Hampshire County Council have been running their Gold DofE Expedition along the South Downs Way since coronavirus restricted non-essential travel in the UK. However DofE Leaders Ben and Stuart didn’t expect that two years later this would be their most popular open expedition, and the young people taking part would feel such a huge sense of achievement and accomplishment from completing the South Downs Way challenge.
The idea for running expeditions along the South Downs Way was first considered as one of the schools under Hampshire County Council’s DofE licence was located along the route. This allowed the participants to return home to sleep (while coronavirus restrictions were in place) and they could use motorised transport to return to the school at the start and end of each day. However, Ben and Stuart soon saw how much the young people got out of doing an expedition so locally to them and have continued to the run the expedition regularly ever since.
As well as being an opportunity to explore an area on their doorstep, running Gold Expeditions along the South Downs Way meant they were able to reduce both the environmental and financial impact of travelling to wild country. Both Ben and Stuart feel proud of this expedition, and how inclusive it is. The South Downs Way is the first National Trail in the UK to become fully accessible, as any wheelchair or motorised vehicle can travel and access any part of it from Eastbourne to Winchester. The trail has also made adjustments to support those with visual and hearing impairments and as the route is accessible by motorised transport, participants can be supported to be taken to campsites at the end of each day. This also means young people have the knowledge that they can safely remove themselves from the route where needed, something that has been important for young people with additional needs, or those experiencing anxiety.
Ben, DofE Manager for Hampshire Outdoors, says: “It’s been the busiest expedition we’ve had, we’ve now supported over two hundred young people to do this route for their Gold Expedition. It’s definitely the most popular choice.
“Since the pandemic we have seen an increase in the levels of anxiety in the young people we work with. Several young people choose our South Downs Way expedition because they are able to research the entire route before they start, and with the easy access, they know they can easily get out if they need to. Young people have been through a lot in the past few years, and it’s important to recognise that and make the suitable adjustments needed.”
Stuart, Development Manager for Hampshire Outdoors, says: “I’ve never seen young people more emotional than when they’ve got to the end of the South Downs Way for their Gold Expedition. Although the route is less challenging from a navigation perspective, they are completing long days and are working with their team, some of whom they may never have met before, for a long duration of time. By the end of the expedition, they’re usually friends for life, and their feedback is always so positive. We’ve even seen several of them going back with their friends to walk various parts of the route again in their own time.”
“National Trails are run across the country and go through some amazing landscapes – from the Offa’s Dyke, Hadrian’s Wall and the Cotswolds Way – there are lots of options and so much scope out there for future DofE Expeditions.”