A CARE leaver from Somerset spent the day at Buckingham Palace on Friday to receive his Gold Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) Award.

Elias Abiye, 20, who spent three years in a foster home before moving to London to live independently, is believed to be the first Somerset care leaver to achieve the gold award. 

A total of 6,000 young people from across the country attended the DofE Gold presentation in the palace grounds on May 20. 

“I felt very nervous in the morning,” said Elias.

“It was raining and I knew there would be lots of people there.

“However, when we got to Buckingham Palace, the sun was out and I was excited.

“I felt very lucky to be at the palace and the afternoon was really lovely.”

Elias took part in the Duke of Edinburgh programme while living in foster care, achieving his silver award in September 2019.

He took part in the gold award throughout the Covid pandemic and lockdowns and completed the award in January 2021.

The award has four main sections: Volunteering, physical, skills, and expedition. 

The gold programme also contains a residential section requiring entrants to undertake shared activities or courses in an unfamiliar environment away from home. 

Somerset County Gazette: Elias and independent visitor David outside Buckingham Palace.Elias and independent visitor David outside Buckingham Palace.

Besides the pandemic, Elias had to overcome difficult weather and tough challenges to complete his programme.

He said: “When we were doing the five-day residential trip near Snowdon in Wales, it was a bit windy and raining.

“We walked to checkpoints and did activities like kayaking and coasteering and had to jump off tall rocks into the sea.

“I didn’t want to do it at first. I couldn’t swim at the time. It was scary, but I needed to do it so I did, and then I did it again.”

Elias then learnt to swim for the physical section of the award and has since helped teach his friends the skill. 

He added: “I also did cooking. I didn’t know how to cook but I learnt how to cook and made Friday night dinners for my foster carers and foster family.

“I even made desserts. Yesterday, I made a Victoria sponge cake for my friends where I live now, and they liked it.” 

He also had to complete a 35-mile expedition on Dartmoor over four days with his team, despite more challenging conditions.

Somerset County Gazette: Elias is believed to be the first care leaver from Somerset to complete the Gold DofE Award.Elias is believed to be the first care leaver from Somerset to complete the Gold DofE Award.

“It was really bad weather,” he said.

“Just raining and raining. When we walked up to Yes Tor on the first day, there were Army cadettes walking back because of the weather, and the Army officer leading them asked us if we were sure we wanted to stay and camp. 

“I didn’t mind the rain too much as if it was sunny it would make you very tired, but then I was tired anyway because I went to bed without even cooking any food one night. 

“The difficult bit is putting up a tent when it’s raining and windy. It’s really hard and the ground you’re sleeping on is also wet. 

“When we were getting on the bus to go home I said, ‘can we walk back again?’ and they said, ‘are you mad?’”

Elias gave his time to support childrens' charity Barnardo's for the volunteering section.

Elias has also achieved a Pride of Somerset Award and two Shooting Star Awards while studying maths, English, and plumbing at Yeovil College. 

David Hamlin, who supports Elias on a one-to-one basis as an independent visitor through Route One Advocacy, said: “He doesn’t realise what he’s achieved, or how much effort he’s put in.

“Only a small percentage of participants who begin their gold award will go on to complete it. It is such a massive achievement.”

David is also an operations officer at Somerset County Council, which supports over 60 centres that deliver the Duke of Edinburgh Award. 

David works to encourage and support participation in the initiative from disadvantaged children and young people. 

“Elias has overcome so many obstacles to achieve his Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award, and with every challenge his attitude has been nothing but positive,” he said.

“He’s learnt to cook, learnt to swim, showed resilience and determination, and shared a lot of his new skills with others, which is a wonderful thing to do. 

“He is quite the baker now! He makes bread and cakes, and I know his foster family miss his Friday night Lasagne he used to cook for them. It was his signature dish! 

“It’s really amazing to see how Duke of Edinburgh and fostering can really help to transform a young person’s life and what they can achieve.”

Elias still keeps in touch with his foster family and has encouraged his foster brother to take part in the Duke of Edinburgh Award.

“I told him you should do it,” he said.

“You will learn new and different things. I would say to everyone you should do Duke of Edinburgh and try new things.

“I have made friends and learnt a lot of new skills.” 

Foster carers receive a weekly fee and allowance for each child in their care, plus a dedicated supervising social worker and on-going training and support.  

To learn more about fostering in Somerset, visit www.fosteringinsomerset.org.uk or call 0800 587 9900.