Oliver Dibbens has been involved with The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award for 10 years and has been a Leader at all levels. We caught up with him to find out more:
How did you first get involved with The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award?
I was working at an outdoor shop after university, when the DofE Manager for the local council came in and asked if anyone would like to help run some navigation workshops. After that, I signed up to help on an expedition and was hooked!
What’s the best thing about doing what you do?
Seeing the change in the young people over the duration of their DofE programme; it’s not something that can be measured with exams, but the confidence, resilience and teamwork you see in the participants when they complete their Award is remarkable.
What’s been your favourite location for an expedition?
I’ve only taken part in UK based-expeditions so far, so the dream location would be abroad, but it’s hard to beat Snowdonia for the combination of accessibility and ruggedness. I’d certainly like to do more in Scotland, but it’s more of a logistical challenge for groups based in the South. Oh, and anywhere with a good tea-room!
What would you say is the most useful kit to take for a Leader or Assessor?
Aside from the essentials, I’d certainly recommend the Lifeventure Thermal Mug. It’s small enough to fit in a pocket, keeps drinks hot for over 4 hours and robust enough to cope with being dropped or scraped. I’ve used one for over 10 years, climbing, hill walking, scrambling and mountain biking and always been impressed; I’ve even bought Dad one for golf! I also find the Empty First Aid Case from Lifesystems very useful; it allows me to tailor a kit to a particular group, and is big enough to carry some useful spares too. The other piece of kit I always take is a good book, as there’s often a long wait at checkpoints.
Have there been any cases where people have brought unsuitable gear in their packs?
This list is enormous! Part of the learning process for DofE is learning how to pack light and share the load, but I’ve seen hair straighteners, microwave ready meals and an entire 40 bag multipack of crisps for a day walk. My personal favourite was investigating the contents of a heavier than normal rucksack at the top of Snowdon, only to discover the participant had brought a mains-powered air bed pump…but no airbed.
Can you think of any stand out entertaining scenarios on an expedition?
Often the young people come into camp with the most amazing stories of what happened, but the one that I remember was leading a group of 16-17 year old boys through the Surrey Hills, on a training day, when they all screamed and refused to enter a field, as there were lions in the field. Intrigued, I peered over the gate and, between suppressing laughter, explained for about 15 minutes why all cows were not black and white like on the milk bottle, whilst some curious Highland cattle looked on.
What do you feel people get out of taking part in the DofE?
A real sense of achievement. Personally, I’d love for all DofE participants to gain a lifelong love for the outdoors. Realistically, for some participants it’s not something they’ll ever take up as a hobby, but they certainly come away with an appreciation of the countryside and a memory of overcoming a challenge that they can take into their future lives.