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August-September 2021 | Features

Fifty years of building future leaders

Fifty years of building future leaders

Jim and Jenny Banks from Stonehaven Rotary in Aberdeenshire have been involved in the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards scheme for more than 30 years. Here they reflect on a golden age of developing youngsters’ thinking and physical skills.

The Rotary Youth Leadership Awards were started by Rotarians in Australia in 1959. It was officially adopted by Rotary International 50 years ago in 1971. 

Scotland North Rotary (District 1010) was the first area in Great Britain and Ireland to get involved. The first RYLA camp was held in the Highlands 37 years ago in July 1984.  

Jim along with Jenny Banks were asked to run the girls’ camp at Ardeonaig Outdoor Centre

We have been involved from the start and ran the first girls’ camp in July 1988.  

The RYLA journey began in 1983 when John Tyler, an American, joined Aberdeen St. Fittick Rotary Club. 


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He had been involved with a RYLA camp in America and persuaded the St. Fittick club and the district that this was a project which would benefit the young people in the area.

The objectives of RYLA can be expressed in the six Cs: commitment, communication, character, charisma, confidence and courage – all of which are essential to strong, imaginative, involved leadership.  

The first RYLA camp was held in July 1984 Abernethy Outdoor Centre, Nethy Bridge in the Scottish Highlands

A district RYLA committee was formed and the first RYLA camp was held in July 1984 at a cost of £140 per candidate at Abernethy Outdoor Centre, Nethy Bridge in the Scottish Highlands. It was for boys only.

Following four very successful camps for boys, it was proposed to offer girls the same opportunity. Jim along with Jenny Banks were asked to run the girls’ camp at Ardeonaig Outdoor Centre, part of the Abernethy Trust, near Killin in Stirling in July 1988. 

RYLA can be expressed in the six Cs: commitment, communication, character, charisma, confidence and courage.”

Five counsellors and 37 girls attended the first RYLA girls’ camp. As there were no women in Rotary, the counsellors were selected from various walks of life.

Both boys’ and girls’ camps were held during the same week. A joint day of activities at Nethy Bridge saw mixed teams compete in swimming, athletics and various challenges around the centre. 

Two very successful camps at Ardeonaig saw a huge demand for places for girls and it was decided to hold both camps at Nethy Bridge from 1990. 

RYLA events are organised locally by Rotary clubs and districts for participants ages 14-30

There have been many eminent speakers at both camps, however the most distinguished visitor to date, at the girls’ camp, was the visit of HRH The Princess Royal. 

She addressed the girls, answered questions and watched various groups of girls tackle the mental and physical challenges around the centre. It was a great privilege for Jim to introduce her and show her around. 

Scotland North Rotary has a great partnership with the Abernethy Trust, whose staff are dedicated to providing safe, enjoyable and exciting activities. 

Through these activities, candidates find out more about themselves, others and how important it is to work as a team. 

The programme has evolved and been fine-tuned over the years and gives the candidates an experience they will never forget. 

There is one speaker a day followed by a day’s outdoor activity including hill walking, water sports, mountain biking and gorge walking.

In the evening, activities include quizzes, discussions and sports. All activities are done in groups of eight. 

participants in Rotary Youth Leadership Awards RYLA

RYLA participants getting ready for adventure

Counsellors, now called mentors, who give up their week do so because they also gain so much, through friendship, meeting new people, enjoying fresh air and hopefully having a positive effect on the young people of today. 

They are the future. 

Stonehaven Rotary continues to sponsor two places on the RYLA week-long, full-time residential leadership development course. 

Last year, like so many other events, it was cancelled but the 2021 RYLA camp took place in July, with the club funding an additional place.

This is a rare opportunity for youngsters to experience and learn things about themselves, working in a team and about leading and supervising other people. 


What is RYLA?

Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) is an intensive leadership experience organised by Rotary clubs and districts where you develop your skills as a leader while having fun and making connections.

What are the benefits?

Connect with leaders in your community and around the world to:

  • Build communication and problem-solving skills
  • Discover strategies for becoming a dynamic leader in your school or community
  • Learn from community leaders, inspirational speakers, and peer mentors
  • Unlock your potential to turn motivation into action
  • Have fun and form lasting friendships

What’s involved?

RYLA events are organised locally by Rotary clubs and districts for participants ages 14-30.

Depending on community needs, RYLA may take the form of a one-day seminar, a three-day retreat, or a weeklong camp. Typically, events last from three to 10 days and include presentations, activities, and workshops covering a variety of topics.

Your community might host a RYLA event for secondary school students to hone their leadership potential, for university students to develop creative problem-solving strategies, or for young professionals to learn ethical business practices.


For more details, visit our Youth Programmes page.

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