We spoke to the leader of The Windmill Youth Group who told us what it takes to be a member and complete The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.
Retired policeman Stuart Sykes was honoured an MBE in 2002 for his work with young people. This amount of dedication and determination for the success of the next generation can not only be seen by his personal achievements but with the hundreds of youngsters who have completed the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme through his youth group – The Windmill Youth Group – over the last 40 years. Stuart spent the latter 10 years of his service in the police running an offences committee by and against young people but in 1978 he realised it was more beneficial for them to gain a qualification rather than a conviction. He now has a team of 22 adolescents who meet and train weekly and 40 overall from a mix of backgrounds. Some of the 18 who don’t meet weekly with the rest of the team have other important commitments such as university so can only partake occasionally. He told us that some people come from privileged, wealthy backgrounds with parents who support them along the way and the antithesis of this; “people who don’t even know who their parents are”. By placing so many young people together from a variety of backgrounds, they get to become aware of the difference and become more open minded, well-rounded people. He claimed that he uses “mother nature and outdoor environments as a challenge for them, and it works”.
The name of the group – The Windmill Youth Group – comes from when Stuart bought the lease to the Little Marton Windmill, situated just off the M55 in Blackpool, in 1989. His team at the time refurbished the inside of the windmill, with help being given from Blackpool council who refurbished the outside. Unfortunately, as the group grew, the premises quickly became too small so they moved near to Stanley Park where the twenty two strong team now meets weekly for training.
As mentioned, the group train to complete the Duke of Edinburgh award in which the age range is 13 to 25 year olds. Despite this, The Windmill group see mainly 13 to 19 year olds through the award scheme. With 5 of their 10 volunteers having worked up to gold in the youth group themselves. These 5 ‘supervisors’ help and lead the youngsters who are currently training in the group which is ideal for them as they can get first hand advice and guidance from people who have completed the award.
The team are very close knit and communicate through their Facebook group and Whatsapp chats. Anybody is welcome to join the youth group by contacting Stuart Sykes via The Windmill Youth Group website but as their site states: “it is not easy in The Windmill Group”. The amount of physical activity and determination to succeed may put people off as Stuart told us. He gave us the example that 100 people could pass their bronze award, meaning 50 would continue and pass silver, leaving only 10 who succeed and complete the final gold award. The process is tough and will put a lot to the test besides your physical ability but the results from achieving the gold Duke of Edinburgh award are incredible. Stuart emphasised that employers would be favourable of somebody who has a gold award as it means they are dedicated, determined and tough as well as somebody who has great communication skills – another area that the group focus on. He stated that people who he has seen through the Duke of Edinburgh have come back and said they were chosen for jobs with hundreds of applicants because of their gold award.
Although the group accept anybody from all walks of life, they work hard to ensure than non-academics are given all the training and experience they need to set them up for life as opposed to going into further education. They train young people to be skilled electricians, plumbers and builders and well as people wanting to go into the caring field of work for example. It is in these areas that the focus of communication in the real world takes place.
The Windmill Youth Group have been fortunate enough to have received money from the well known charity Children in Need as well as the Lottery and many local benefactors. This is because the group, unfortunately, have to find all funding for themselves and with it costing £25,000 a year to run, they are always looking for help. The team of volunteers and the young people involved themselves “put the effort in and give up their time” and leader of group, Stuart, declared that they “make every pound work, nothing is wasted”.
Despite a lot of it seeming hard work, the group is also “exciting, fun and you get to meet a lot of different people” meaning the social side of it is also hugely beneficial and enjoyable for young people wanting to completed the Duke of Edinburgh award.