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Ruth Marvel, CEO of the DofE explains the important role that they have to play in the recovery of young people hit hard by the Pandemic

It’s almost trite to say this last year has been like no other. But it’s difficult to articulate just how distinct, disruptive and damaging the COVID-19 pandemic has been, for so many young people across the world. It’s put their studies, work and social lives on hold; taken away exams, birthday celebrations, graduation ceremonies and other important milestones; kept them apart from friends and extended families; and, for long stretches of time, shrunk their world to the four walls of home.

23 Feb 2021

The mental and physical health impacts of the pandemic on young people are well documented but we’ve yet to see how this crisis will shape the long-term opportunities and wellbeing of this ‘COVID generation’. In particular, the future opportunities for young people, who face additional barriers and have been hardest hit by the negative effects of the pandemic, including educational poverty and rising unemployment.

Young people need a range of support and opportunities to help them survive and heal and we, at the DofE, along with our partner, Legal & General, have an important role to play in that recovery. Through their DofE, 490,000 young people across the UK gain structure, focus and purpose, that are vital for their mental and physical wellbeing. Their worlds expand and they’re (safely) introduced to causes, subjects and opinions outside of their immediate circles. They get the opportunity to give back to their communities, at a time when volunteers are needed more than ever. They develop key skills and attributes, including resilience and confidence, and achieve an Award that will open doors when applying for further education or jobs. And for young people who face greater disadvantage, in young offender institutions, experiencing social and economic exclusion, and those with disabilities, the benefits of DofE are all the greater.

Young people have been remarkable throughout the pandemic. Through their DofE With A Difference they’ve shown compassion, adaptability and strength. I’m in awe of our participants – the 40 young people who committed time to Newham Borough Council to support the coronavirus relief effort; Harry, who has autism and a rare genetic condition, who grows vegetables in his allotment to give to vulnerable neighbours; Evie who records herself singing to cheer up residents at the care home she volunteers at; and Yoel who’s been inspiring others to keep fit at home.

So, as I reflect on 2020, it’s with a range of emotions. I’m devastated about the impact this pandemic has had, and will continue to have, on young people. But I’m filled with hope when I see how resilient and creative young people are in the face of such adversity. And I am incredibly proud that throughout this crisis DofE has continued to provide structure, focus and purpose for young people, enabling 50,000 young people to continue volunteering throughout the first national lockdown, helping to change their and other’s lives for the better.

Our determination to enable young people to develop the life skills, confidence and resilience they need to help them successfully navigate the choppy waters ahead is unshakable. At times like this DofE is more important than it’s ever been and, together with partners like Legal and General, we will ensure that we are there for young people now and in the future.

Rosie Toogood, CEO of Legal & General Modular Homes said:

“It is brilliant that despite the pandemic the DofE continues to help provide the support and the structure young people need. The charity has helped give young people purpose at a time when many question their day to day activities.

“As a mother myself, and with children who have been involved with the DofE, I have seen first-hand the value and the impact DofE has in helping to build confidence, friendships, resilience and sense of achievement, as well as the fun you can also have when you do a DofE programme. It demonstrates to young people that even in a pandemic, their actions can help the wider community with volunteer work.

“A year is a long time for a teenager’s (and I am speaking from first-hand experience!!) life to be disrupted but I do believe initiatives like the DofE can make a real difference to their mental well-being”