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Inspired by her brother and sister’s experiences of Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards, student Caitlin Kelly was determined to take on the challenge too. The 23-year-old Performing Arts student has overcome the difficulties of cerebral palsy, epilepsy and visual impairment, displaying a determination and fortitude that has inspired her family, and the entire Derwen DofE team.

DofE student Caitlin is a 23-year-old residential Performing Arts student at Derwen College, in Shropshire. When back at home, she lives with her family in Devon.

Whilst at the college for young adults with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), she has completed her Bronze Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, and most of her Silver. She wasn’t able to complete the Silver expedition in Summer 2020 due to Covid but hopes to finish this year. She went on to enrol on the Gold DofE in September 2020 and is making excellent progress towards completing both awards before the end of 2021.

Caitlin has cerebral palsy and epilepsy, and is visually impaired; she has a one-to-one carer to support her needs. She faces many challenges on a daily basis, never mind on a DofE expedition, but refuses to allow anything to hold her back.

She will give anything a go, and particularly enjoyed canoeing training sessions for her Silver Award. Though the activities were physically and mentally draining, she worked hard as part of a team, and loved her time on the water.

Caitlin also enjoys being outdoors doing practical sessions. She loves all the activities around the campfire making different foods including homemade bread baked on an open fire. She also enjoys the expedition training sessions where she practised using a trangia stove for cooking, and map work and navigation.

Caitlin has taken on a host of different activities as part of her DofE. For her volunteering, she has supported Derwen College Charity and the environment with litter picks, and collecting apples from the orchard. Fruit is then delivered to the College food centre to made into chutneys which are sold in College’s garden centre Shop.

Caitlin is also excited to help with the development of the College’s latest project, a new dedicated DofE area on site.

For the physical aspect of the awards, Caitlin has been keeping fit in the gym and with swimming. She has also been learning new skills in backwoods cooking, woodland craft and making hedgehog shelters.

Caitlin said: “I have made new friends.

“I like canoeing and Backwoods cooking. My favourite thing to make was bread.”

“I had help from my one-to-one and Mr Evans. I like DofE every Tuesday. It is fun.”

She is now in training for challenging canoeing and walking expeditions for her Silver and Gold and hopes to be able to achieve both over her time at Derwen at beyond.

Derwen Duke of Edinburgh’s Award leader Steve Evans said:

“Caitlin completed the bronze award and expedition at Derwen College, and this achievement was really inspirational. She is a very committed young lady with a strong will to achieve.  Much of DofE will have pushed Caitlin out of her comfort zone but she always remains positive and enthusiastic about future challenges.  We have made minor adaptions so Caitlin can take part in all areas of the award; small things like adapting zips on sleeping bags, enlarged maps, and support when using a kettle/cooking on a Trangia. But these are tiny adaptations. It is Caitlin’s determination and have-a-go attitude that gets her through the award.

“The Silver canoe expedition and Gold walking expedition will be a challenge for Caitlin but she is a dedicated and enthusiastic young lady so I am sure she will go onto achieve.”

Caitlin’s parents said:

“Caitlin’s elder brother and sister both worked on the Bronze and Silver levels but time and circumstances were against them getting their Gold Awards.  Derwen College not only offered the programme but had an enthusiastic instructor in the form of Steve Evans, and she easily took to the programme.

“She’s also had wonderful support from her one-to-one team, and we are very grateful for their support and encouragement. 

“The programme gives Caitlin great pride. It makes her feel like she is part of something. She likes to get out and do things and try things. The programme is also a wonderful way to connect with the community – be it the people with whom she is working to achieve the awards or the people she encounters in undertaking the awards such as when she volunteers. 

 “The programme has given her responsibilities and the ability to try different things she probably would not have tried on her own.  It has certainly challenged her and made her – and us – aim higher!”