Home » Young woman from Aberystwyth is first ever to give a speech in British Sign Language at Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award celebrations in Buckingham Palace Garden 
Aberystwyth Education News North Wales

Young woman from Aberystwyth is first ever to give a speech in British Sign Language at Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award celebrations in Buckingham Palace Garden 

A YOUNG deaf woman from Aberystwyth today became the first young person to give a speech in British Sign Language to thousands of Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards holders at Buckingham Palace, alongside His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh and astronaut Tim Peake.

Hafwen Clarke, 19, – who was also celebrating achieving her own Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s (DofE) Award at this morning’s event – took to the Palace’s West Terrace to share her inspiring DofE story with around 2,000 other Gold Award achievers. Hafwen is the first young person to give a speech in sign language at a Gold Awards celebration in the DofE charity’s history.

Hafwen, whose speech was converted into spoken English by an interpreter, was joined for the special day by her father, John.

Hafwen’s celebration was one of four very special festival-style events taking place in Buckingham Palace garden over two days on Friday 10 and Monday 13 May, recognising over 8,000 young people who have shown extraordinary perseverance, creativity and resilience to complete their Gold DofE in schools, community organisations, youth groups and workplaces, all over the UK.   

From the West Terrance, Hafwen, who attended Ysgol Penglais school in Aberystwyth, described how she was proud to ‘show the world what deaf people can do.’ She said,Deaf people can do anything hearing people can do, except hear. We may communicate in a different language, but we are still able to communicate. I’ve met so many deaf people in my life, we are all just like you. We love communication, we love exploring the world and we love activities just like you.”

Hafwen, who completed her DofE through St John Ambulance Cymru, and is now a DofE Cymru Youth Ambassador, said, “I want to be a voice for young people with disabilities within the DofE. I want to give other young people courage, hope and happiness – leading by example and getting involved.

“I’m now studying a hairdressing course in Exeter College. Moving away from home was hard because I missed my family. But DofE taught me that if the skies get rough, I won’t give up or let my deafness stop me.”

Buckingham Palace Garden was transformed into a festival-style celebration for the Gold Award celebrations, with giant deckchairs, bunting, and garden games and activities. Attendees had the chance to hear from famous DofE Award holders and broadcasting legends, and pick up career advice from actors, presenters, authors and campaigners, at stages throughout the garden.   

Today’s celebration saw was hosted by The Duke of Edinburgh – who received his own Gold Award from his father Prince Philip at nearby St James’s Palace in 1986. The Duke congratulated attendees in a speech from the Palace’s West Terrace, before meeting Award holders and hearing about the positive impact their DofE has had on them.  

British astronaut Tim Peake delivered an inspiring speech, recalling the skills that helped him deal with an emergency during a spacewalk with a fellow astronaut: “Tim Kopra had a leak in his space suit’s cooling system – something that could rapidly turn into a life-threatening drowning situation. Despite this, we kept calm. Communicating every step of the way with not just each other but Mission Control, we monitored the size of the water bubble and successfully returned to the station within half an hour. It was a testament to our teamwork, communication, and followership – the very same skills you’ve been honing through your Duke of Edinburgh’s Award – that allowed us to keep safe, calm and collected.”

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Tim added, “As you embark on the next chapter of your lives, I urge you to think optimistically and dream big – dream stratospheric – and never underestimate the power of your own potential. The achievements of reaching space may seem distant, but they serve as a reminder that we are only limited by the perceptions we hold of ourselves. Each of you has proven your resilience and determination through your Gold Award journey, and I have no doubt that you will continue to rise to the challenges that lie ahead.”   

Content creator Fats Timbo, author and journalist Frank Gardner OBE, TV Chef Cherish Finden, firefighter Sabrina Cohen-Hatton, stylist Ellis Ranson, and McFly drummer Harry Judd and mum Emma were also on hand with inspirational talks on careers and life skills.  

A Gold DofE Award is a major achievement – young people spend at least 12 months improving a physical activity, honing new skills, planning and completing an expedition and residential, and volunteering for a cause they are passionate about.   

Ruth Marvel, CEO of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, said, “The young people here today have achieved something exceptional, and it is wonderful to see them celebrating together, sharing their experiences and hearing their aspirations for the future. DofE is all about proving to yourself just what you are capable of, and the young people here today have showed the world that their potential is limitless. I can’t wait to see what they go on to do next.

“As a charity, we’re working hard to give as many young people as possible the chance to have a DofE experience and we’re delighted to announce that last year 330,948 young people started a DofE Award – another record-breaking year. This growth in participation shows just how much appetite there is amongst young people for enrichment and development opportunities beyond formal education and, together with our partners, we are determined to keep extending our reach until every young person has access to these types of life-changing experiences.”

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award has been focusing on breaking down barriers to give as many young people as possible the chance to do their DofE – working with more schools in deprived areas, further education colleges, community organisations, prisons and young offender institutions, and centres supporting young people with special educational needs and disabilities.

The charity recently announced record-breaking annual statistics, with 545,910 young people actively taking part in 2023/24, 330,984 young people starting their Award – and participants contributing an astonishing 4.7 million hours of Volunteering, equivalent to over £24 million in paid working hours.  

As young people navigate the after-effects of the pandemic, access to opportunities for personal development beyond the classroom, like the DofE, are vital to help them have fun, discover new talents and passions, build their resilience and self-belief and give them skills employers value – like teamwork, problem-solving and leadership.