CVQO Finalist Cadet Sgt Kate Bilclough

CVQO Finalist Cadet Sgt Kate Bilclough

6 February 2023

  • Cambridgeshire ACF

The Cadet Vocational Qualifications Organisation (CVQO) Westminster Award is an annual competition with an open-nomination criteria; it could include any kind of achievement, voluntary work, selflessness, or initiative. The nomination is followed by a series of selection events that are designed to extract the key skills and qualities of the participants and show them how to use these qualities in their everyday lives to better themselves. In July to August last year, Cambridgeshire Cadet Sgt Kate Bilclough was one of the few to make it through all the selection stages and reach the finals and attend the awards ceremony at The House of Lords in November, a remarkable achievement. Cdt Sgt Bilclough tells us about her journey and the finals.

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Kate (brown uniform) & other finalists.

My Westminster award journey started back in January 2022, when SSI Irving nominated me, then for the second stage I wrote and presented a poem, next stage was the selection in Somerset, where 40 cadets participated, then the final 15 were selected to go to Cornwall.

In Cornwall we worked with various amazing charities and organisations. These included Elemental Water Support, with whom we spent our first full day in Cornwall doing team building activities like paddle boarding, kayaking and coasteering. During coasteering we climbed the coastal cliff and jumped into the ocean. We spent two days with Cornwall Wildlife Trust: on the first day with them, we were taught about the wildlife around Cornwall and the correct way to wear snorkel equipment, (as we would later be taken snorkelling). On the second day with them, we were taken to Lou island Nature Reserve. We did a tour around the island, learning about its history and saw the amazing views, which included seeing seals sleeping on the rocks. We then helped with volunteering work with bagging the soil and picking berries and we were shown how volunteers live on the island.
We also visited the Eden Project, an educational charity and social enterprise whose mission is to create a movement that builds relationships between people and the natural world. We first learnt about the different types of trees and their uses e.g the absorption of carbon dioxide and release of oxygen, habitats for animals and insects, materials and medicine. We were also taught how to calculate the carbon dioxide stored by each species of tree by using its height, width, density, age and location, and visited a tropical biome to calculate the carbon dioxide storage of the trees there.

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Camping with Shelterbox.

We spent two days with the charity Shelterbox, which started with us attending a presentation on what Shelterbox do; providing shelter and essentials in conflict zones and disaster areas.’ They showed us examples of the countries they have worked in and what disasters they were helping them recover from. We then did a navigation lesson for six figure grid references and watched a video to help us plan our expedition for the following day. That night we intensely planned the expedition from grid reference for the team for the start, to location of each break we would be taking and how long we would stop for, and the final location, and we set up our Shelterbox tents as we would camping for the night.

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The group surfing.

We also worked with Surfers Against Sewage. This started with us being taught how to surf as we would need to know this for later on in the trip. In the afternoon, we would help the Surfer against Sewage volunteers pick up litter off the beach and then headed over to the coves to look at the wildlife that lived within them.

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Kate (middle, blue) with Surfers Against Sewage

After this, we went to work with the National Trust helping remove weeds and bramble bushes from a woodland area so that the oak trees could regrow in their natural environment, and then on to the Wave Project: a humanitarian charity that helps disadvantaged or disabled children by teaching them and helping to surf. With them we spent that afternoon surfing, body boarding or simply playing in the water with children we were paired with.

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Clearing woodland with the National Trust.

Overall, the time in Cornwall was an amazing once in a lifetime opportunity that I personally would never forget and would recommend to anyone who ever got the chance to participate to take it. On this trip I learnt so many ways how I could contribute to improving the environment.

After Cornwall the final 15 were tasked with a sponsorship challenge to raise money for the charities. I did a beginner’s triathlon, 750m swim, 20km cycle and 5km run - I raised £489 and the group raised £4,552.

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The House of Lords lunch.

On Friday 25th November last year the finalists attended the final Award Ceremony and Lunch at The House of Lords. This event was for all CVQO Westminster finalists, their families, cadet force representatives, VIPS guests, CVQO Staff and previous finalists.

We made our way to the Cholmondeley Room and Terrace, it was very posh indeed, we had drinks in the reception area before heading through to the Terrace for the meal and award ceremony - The CVQO Chief Executive Guy Horridge started the presentation and talked about the great work CVQO do, he explained the Westminster program and the amazing charities we worked with in Cornwall. We then heard an informative speech from Lord Lingfield about the history of the House of Lords.

On my table I was joined by Brigadier Neville Holmes, we discussed my ACF journey and my upcoming trip to India which was part of the Cadets Youth Exchange Program - he was very informative as he had been involved in the earlier exchange program.

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On the terrace at Westminster.

The CVQO Chief Executive and Lord Lingfield started the awards ceremony - awarding each cadet with their ILM Level 3 Certificates, then announced the winner of the award: Miles Hayward of Brentwood Sea Cadets.

After this, Lord Lingfield took all of the cadets on a Tour of the House of Lords, we went through to the Lords Chambers - with vibrant red seats and the House of Commons with green seats - it was interesting to see the rooms I have only ever seen on TV. Lord Lingfield told us a lot of stories and history of the rooms, we went through to Westminster Abbey and saw the Sovereign’s Throne. After the tour we went back to the Cholmondeley Room and Terrace where we met up with the rest of the party and had Afternoon Tea.

Although I didn’t win, I was so pleased that Miles from the Sea Cadets was the winner, and I appreciated all the opportunities I had been given with the CVQO.

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Being presented with her certificate.

Text by Cdt Sgt Kate Bilclough with SI Doug Stuart

Pictures: CVQO