DofE Residential Documentary – Sam Sykes™ At Blackpool Zoo

A quick video highlighting our hugely popular Zoo residential course.

“The residential’s been going for about 6 years now. I was asked to come up with a inovative and interesting idea for a residential opportunity. Working together with the education team, here at Blackpool Zoo, we’ve come up with a great, 5 day residential programme which we’re really really proud of.”

Victoria Sewell
Business & Programme manager
Sam Sykes

Designed specifically around participants’ needs

We’re very lucky to work very closely with the education team from Blackpool Zoo who allow us to create this really exciting programme where young people are able to come and participate in a programme that has been designed specifically around their needs, and allows them to get up close and personal with the animals in a way they wouldn’t be able to do as a visitor to the zoo.

“It’s just an amazing, exciting opportunity to experience working in the zoo, to see behind the scenes, and to give them experiences they could never get anywhere else.”

Access to the enclosures

“People who come on the programme, they get a lot of access to the enclosures that the normal public don’t get, and obviously they’re in earlier in the morning and get to see the amount of work the keepers do before everybody gets in through the gates.”

John Paul Houston
Assistant head keeper of the animal department
Blackpool Zoo.

What has been the best and worst experience this week?

“I think the best has been feeding the giraffes.”

“Yeah, I would agree, that was my favourite bit as well.”

“I liked the aardvarks and tapirs but, those are my favourite animals, so that was quite cool.”

“The whole mammal day was the best day, I think.”

“I don’t know what the worst was? I don’t have a worst.”

“I think it’s not long enough.”


It’s a very carefully structured residential

It’s all about the needs of the participants on the programme.

We look at

  • Developing their knowledge, skills and understanding by completing theory sessions on different species, such as mammals and reptiles.
  • We also look at allowing them to have really exciting opportunities to get up close and personal with the animals; feeding them, working with the zoo keepers, handling them, looking at their enclosures – their usage and their habitats.

Showing people exactly what zoos do

“My department helps to organise the Sam Sykes Duke of Edinburgh Residential.

The programme is really important to us because we’re showing people exactly what zoos do.  We’re not just here to house animals, we’re here to help the conservation and research too so, it’s very important that we teach people about this and people realise how important zoos are.”

Natalie Garret
Education, conservation, and research manager
Blackpool Zoo

It’s learning a lot more

“It’s unusual I guess, because it makes you stand out. And, also because we got to see round the hospital, that was really good. You can see how that’s different to other things.”

“It’s also quite nice to know what they have to consider when they set up a zoo. You always have to think of it from our side, so the animals are sort of cute and you can feed it. It’s learning a lot more about how they look after it and a bit more about the individual animals. And the research.”


We do an enrichment project at the end of every day that’s a very important part of a zoo keepers’ job. Putting enrichment devices in to animal enclosures, to try and entertain the animals, to try and get them doing those natural behaviours that they would do in the wild. Doing these projects, and making these devices, is so important and, for the animals too.

Actually getting to put them in at the end of the week and seeing how the animals react to them too, which is amazing.

Behind the scenes

It’s and educational developmental opportunity for young people, that allows them to see the workings behind the scenes of a modern zoo. We learn about the role, we learn about conservation, research, education, recreation, and animal management.

An essential role for the zoo

I’d say the research and conservation day is the most important. Two huge, important areas within the zoo that everyone needs to learn about. And, even though some of it is quite academic at times, is very important that people realise that this is an essential role for the zoo.

A whole range of transferable skills

It’s a great opportunity for you to develop a whole range of transferable skills which would be of supreme benefit to you in the world of work and with life as a young adult. So, all of these key skills that employers are looking for such as, team building, communication skills – your interpersonal skills, the ability to work with people that you didn’t previously know, are all tackled on this programme, alongside presentation skills, and also building your confidence in unfamiliar environments.

A situation where you literally don’t know anybody?!

“I think going into a situation where you literally don’t know anybody is really good because, you know, you’re going to get in to situations in the future where you’re not going to know anybody and it’s like, it gives you that confidence that it’s not actually that bad, that people are really nice, and you do make new friends really quickly. And obviously working as a team, working with new people.”

“Yeah, I’d say it’s definitely helped my communication skills, and my confidence, and also with the animal handling, that was really helpful for me because I want to do veterinary as well.”

Interested in veterinary science, animal management, or zoology?

The programme is an excellent opportunity of young people who are looking to go on to study either veterinary science, animal management, or zoology at university.

Get ahead. Gain experience, early

A lot of places, you can’t do work experience before your 18 years old, so this gives you a fantastic opportunity to get that experience and to give you a head start on other students applying for the same courses.

Where can a DofE residential lead?

“I first got into zoo keeping through doing my residential with Sam Sykes. I was at a zoo, learning how zoos work, how they operate, and it’s enabled me to take on work experience here at Blackpool Zoo. And, through the Sam Sykes residential, and the work experience it’s enabled me to get a job as a trainee keeper where I’m currently working in the large mammal section.”

Connor Blackburn
Trainee zoo keeper
Blackpool Zoo.

Get the experience

“Talking to the people here, finding out what they’ve done, what courses they done at university, what work experience they’ve got. It really helped because it shows how I need to work forward by course choosing, by what I want to do with my career, and where I can get the experience. This has helped a lot towards my uni application.”

Demonstrate your commitment

If you’re aged 16 – 24, and you’re looking for a residential opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to your future career, such as being a vet or working in a zoo, or you want to gain this valuable experience, or you just want to have a really great time with some like minded people who have a real, deep, care for animals, then this is a perfect residential opportunity for you.

What would you say to someone looking to do this course?

“Just do it!”


“It’s amazing, you’ll make good friends, you’ll have such a laugh. You get to do things you’d never do before.”

“It is a once in a lifetime kind of thing. I don’t think we’re gonna get the chance to do the things we’ve done again.”

Have a question?

Get in touch, we’re here to help.

Download our 2019 catalogue

Inside you’ll find everything you need to know about our wide-ranging, worldwide services that give young people the opportunity to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.

Click here for the 2019 DofE Catalogue >

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