A young explorer from Wakefield is celebrating winning the prestigious British Exploring Society (BES) Young Explorer of the Year Award following a three-week expedition to the Peruvian Amazon. Teenager Leon scooped the award – which recognises character development skills such as leadership and dealing with adversity – at a glittering award ceremony held at the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) in West London earlier this month.
Leon, who at the time lived with his foster family in Wakefield, embarked on the jungle expedition with 40 other young people after getting a taste for adventure during a recent trip to the Scottish Highlands, also organised by BES. Focusing on transformational youth development through expeditions to remote locations, BES draws together young explorers aged 14-25 from a wide variety of backgrounds whose paths might otherwise never cross – from communities facing high levels of economic and social deprivation as well as from those where expectations of personal and professional success are high. Regardless of each participant’s starting point, these expeditions are designed to take them out of their comfort zone and give them the chance to mix and exchange ideas – in tents and canoes, up mountains and in the jungle.
Throughout the expedition, each young BES explorer uses an impact measurement tool to track his or her progress in eight key development areas:
- making decisions that matter
- managing feelings
- reasons to keep going
- communication skills problem solving
- becoming a positive part of a team or community
- facing challenges – building resilience
- understanding the wider world and impact on the environment
Leon was introduced to BES expeditions through a partnership programme offered by his foster care provider, Outcomes First Group, which operates National Fostering Group, a collection of local, independent fostering agencies that work with local authorities in the UK to provide safe and nurturing environments for children, young people and adults. Having been taken into care at the age of 12, Leon was an anxious and troubled teenager who had endured unthinkable challenges throughout his childhood. His foster parents, who looked after him for four years until he turned 18 and started living independently, have been hugely supportive. They nominated Leon for a place on an expedition, describing it as “the opportunity of a lifetime”.
Commenting on the impact of the expedition and award win, Angela Golland, National Quality Officer for Outcomes First Group, said, “Leon was blown away when it was announced that he had won the Explorer of the Year award and I could see the tears in his eyes on stage as he was given the glass Welsh dragon and his certificate for this award. By partnering with the BES we are able to broaden the horizons of the children and young people we support and deliver on our pledge to make a real difference in their lives.”
BES Young Explorer of the Year Award was set up in memory of Les Morgan, a former Chief Leader for BES who died of Motor Neurone Disease in 2004, whose aspiration was to encourage young people to understand the wilderness and to learn about themselves while enjoying those spaces. A coal miner’s son from South Wales, Les believed that you could lead from the front, but also by example from the sidelines – and that most of all, as a real explorer, you always looked out for one another.
Paul Batterbury, Chief Leader on the Amazon trip, nominated Leon for the award as he “stood out as exceptional”. He highlighted Leon’s transformational personal development, noting how he became “a different person” in the jungle, as well as his exemplary team commitment: “Leon gave generously of his time and energy, no task too small or beneath him; always the success of the group and the welfare of individuals at the centre of his activities. I commend him heartily for this award.”
Leon added, “It was a brilliant trip and I want to do more. I wouldn’t have met the people I met anywhere else in my life. I would tell anyone who’s thinking about it to grab hold of it!”