A change for the best can offer new hope to some of our most disadvantaged youngsters, says Joe Connelly.
Last New Year, like many others, I promised myself I would make some changes in my life. I was determined to take up swimming more regularly, finally quit smoking for good, and make more time in my hectic schedule to spend quality time with my family. I’ve done well with the first and third of these goals, but have failed miserably with the second. This week, wondering whether I should just “give up and give in”, I turned to an unconventional source for advice and inspiration.
Let me explain. Over the past year, I have been privileged to meet literally hundreds of young people who vowed to change their lives and who have triumphantly, resoundingly, emphatically achieved their goals.
Last year, Sharon told me this: “I’ve had very dark thoughts, times when I’ve considered it might be better if I’m not here”. This year, she’s a prize-winning student at an Outdoor Education College, where she’s learning to share her skills to teach and inspire other young people.
Last Christmas, David was out of work, becoming increasingly despondent as he struggled to find an employer who would take him on. This Christmas, things look quite different: “I am no longer unemployed. After so long without a job, I’m really delighted to have been given a chance.”
We buy it, we use it, we store it.
We use it, we fix it, we patch it.
We re-purpose it, we use it, we Gaffa tape it.
Eventually, we replace it.
...and now, you can help us with that.
Inevitably, in our line of work, we need a fair bit of kit. It's not just important, it's vital. It keeps us and our participants safe, dry and warm, and therefore able to focus on the development and discussion activities that are at the heart of our programmes. And as we head into winter, decent kit and equipment becomes even more vital to our work.
We've launched an Amazon wishlist, where you, our friends and supporters, can donate kit directly to our programmes. It's the easiest and most direct way of seeing exactly where your donation will go, and you'll know that your kit is going directly to use in our 'front line' programme delivery.
Kit starts from just £1.48, and covers just about every aspect of our wilderness expeditions, so we hope there'll be something to suit all budgets and interests. There's water bottles, wetsuit gloves, boot laces, tent pegs and trangias, to name just a few. Oh, and Gaffa tape, obviously.
Will you buy us a present this Christmas? It really is a gift that'll last all year long, and which will benefit hundreds of participants through the winter, and into 2014. To donate some kit, just head over to our wishlist.
Yesterday, 7th November, saw Cabinet Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill launch his second annual progress report to the Parliament on the steps taken to implement the Commission on Women Offenders’ recommendations. Venture Trust's Next Steps programme is enabling women involved in offending to increase their employability, self-esteem and stability - all vital factors in supporting desistance from crime. Here, we highlight the importance of these factors in achieving real success in reducing reoffending amongst women from chaotic backgrounds.
Much of the progress report is cause for celebration. We're pleased to see a real commitment to long-term mentoring support, and a focus on the importance of an individually-tailored approach to enabling women to move away from offending. We're pleased, too, to see the great work of our friends and partners with whom we work closely at the Glasgow 218 Centre, Dundee Criminal Justice Social Work team, and the Willow centre in Edinburgh getting the profile and praise they deserve.
We share Mr. MacAskill's view "that there are a number of areas where progress will require substantial input and support from services outwith the criminal justice system if we are to deliver the changes the Commission recommended", and we're playing an increasingly important role in the 'SHINE' mentoring service for women. Just last week we led training and awareness sessions for all SHINE mentors.
Whilst progress has been made, there is very much still to do. Mr. MacAskill's report described the aims of the work to date as to "encourage women participating in the programme to consider their own offending behaviour and, as a result, reduce their offending in the future", and that the role of a mentor to "be persistent in engaging with a client who may be reluctant or whose resolve is lacking".
It's here that the report is at risk of missing a vital point. For many of the women we've supported via our Next Steps programme (over 50 of them since the report of the Commission, and more than double that number over the past three years), it's not simply a 'reluctance', or a 'lack of resolve' that leads to their offending. It's more fundamental than that, and harder to tackle. As we discussed in the Scotsman recently, more often their offending is meshed within a complex history of abuse, belittlement, isolation and poverty that has left women bereft of the confidence, motivation and vital lifeskills to take a different pathway; as much a consequence of their history as an active choice. It's certainly not the case that women can simply 'reconsider' their offending.
As such, the focus should not be on 'persuading' women to 'give up' offending, but on empowering them to make more positive choices, helping them develop the lifeskills they need to secure their futures, and providing specialist support to enable long-term, sustainable change in all areas of their lives. The support needs to be personalised, tackling each individual’s underlying belief and abilities rather than just their offending behaviours. It's this approach that forms the cornerstone of Venture Trust's Next Steps programme, and it's the reason that the women we support are able to make - and sustain - real change in their lives.
The recognition of the importance of tackling women's offending is to be praised, and the commitment to working toward more effective support is something Venture Trust supports 100%. Let's be careful, though, that we're enabling women to take charge of the change they're making in their lives, not simply replacing one 'intervention' with another.
To support our work with women seeking to make positive changes in their lives, please click here.
On Thursday 24th October, Venture Trust was proud to launch a new film about our work, in the company of some of our key friends and supporters.
The film featuring footage from our expeditions and programmes, as well as interviews with participants and those who deliver our work. It’s a compelling ‘inside look’ at the impact and importance of our programmes. Do have a look at the film, below, for an insight into our work.
