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01/10/2014

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31 (Tower Hamlets) Air Cadets

Tower Hamlets Air Cadets started running CREST Awards in 2013, and have completed several Bronze and Silver projects. Their cadets have also taken part in an RAF logistics work experience camp, during which they earned Silver CREST Awards by carrying out a project over the course of the week. Coralie Young explains why the group started running CREST Awards, and what sort of things the group have been doing.

Why did you get involved with CREST Awards?

We knew that teaching our cadets about aviation and aeronautical engineering is a standard activity for an air cadet unit - although we quickly found our cadets love doing practical, hands-on exercises, and really enjoyed doing investigations and group challenges - far more so than just sitting and listening to lectures! We were keen to find a way for the projects they worked on to be recognised, or accredited - and CREST Awards were a perfect fit. We also used the CREST online resources to give the cadets a whole new set of ideas, and allowed them to set out their own investigations without having a method or plan clearly prescribed by us. This was difficult at first, but they've absolutely thrived on the challenge, and the autonomy that the CREST Awards allow.

What kind of projects do you do?

It's been quite varied - and the cadets come up with new ideas for projects they'd like to work on all the time! Initially we restricted it to project ideas relating to aircraft and flying, so it was in line with the core purpose of our group. This led to lots of interesting projects that involved testing the air flow over different wing shapes, researching the evolution of aircraft design, and looking at the properties of modern materials used in fighter jets and transport aircraft. Most of these were very low budget projects - using paper and card models, testing air flow using a fan, researching facts on the internet, and sketching and drawing new designs.

Once we'd done a few projects like these, we realised how much more CREST Awards could actually involve - and found lots of great project ideas relating to sports science, science communication, and nutrition, all of which tied in to activities we conducted on our parade nights. We're currently investigating the waterproofing of different materials we use on expeditions (waterproof coats, tents, socks etc.) and have researched properties of climbing ropes and other sports equipment.

It's especially exciting to realise how a CREST Award can tie in to other recognised awards and qualifications... it's now a recognised Skill for the Duke of Edinburgh's Award (which almost every air cadet unit runs!) and we've got lots of plans for the future. For cadets starting sports leader training, we hope to run concurrent CREST Awards based around exercise programmes for athletes, and research in to nutritional values of sports drinks and energy bars. Rocketry also features on our training syllabus this year, so we're definitely going to be working towards CREST Awards relating to this!

We were privileged enough to earn places on a work experience camp at RAF Halton for Air Cadets, and Girls' Venture Corps Air Cadets. During this, they work on a logistics project during the week-long camp, which saw them earn a Silver Award. Both this, and the Awards we run at squadron have given our cadets a great experience of carrying out practical project work, that they may not otherwise have had.

How do you think you benefitted from being a part of the CREST Award experience?

The cadets have told us how much they've enjoyed being part of it - and we hope having earned this Award will make a meaningful contribution to their college/university applications, as well as to their CVs. Our cadets come from a broad range of backgrounds, and although some had an existing interest in aviation and engineering, some definitely didn't - so the enjoyable experiences they've had doing these projects, have been eye-opening!

What's the best thing about your young people doing a CREST Award?

It gives us something really different to offer them. It's not always easy to find productive, interesting ways to fill our training programme. Like pretty much all youth groups, we're a charity, run by volunteers - and so our time and resources are not infinite. Although there is an initial investment of time and energy to find out more about the Awards, and understand how they work - it's definitely rewarding to see the group spending very contented hours working on their projects, and getting recognition for their achievements at the end.

Any wise words to youth groups thinking of undertaking CREST Awards?

Don't be put off if it sounds complicated. The website has lots of suggestions and helpsheets to give you advice on how to get started. There are projects that are very practical, and also those that are theoretical/research based - so even if you don't have much space, there are still probably projects you can find that work for you. Air cadets in particular will probably find that a lot of projects, games, challenges and things that they already run, actually work really well within the CREST Award structure, and so with fairly minimal effort, you can get a recognised Award out of the work your cadets already do!