'Life-changing and life-enhancing' - St Albans woman reveals impact of Duke of Edinburgh award

Myah Richards taking part in her Bronze Duke of Edinburgh award.

Myah Richards taking part in her Bronze Duke of Edinburgh award. - Credit: HCC

A young woman from St Albans has paid tribute to the "life-changing" impact of her Duke of Edinburgh award as the country prepares for the funeral of Prince Philip. 

Myah Richards, 21, who has cerebral palsy and spastic diplegia, said that achieving a Bronze Award three years ago helped break down the barriers of perception around her disability and gave her the confidence to enrol on a college course.

Myah, who also has Tourette’s Syndrome and visual impairment meaning she has no peripheral vision, completed her Bronze DofE programme while at Lonsdale School in Stevenage.

She said: “Because of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award I’m now on a mainstream college course, studying Health and Social Care and that’s all down to The DofE; it’s built up my confidence. Before that I was doing special needs courses, so it’s been life-changing and life-enhancing.

“It gives you the ability, rather than looking at disability all the time, and helps you see what your capabilities are and what you can achieve in the future. You realise you’re an equal and it builds up your confidence to say to people 'I’m disabled but I can do this'."

Myah explained why she decided to complete her Bronze DofE: “I just thought I would join in and see how far I would get with it and I went on to finish it. It made me feel on the same level as everyone else taking part.

“It was challenging but at the same time I really enjoyed it. Our school had varying levels of disability, so it was great to mix with people without disabilities. I’m now doing my Silver programme and I’m mixing with people who have the same interests as me, and I’m building up my mainstream social skills too.

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“I think the experiences have a life-changing effect – especially for people who are more disabled by society, rather than their actual disability and are not encouraged. I was encouraged all the time.”

To complete the expedition, held locally in Stevenage, Myah received support from Lonsdale School carers who assisted her throughout the stay, with a highlight being cooking around the campfire.

Reflecting on Prince Philip's legacy, Myah said: “I’m really glad the Duke of Edinburgh started The DofE Award and that my school enabled me to take part because without it I might have left school without a career plan. When you’re disabled, you think “what’s the point in trying to qualify when society views disability so negatively?”  but if you don’t try, you don’t know.”

Myah is now studying Health and Social Care at Oaklands College in Welwyn Garden City with the aim to work at providing end of life care for children.

She said: “I have chosen to go into this field for my future career because I have had lots of friends with Duchenne muscular dystrophy and I would like to be able to provide a better quality life for people suffering from this condition and other life limiting conditions in childhood."

Since 2013 a total of 41,342 young people have enrolled in the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme through Herts county council, with 19,072 achieving awards so far across the three levels - Bronze, Silver and Gold - through volunteering, physical activity, learning new skills, expeditions and residentials (at Gold level only). Participants have until they are aged 25 to complete the awards.

Jenny Coles, director of children’s services said: “The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award has been a part of the county council’s contribution to enhancing the lives and life chances of our young people since the early 1970s.

“This fantastic legacy from the Duke of Edinburgh will continue to offer life-changing and inclusive opportunities to young people from diverse backgrounds, equipping them with independence, essential life skills, camaraderie and a chance to contribute to their communities.”