Here's one of the highlights of the evening; a speech by Tammie, one of our participants:
"Hello, my name is Tammie and I have been getting support from Venture Trust since March. Before that, my life was a bit aimless, with little to no motivation and no idea how to achieve what I wanted in the future. I first heard of Venture Trust via Impact Arts and decided to try them out. I took part in some activity days and a 7 day wilderness journey in the Cairngorm Mountains. I found the wilderness journey quite tough through a mixture of the activities, being away from my family for a week and the weather being a bit rubbish. I gained a lot of support from the staff and made some new friends. After the journey, I got support with college applications and volunteer opportunities. I now have more things to do, have more ideas for my future and feel a bit better about myself. I have gained a lot from Venture Trust and I feel that other young people would benefit from the same opportunities that I got".
We also used the opportunity to launch our new brochure and annual review, which provides further insight into the value of our work.
This film was produced by Ross Finnie, whose placement with Venture Trust was generously supported by Third Sector Internships Scotland. We are also grateful to Curcuma Flowers, Edinburgh Photographic Society and the Hilton Edinburgh Grosvenor, who supported the premiere event. Thanks also go to Angel Telecom for donating our top raffle prize - an i-pad mini!
Venture Trust: A legacy in Malawi, 2013 and onwards
What happened in Malawi?
In 2010 Venture Trust undertook our first ever international project at the request of the Scottish Government. The focus was very much in line with our work here in Scotland; namely to set up and deliver a personal life skills programme called ‘a chance for change’.
This was to be delivered to some of Malawi’s most vulnerable young men who were languishing in Kachere Juvenile Prison in the poorest area of the country’s capital city, Lilongwe. After much planning with partners including Malawi Prison Service, the first behaviour change programme called ‘mwai wosinthika...’ (‘ a chance for change...’) was delivered to all the young men with convictions in the prison. Since then, we have worked with 375 young people in Kachere; 73% show reduced risk of reoffending upon release.
The Prison Service has also re-named the facility to ‘Kachere Reformatory Centre’ – reflecting a change in their objectives and mindset to help young men escape the cycle of re-offending.
In 2011 it became clear that even with this programme, too manyyoung men were being sent to Kachere Juvenile Prison by the Child Magistrates courts. The courts, Probation officers, Malawi Social Welfare and Malawi Police Service asked Venture Trust to help design & develop a community-based programme to begin diverting young people away from the prison.
This resulted in early 2012 in Malawi’s first dedicated diversion programme pilot for young people (boys and girls aged 12-18) who were in conflict with the law. This pilot programme was an outstanding success, with a 100% attendance rate, so more programmes were run including a community based approach with Community Police, the traditional Chiefs and other Malawian NGOs specifically in Chinsapo - one of the most deprived and notorious Lilongwe’s 50 districts.
There were calls from Police & Social Work teams in other towns and cities such as Zomba and Blantyre to roll out programmes in their own regions. Venture Trust succeeded in doing this in Zomba in conjunction with INGO The Irish Rule of Law in early 2013 just prior to the completion of our time in Malawi.
What we achieved
Over three years in Malawi, 76% of those we supported showed demonstrably increased confidence, and 71% were more employable. 73% of participants showed increased awareness about their health and local health issues, and the same proportion had reduced their risk of reconviction. 54% of those we supported were able to successfully find employment, wage earning activity, education or training on release.
As an organisation, Venture Trust has always always been determined we should leave a sustainable legacy upon completion of our work in Malawi. We identified the Commonwealth Professional Fellowship Programme as having the best potential to further boost the skills of our partner agencies to achieve this.
To this end we identified 5 individuals from Malawi’s Prison Service, Police, Social Welfare and the Courts to become ‘Commonwealth Professional Fellows’ – taking part in an intensive learning and development programme hosted by Venture Trust in Scotland. The Fellows were introduced to best practice,visiting voluntary and statutory bodies from across our criminal justice system to enhance their skills, knowledge, and belief in themselves to take the ‘Mwai Wosinthika’ programme forward on return to Malawi.
The Commonwealth Professional Fellowship has also proved to be a catalyst for change in at least 5 Scottish Statutory bodies whom the Fellows met (one for each fellow!). These agencies have shown great interest in supporting Malawi’s criminal justice agencies themselves, by hosting future Fellowships and exchange of knowledge. :
1. The Scottish Procurator Fiscal’s department has done some previous advocacy training work in Malawi and now (through Mr Samuel Mbweza, Commonwealth Fellow from the Malawi Ministry of Justice) have established links that look set for potentially more work in the future.
2. The Scottish Prison Service are interested in links between Polmont Young Offenders Institute near Glasgow and Kachere Reformatory Centre, with the potential for hosting similar Fellowships in future.
3. The newly formed Police Scotland has already been out to Malawi and the Police training college at Tullieallan has just sent 5 Police officers out to Malawi to work with their counterparts in the Malawi Police Service and are considering the Commonwealth Professional Fellowship Scheme to bring Malawi police officers to Scotland to share their work.
4. Finally, the Chair of Venture Trust’s board is looking into aligning with a local authority Social work department within Scotland to get involved in partnership work with Malawi’s Ministry of Gender, Children, Social work and Community Development.
The funding for Venture Trust’s ‘Mwai Wosinthika’ work has reached an end, but through our network of ‘Fellows’ within statutory bodies across the Malawi Criminal Justice system, the work and the message that prison should only be used as a last resort for vulnerable young people is spreading.
The Commonwealth fellows have returned to Malawi and, after a well earned break, will re-connect with Irish Rule of Law who have gained funding to roll the diversion training programme out to Blantyre before the end of 2013. There are action plans to establish a steering committee on Child Justice Forum similar to Scotland’s own Child Hearing System. Everyone remains committed to the mantra:
‘Mwai wosinthika... a chance for change... towards a safer Malawi.’
Takulandirani! (or is it Slainte now!)