards a kid that has never had the chance to flourish, just to have that one tiny little step up, a little help up, that otherwise they’re not getting”

Through this appeal, The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award will be able to provide targeted help for young people who face additional barriers or need specialist support to participate in the life-changing programme.

“Right now, the DofE has never been more needed,” says Ruth Marvel, CEO of the DofE. “Young people – especially marginalised young people – have been hard hit by the pandemic, with their mental health, education and job opportunities all affected. Their potential is limitless – but they need our support to develop the skills, resilience and self-belief to successfully navigate the uncertain world ahead.

“The future is uncertain and definitely challenging for today’s young people – we’re so grateful to Telegraph readers for helping us to support and focus on delivering the programme to the young people that need it most.”

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