The YET Stephenson Lifetime Achievement Award

Young Explorers' Trust

A YET Stephenson Lifetime Achievement Award has been given to John Hegarty of Dorset Expeditionary Society for his outstanding record in the development of youth expeditions over the last 30 years.

John arrived in Dorset in the early 1980s to work at Budmouth College already with an impressive track record of challenging young people of all abilities and backgrounds to raise their aspirations, to take on leadership and become successful caring citizens. John’s ‘raison d’etre’ is the development of young people by empowering them to succeed. In every facet of his life, John has been committed to creating opportunities for young people through the medium of outdoor adventure. Countless youngsters from across the socio-economic spectrum have participated in weekend programmes and overseas expeditions inspired and led by John.

John has always been a visionary and a risk taker. As a consequence, he sees opportunities for young people and makes things happen where others see problems. For this reason his views, ideas, energy, and resourcefulness have been garnered by an impressive array of national bodies. He has injected life into certain organisations that were coasting and indeed in some cases were failing young people. One such group was the South Dorset Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Committee. The take up rate for the DofE in the area was poor. John, new to the area, was soon elected Chairman. Immediately the number of participating schools rose. The first overseas DofE expedition from South Dorset led by John took place to Iceland. Today two local schools, Wey Valley and Budmouth have impressive numbers of Bronze and Silver Award participants. John continues to take an active part in the DofE. As well as overseeing, as Vice-Principal, the DofE at Budmouth College, he is himself a Gold Award assessor and his overseas expeditions qualify for Gold Expedition and Residential sections.

Beyond supporting the DofE, John was personally responsible for developing outdoor education in schools in Weymouth where before none existed. He founded the Dorset Educational Activity Training Courses where children in the area are given regular opportunities for adventure training. John also extended opportunities to other members of the community. Many parents of students have themselves undertaken a weekend of adventurous pursuits. It clearly demonstrates John’s philosophy of inclusion.

Lord Hunt of Llanfair Waterdine, best known for his leadership of the successful Mount Everest expedition in 1953 and a lifelong supporter of young people wrote “that every young person in the United Kingdom should have the opportunity to take part in adventurous outdoor activities.” John firmly believes in this philosophy. Since before 1982 John has been leading adventure weekends in the Brecons and latterly, Dartmoor. His charismatic leadership has inspired thousands of young people. Lord Hunt recognised John’s huge part in making his wish a reality by becoming a Patron of John’s overseas youth expeditions.

In 1986 John co-founded a registered charity &en; the Dorset Expeditionary Society &en; the aims of which are to promote leadership and create opportunities through adventure, expeditions and exploration for all young people to develop and become successful citizens and who contribute to a fair and just society. As Co-Founder John saw the DES as an organisation to cultivate and promote the personal qualities of service, self-sufficiency, self-confidence, entrepreneurship, loyalty, etc. that are essential to success and happiness in a rapidly changing world. The Society (DES), is now a national provider and holds a Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award license to provide expeditions and residential experiences. John believes that as a registered charity, The DES should work closely with the community and particularly with schools and colleges. The DES provides grants to support young people who otherwise may be excluded from active participation in adventurous activities due to financial and other circumstances.

Beyond that, John has always put the development of future leaders as a high priority. The DES provides grants for young leaders’ wishing to gain national qualifications. This, and grants to schools, is unique in the expedition world.

John is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. He is also a past recipient of a Winston Churchill Fellowship. He chose to spend 6 weeks in the southern states of the USA studying the youth justice and penal system. His experiences observing the effect that outdoor learning can have on re-offending served to strengthen his belief that only through this medium can disadvantaged and challenging young members of society be directed from a life of crime. His subsequent report was well received and John was asked by the Prince’s Trust to lead a group of challenging young people on a summer camp to Caister, Norfolk, raising the expectations of 12 disparate young people, some on life license, to such a degree that they ended up working as a team.

As well as running an extensive UK adventure and leadership programme, John has led over 30 major overseas youth expeditions to such places as Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, China, Thailand, India. John has kept meticulous records of the subsequent development of the hundreds of young people who have participated.

John set the benchmark for all DES leaders to follow. Each young expeditioner on his venture is expected to take on a leadership role before and during the trip. This has had a profound effect upon the self-confidence and decision making ability of a hitherto raw recruit. John’s former teams are now successful citizens who are making a valuable contribution to the economic and social well-being of the nation. Three are now trustees of the Dorset Expeditionary Society.

John continues to look to further opportunities for young people. At Budmouth College he was the driving force behind the college developing a Combined Cadet Force. The number of recruits is growing annually. The resources available to John are such that he is able to provide further opportunities to young people whose energy is now channeled to in positive achievement. Where previously many lacked self-confidence and self-discipline there is now a structure to their lives.

John has dedicated much of his adult life to young people. He has never changed in his belief that they are the future of our nation. John’s commitment to young people deserves to be publicly recognised.


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