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Duke of Edinburgh’s Award changed lives of East End girls – ex-youth worker

Ryan Hooper, PA
·2-min read

A former youth worker who once accompanied a group of working-class East End teenagers to Buckingham Palace to meet the Duke of Edinburgh has praised his award programme for “changing their lives”.

Joan Salter, from north London, said Philip was “charming and not at all snobby” when he spent time with her group of six girls from Tower Hamlets, who were invited to the palace in the early 1970s in recognition of achieving their Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award.

The programme was launched in the UK in 1956 and has resulted in millions of children taking part in after-school activities and residential weekends away.

Mrs Salter, 81, was summoned to the palace with her group of 16 and 17-year-olds, following a week-long expedition to Wales to achieve the award’s highest certification.

She told the PA news agency: “He was a very, very handsome man, that was true.

“He was so, so friendly, he really took care of the girls and he really, genuinely appreciated what they had done.

“Tower Hamlets at the time was a very poor area, and a lot of them had never even got a bus out of Tower Hamlets, so part of youth service was broadening their horizons and the Duke of Edinburgh Award was absolutely fantastic for that.

“The impression of the royal family is of an elitist group of people, however, all I can say is there was absolutely no snobbishness about Philip.

“I know he has a reputation for being grumpy, but maybe some of the people he was grumpy at deserved it.

“He just was so interested that the girls had achieved it. It really opened doors for a lot of kids.

“He talked to the kids, he was genuinely interested and I think he was almost amazed at what the girls had achieved.

“Their parents were sat behind them and were ready to burst with pride.”

Holocaust Memorial Day
Joan Salter (Geoff Caddick/PA)

Mrs Salter said the duke spent several hours meeting Duke of Edinburgh’s Award recipients from across the country, chatting with them individually about their expeditions and presenting them with medals.

“None (of the children in her group) would have gone to Buckingham Palace in those days from that sort of background,” she said.

“A lot of them had not even gone up to the West End to the shop or a theatre, it was just outside their world.

“The award scheme opened up their world beyond their expectations and aspirations they might have had.”

Mrs Salter, a Polish Jew who was awarded an MBE for Holocaust education in 2018, added: “Obviously he didn’t organise the scheme on his own, but without him facilitating it a lot of people’s lives wouldn’t be what they are today.”