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Westminster Award selection 2021

Last week we ran our annual CVQO Westminster Award selection event – though not in quite the same way as we are used to.

Gone were the campfire chats, hiking around the Quantocks, command tasks and the traditional mix of activities; in came Zoom.

Our challenge was to recreate selection in a way that was engaging, challenging, fair, safe and fun. We think the event was a big success and we hope the candidates felt the same way.

What’s happened so far?

The 2020 Westminster Award was placed on hold back in March last year, which now feels a lifetime away. At the time, we told those candidates who had reached selection we would commit to a plan to keep the Award going and would let them know as soon as we had some news.

We decided to open nominations as normal in November 2020 and we encouraged youth groups and cadet units to put forward candidates who had gone over and above for their communities during lockdown. We received some incredibly inspiring submissions.

Once we knew who our 2021 selection event finalists would be, we added those to the 2020 candidates and created a group of 55, split into five groups of 11, who would take part in a joint online selection.

The candidates engaged in teamwork and leadership tasks that would test their ability to work together, think logically and tackle some tricky questions around morals and ethics – all the while finding innovative ways to get to know each other from behind a screen.

Our finalists built a mythical obelisk, worked together to create a mountain rescue plan, saved shipwrecked passengers and took on other teamwork challenges, all from the relative comfort of their own homes.

We also delivered the bulk of our ILM Level 3 Award in Leadership and Management, which will be followed up by a series of online support sessions in the coming weeks.

Joining the candidates were former winners and finalists from Westminster Award cohorts gone by: Jo Baker (2015 winner), Precious Oyelade (2012 finalist), Bella Scanio (2017 winner), James Rowberry (2017 finalist), Ben Hunter (2019 finalist), Ruta Dubinskaite (2019 winner), Baljodh Singh (2019 finalist) and Cameron McEleney (2016 winner). We could not have managed the week without them.

What happens next?

As for what comes next, we have made a couple more changes to the Award that we hope will reward our young people for persevering during a tough year – and enable us to help those in need a little closer to home in the process.

Providing government restrictions allow, we are going to take our finalists to Cornwall for between 10 and 14 days in the summer. We will work with some Cornish charities on a varied programme of community, environmental and humanitarian aid projects. We don’t want to say too much more at this stage as it is a work in progress!

The House of Lords lunch – once again, subject to the government’s roadmap – will take place at the end of summer. There we will gather our 2020 and 2021 finalists to celebrate their achievements, recap their Cornish adventure and crown two Westminster Award winners.

What makes the Westminster Award so special is that it unearths individuals who shine in difficult circumstances; young people who display resilience under pressure, those who defy the hand they have been dealt to overcome the odds.

Young people have experienced a year like no other but CVQO, along with all of the cadet forces and youth groups we work with, are committed to doing what we can to give them skills for life and experiences to cherish. We hope this was one of them.