The Prince and the inner-city paupers

Isn't the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme for young people a bit, well, uncool? Apparently not. Decca Aitkenhead reports

The building, down a twist of dingy streets, bears all the signs of worthy but embattled endeavour - against poverty, racial tension, inner- city despair. Yet the name gracing its steel-grilled entrance is wholly improbable: HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

The Ravenhill centre in east London is the latest outpost of the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme. The scheme is experiencing a record year - over 100,000 young people have signed up in the past 12 months. A quarter of a million are taking part, including one in every eight 14-year-olds.

All of which is hard to square with contemporary notions of teenagers. Disaffected, dysfunctional and largely disagreeable, the modern adolescent is supposed to have no time for some antiquated royal picnic outing. And the current boom is not taking place in public schools, but in inner-city areas like Ravenhill.

The scheme was set up in 1956. All 14-25-year-olds may participate in a programme of sporting, practical and cultural activities, in pursuit of bronze, silver and gold awards. The scheme is non-competitive, sets personal goals, and is designed to nurture "essential qualities of citizenship".

But the scheme came in for heavy criticism in 1989, when a government report accused it of serving only middle-class achievers. In response, it set up a project to target inner-city youths, young offenders and those with special needs, and the youth service persuaded over 1,000 centres like Ravenhill to get involved.

In April Phil Hall, youth leader at Ravenhill, took on a group of ten 15-year-olds with severe behavioural difficulties. Seven have just completed their bronze award. "They were sceptical at first," he says. "Most came from broken homes, some were involved in drugs, all had given up on school. We took over after everything else had failed. All we've tried to do is to give them an opportunity to experience things outside the streets they live in, their little world of the East End."

"Well, I didn't want to do it at first," admits Bobby Sellick."But when they said I could go on a barge, I thought I'd give it a go." "Yeah," nods Stuart Head. "The barge was the best bit." "Copycat!" Bobby snipes. Anthony Briggs is shy. "I liked going on all the holidays. We went to Debden," he whispers. Kelly Sharland bounds in. "Nah, the best thing was beating them all up - no don't write that! To tell the truth, I was looking forward to it. I won't be forced into doing nothing. I just liked it and all." Stuart warms up a little. "The best thing was the challenge. And doing things you wouldn't normally do. It's a nice feeling when you do things as a group."

All seven have decided to go on and do their silver. "They've learnt that they can achieve," says Hall. "For many of them this is the start of a CV."

All over the country centres like Ravenhill are taking up the award. On a grey Monday morning at the Moss Side Youth Centre, in Manchester, a group of teenagers is preparing for a trip to Whitby. "Well, it's better than staying indoors, isn't it?" Madelaine Stringer has been involved since she was 14, and thinks it's no big deal. Are any of them embarrassed to tell their friends what they are doing? Blank stares. Is it not just a bit, well, uncool? More puzzled looks. If the award ever had an image problem, it doesn't seem to bother Moss Side.

Some of the group have taken part in a drug prevention initiative, designing T-shirts and hats. Others are going on a trip to Russia. More are just back, victorious, from a football tournament at Nottingham Forest, organised by the Football Association. Ironically, explains Dave Bradley, the area award officer, the only people who have had a problem with the scheme's street cred have been the youth workers themselves. "Most youth workers come from a fairly radical, socialist background, and in the early days it wasn't sold as something they'd want to be involved in."

Meanwhile, the teenagers are chaffing to be off. They have more pressing things to hand. They're going camping.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

    £12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

    Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

    £32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

    Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss