Expeditions and why I love being a leader.

I love expeditions. I love everything about them, the decision about where to go, exploring the maps, plotting the route, packing the kit, choosing the food, seeing the views but most importantly I like helping young people develop and work towards their potential by taking part in expeditions.

My love started in 2007 when I undertook my Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award– my expedition was in Dartmoor with six other girls, whom I only met the day before we started walking…

I remember a lot about the journey- sleeping in a cheap Halford’s tent that didn’t last, my sleeping bag being so cold I had to also sleep in a survival bag, the rain, the fog coming in, being too tired to boil water for soup so just eating the powder (yuck!), one girl getting the start of “trench foot” because she never took her wet socks off (we even stayed at a campsite with a drying room!)… oh, the stories I could tell you about my first major expedition and how I thoroughly enjoyed it all! I still have our route card and map with the route drawn on somewhere in the house.

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Bailey and I waiting for a group in 2015 on Sugar Loaf, Wales.

I know why I love them, I’ve reflected many times on it; I love the challenge, using your initiative, being proactive, creatively thinking about solutions to problems that can occur and being outdoors whatever the weather. I think expeditions are a test of your character, you discover your strengths and weaknesses on them, you reflect on yourself and you see a beauty in the UK’s wild country that no photograph can replicate. So, I made a decision long ago to help others have the opportunity to go on them.

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A popular DofE hill on expedition – Sugar Loaf, Wales.

Over the years I have learnt that as an expedition leader, you need to be aware of the young people’s needs, why they want to do it, what they believe they are capable of and what they are really capable of (the results surprise them)… it’s both a journey for them and for you. Training can sometimes be frustrating, especially if the commitment isn’t there or they are being coerced into doing it via a parent… and often you have to remind yourself to step back and let them make mistakes and correct them themselves, that is how they will learn.

“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”

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Camp craft training at Marlborough Open Award centre, where I was a DofE Development worker for Wiltshire Council in 2016.

So, you can probably guess by now that I like to volunteer my time encouraging young people to get outdoors and on expeditions – DofE and Scouting being my main two areas.

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Explorer group at Newcourt farm for their Gold DofE practise, 2016.

I have been involved in both for over ten years now with the DofE leading me into Scouting (my American friend John, whom I met at uni, was a Scout and encouraged me so I chose Scouting as my volunteering section for My Gold DofE and haven’t looked back..). I’m still actively involved in both and since 2012 have been involved in leading a district Explorer Scout event called the Explorer Belt.

Just today, we had our first meeting with ten young people heading off to Serbia in July-August for the award; previously we’ve been to Hungary and Ireland running the award.

Seeing these ten youngsters today getting excited, looking at the maps, discussing their possible route, researching and choosing their projects makes me determined the help them succeed and support them along with their personal journey for these things do change you.

Serbian Explorer Belt participants from first meeting, 2018.

It won’t be easy for them as they will need to work together to plan an expedition over 10 days in another country exploring its culture and completing projects along the way – some great guidelines to follow which makes it so unique and interesting. Sadly, the Explorer Belt has the lowest sign ups/completions of all of the Scouting Awards. I personally think it’s the one they get the most experience from… I wish I had had the opportunity when I was their age, I would have loved it.

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Ireland Explorer Belt participants receiving their awards 2016.

Being outdoors in wild county on a hill side in Wales or the Lake District is one of the joys I find in life. I’ve got a large folder of photos of all the times when I’ve been supervising/on an expedition and I once tried to log them all but lost count…

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Out on a summer walk, totally forgotten where this is, South Wales, 2017.

Just recently had to turn down a leadership position for a Madagascar expedition, run by ScoutExpeds, as I’m hopefully back off to university in September and couldn’t commit the time to that expedition during the course – a decision I wished I hadn’t of had to consider (I really really wanted to say “yes” when they offered me it)! But alas, I need a career at some point; still, just to have been considered and asked feels me with pride.

So for now, I’ll be finishing off DofE and Scouting, having a year out (maybe) for studies then looking at something more unique for the young people to experience. I want to run an expedition within a developing country, such as Nepal, that combines charity work as well as exploration and home hospitality… watch this space (I aslo fancy another long trek!)

Just Joanne

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