Leadership diaries: "Making time for yourself and looking after your own wellbeing is really important"

Ruth Marvel, CEO of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE), talks through her week as the charity hosts a Royal visit and holds their 2023 annual staff conference


Weekdays usually start with getting my three teenagers out of bed and ready for school, and Monday is no exception. After making sandwiches and ensuring that everyone is wearing something vaguely resembling a school uniform, I sit down for some tea and toast at my desk.

Today is an especially busy Monday as our Trustee, HRH The Earl of Wessex, is spending a day in Blackpool – one of the UK’s most deprived areas – meeting some amazing young people and DofE Leaders. At the heart of our current five-year strategy is a commitment to reach more young people experiencing marginalisation, so it’s great that HRH is seeing and supporting this work – in this case, by getting involved in some volunteering activities. He’s meeting young people doing their DofE at a local high school and a Special Needs school, as well as through grassroots community and voluntary groups who are supporting the town’s most vulnerable young people. These visits are fantastic because they really showcase the diversity of young people doing their DofE, shine a light on our amazing volunteers, and show just how big a difference young people can make to their communities. Sadly, I can’t attend myself due to a family commitment, but I’m in touch with the team throughout the day to see how it’s going.

My afternoon is taken up with second round interviews for our new Equity, Inclusion and Well-being Business Partner. I’m really excited about this role because it’s a key part of our plan to make the DofE more inclusive. As a charity, we’re serving the most diverse group of young people ever in the UK, so it’s important that our staff and volunteer team not only reflect this diversity but also understand how to create an inclusive culture where everyone can feel comfortable being themselves. It’s great to meet the candidates and hear their vision for the role and explore the expertise they would bring – we end up offering the role to a really strong candidate and they accept!


Today is the first day of our annual virtual staff conference. Following the pandemic, we have really embraced hybrid working and we have colleagues all over the UK, so these moments where we come together as a whole organisation are more important than ever.

I start by welcoming everybody with a charity-wide call. As CEO, an important part of my role is bringing everybody together, reminding everyone where we are going as an organisation and how each person and team plays a part in helping us achieve our ambitions for young people. It’s a chance to reflect on the fantastic progress we are making towards the goals in our Youth Without Limits strategy, reinforce our culture and values, and thank everyone for their incredible efforts. I introduce the workshops, speakers and masterclasses we have coming up during the week, including staff-led well-being sessions, panel discussions with some of our brilliant Youth Ambassadors and some of our DofE volunteers who support young people in prison and alternative education settings, as well as a workshop to discuss our latest Investors in People report.

In the afternoon I’m in West London meeting the Director of the Pears Foundation. They’re a long-standing funder of the DofE and a brilliant supporter of our work and young people generally. We have a great conversation about what the DofE has been achieving over the last year thanks to Pears funding and talk more widely about policies and trends in the youth sector. I always leave these conversations feeling both optimistic for the future and really thankful for the support that I get personally from the team at Pears. It’s unusual to have such a close relationship with a funder and they go out of their way to provide much more than just financial support to their grantees, which is invaluable.


We’re in the process of recruiting a new Trustee to join the DofE’s Board, so my morning is spent meeting with our governance committee members to talk about the recruitment process and explore potential candidates. In my opinion, a great trustee is someone able to provide a high degree of both support and challenge – as well as someone able to work collaboratively and always keep the charity’s mission and purpose in mind when making decisions. We are specifically looking for someone with a business background who can help us support our work in relation to employability and corporate partnerships, and we end the meeting having agreed on some really exciting potential candidates to approach.

Next is a call with the Back Youth Alliance secretariat, which I’ve just begun to chair – the BYA comprises 12 of the leading national youth organisations. We’re planning for the next CEOs’ meeting and for an upcoming youth roundtable with Civil Society Minister Stuart Andrew MP. We talk about our priorities for strengthening youth work in the UK, and for making sure all young people can access high-quality non-formal education. We also discuss how we can make sure young people’s priorities and voices are heard in the run-up to the general election.


Management is a sizeable part of my role and today I have lots of one-to-ones with my senior leadership team. These catchups are my chance to check in with my team, get updates on our key priority activities and support them with anything challenging, both professionally and in terms of wellbeing. In between these I finalise the agendas for our upcoming Executive Team meeting to ensure that we can make decisions in a timely fashion and that items that need to go to the Board for decision have been properly scrutinised in advance.

The afternoon is spent recording various video messages – one is for an upcoming media project. I can’t say much about it for now, but it’s a fun chance to promote the DofE, showcase the diversity of activities young people do, and how much fun they have in the process. I hope that when other young people watch the final edit it will inspire them to think, “I can give that a go”.

I end the day on a call with our contact at DCMS who is helping us to expand the DofE in schools and community organisations as part of the Government’s National Youth Guarantee. We talk about how the funded work is going, and I’m pleased to say it’s going well, and ahead of target. We’re looking to make the DofE even more accessible in the next year, and working with DCMS and the Department for Education is a key part of that.


Today I’m taking back some TOIL from last year. This job can be quite intense – you are responsible for a lot of people – and long days are quite common, so making time for yourself and looking after your own well-being is really important. Having three teenagers also keeps me pretty busy, so having proper time to myself is a rare treat.

My partner and I head into central London and have a lovely day not doing very much. Sharing a house with two house rabbits is also a helpful reminder to put life in perspective – they’re the perfect embodiment of relaxation as they basically do absolutely nothing all day. So, I quite enjoy living vicariously through them sometimes.

Looking back on the week, it’s been full of variety – one of my favourite things about this job. I get to meet lots of really interesting people, I get to support people to achieve brilliant things, and I’m always learning something new myself in the process. The last few years have been challenging for all of us, both professionally and personally. And that’s always in the back of my mind when I’m leading our charity through yet another period of uncertainty, like the current cost of living crisis. But I’m hugely excited for the future and super motivated to reach our goal of giving a million young people a life-changing DofE experience by 2026.

Given all the challenges of the past few years it will be an incredible achievement and I can’t wait to say, “look at what we achieved together”.

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