RNC student strikes Gold as he celebrates DofE award

Two professional photographs, the one on the left is Kieran smiling into the camera as he holds his DofE certificate. The one on the right is Kieran and his mum, holding the certificate together.

Today, Wednesday 18 November, is the Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) awards ceremony at The Riverfront in Newport, Wales. Amongst the award winners is 18 year old Kieran Parnell, a student from The Royal National College for the Blind (RNC) in Hereford. Kieran is one of two Welsh participants to achieve the coveted Gold DofE award this year (27 in the UK in total), and the only Gold award winner in the UK with a visual impairment.


Kieran has been blind in his right eye since an accident at birth and, due to an unrelated condition; he began to lose vision in his left eye aged 16. There was no previous history of visual impairment in his family but he was diagnosed with an eye condition known as Stargardts Macular Degeneration as both of his parents were carriers. Working towards his Gold DofE will always be significant to Kieran because it coincides with the time that he began losing his sight. “I had to teach myself new ways of doing things, like map reading, to adapt to my sight loss. DofE is something that I will never forget; I proved to myself that I could do it. I hope that I can show others that sight doesn’t have to get in the way of achieving what you want.”


The Gold DofE award is based around five units; physical, volunteering, skill, an expedition and a residential element. “For my five night residential, I was able to use my time at RNC to qualify for this unit as I was intensively learning a new skill; braille. At the moment I have enough useful vision not to need it but I know that it’s a valuable skill which I could use in the future if my sight deteriorates.


Kieran recalls “The Gold DofE expedition was really challenging – three nights and four days trekking across the Black Mountains. We had to carry around all of our food, water, clothing and tents in backpacks which weighed 25% of our body weight! I was relieved to finish the expedition; I physically didn’t know whether or not I would be able to complete it. I was aching so much after having to walk 18-24km per day over wet and rough terrain.”


Big group photo – the 24 DofE Gold award winners are in three rows, the back two rows are standing and the front row are sitting on chairs. RNC student Kieran is in the middle row, third from right. The photo is taken at St James’s Palace, in front of a large decorative white and gold door. There is red wallpaper and large golden ornaments hanging on the wall in the background.

Kieran, second row and third from right, celebrates with the other Gold DofE winners











Kieran formally received his Gold award in a ceremony in October “I was invited to St James’s Palace to collect my certificate. My mum was so proud when I showed her the invitation – she actually cried!” But, Welsh lad Kieran says, “I think tonight means more to me than the formal ceremony at the Palace because it’s in my hometown of Newport.”


Meanwhile, at RNC, Kieran is using his experience to help other students at the College, “It’s great to be able to pass on my knowledge of DofE. We’re having meetings about the different sections at the moment; the bit I’m most looking forward to is the expeditions in the spring. I really miss DofE, although it is one of the toughest things I ever did, doing the expeditions was such an amazing experience. I am excited to support the Silver DofE students at RNC; it’s nice seeing other people succeed.”


RNC’s DofE Coordinator Barry Morris says “Kieran inspires the other students to realise that Gold is achievable, I think it gives him a boost too. He will be a useful asset to have, he’s got all the necessary skills for the expedition and I’m pretty sure that he’ll be able to teach me something too!”


As well as the outdoors, Kieran loves technology; having built his first computer aged 14, and is currently studying BTEC Level 3 ICT and hopes to take his passion through to university, where he has already received offers to study Computer Science. “Doing DofE has helped me to grow and mature as a person, it’s taught me valuable communication skills and the ability to work as part of a team. Living away from home at RNC has taught me to be independent and I think this collection of skills I have gained will prepare me for being at uni.”


Read more about the DofE award at RNC


If you want to find out more about studying at RNC, please call our student enquiries line on 01432 376 621 or email info@rnc.ac.uk


Article written by Bik Lee, Digital Media Officer at RNC


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