On the 5th February 2014, participants on the Inspiring Young Futures programme headed out to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.
The participants were challenged right from the word go. They met for the first time at Stirling train station, jumped on the Venture Trust bus, changed into their outdoor gear, and... abseiled into their camp! The Trossachs National Park might have been cold, but the participants were ready for anything.
Each of the four days of the Inspiring Young Futures programme was shaped around a personal development theme. Day one was getting to know the other participants and setting up camp (including erecting a tipi which would be home for the duration of the wilderness journey). Day two was geared around teaching the 'Plan Do Review Transfer' strategy. Day three was expedition day, with a 'Choosing Effective Behaviour' theme. Lastly, day four's theme was 'Transfer', focussing on applying new skills to home environments.
Each theme was carefully chosen to help participants develop life skills. These skills are not only used whilst on their wilderness journey but participants are encouraged to apply them once they're back at home in their own community, thawing out. Participants took part in a number of emotionally and physically challenging personal development activities such as navigation, night abseiling (and when I say night, I mean in the pitch black of night!), and leading the morning meeting. Each of these personal development activities highlights a number of lifeskills, for example, navigation teaches the importance of planning ahead, morning meetings develop leadership skills, abseiling highlights the importance of supporting one another.
Once the participants had successfully completed their wilderness journey they headed into Aberfoyle for a well deserved celebration breakfast of bacon and egg rolls and a steaming cup of tea. Over breakfast they watched a slide show of the week which, by all accounts, made everyone laugh quite raucously. Each participant received personal feedback from the expedition team, set their goals for the future, and were presented with certificates for the course. The participants agreed that they had each built their confidence throughout the week, made life-long friends, and had a bucket load of fun to boot.
Having been lucky enough to meet one of the participants who took part, I asked what her top tip was for someone about to go on a wilderness journey, to which she candidly suggested...
" Tell them, just never give up. Whatever they do, just never give up."
We're fortunate that our supporters often direct us to articles and features they think we'll like. Now and again, those articles are so vital and so relevant to what we do that we just have to share them here. With thanks to @davidjhaines on Twitter, then, we'd like to share a BBC Viewpoint article entitled 'Escape from the Sink Estate', written by poet Byron Vincent.
Byron's article charts his own life path from 'scumbag' to 'middle class' ("I own a breadmaker now and everything"), along the way highlighting the factors and circumstances that led to his involvement in offending, his homeless and drug use. Most pertinently, he highlights how the local culture on the housing estate where he lived significantly shaped the choices he faced and the decisions he made.
"Those born into Britain's underclass don't exit the womb with an insatiable desire to shoplift branded sportswear, any more than soldiers are born with a heightened capacity to kill. Yet I watched pretty much all of my peers grow up to engage in sustained criminal activity. Not because of a genetic predisposition. Not because a life of crime is an easy option - it really isn't - but because the people with the worst social and economic problems have been ghettoised and isolated".
Byron's story would resonate with many of our participants, many of whom come from backgrounds where employment and stability isn't just rare, it's unthinkable - a different world of which they're simply not part. Part of our role, then, is to help people to widen their horizons, to see different futures for themselves, and to understand the skills and qualities they can bring to the world.
"The underclass of which I speak didn't create itself - it's a product of ghettoisation. Taking a bunch of people with social and fiscal problems and forcing them to live en masse together is an idiotic idea that is destined to create a culture of perpetually spiralling criminality. If we want the disenfranchised underclass to adopt the morality of the mainstream, social housing needs to be integrated into mainstream society. That means individual houses among the private residences. Social housing estates shouldn't be these separate isolated places that keep poor people out of sight and mind. That model is not only distasteful - it clearly breeds problems that affect everyone".
Byron's rationale about social housing aligns closely with our experience of imprisonment. For many, prison simply reinforces existing cultures and beliefs, and does little to change people's underlying goals for their future. For that, you need something more personal, more aspirational. More like Venture Trust, in fact.
Do go over to the BBC and read the whole of Byron Vincent's article, it's very important indeed.
The week of 10th-14th February 2014 saw the first time that the women of the 218 Centre had visited the beautiful Kinlochrannoch Lodge area of Scotland.
Despite the pending snowstorm the atmosphere was very welcoming and homely after breaking the (literal and metaphorical) 'ice'. After a social contract was agreed by the group, they all settled into a safe space with a hearty stew and mash and began to get to know each other. To get some fresh air after a good dinner we took a walk under the stars and moon to a local waterfall now known as 'alt na mandy'. It was really an awe inspiring start.
The next day course objectives and goals were set by all the women in support groups which were carried out each day. Then a forest walk was enjoyed along the shore of Kinloch Rannoch with some nature inspired by Tilly’s stories. There were also opportunities to get involved in group problem solving challenges in the forest.
Evening entertainment was along them of 'Come dine with me'. It got competitive but in a friendly way and let’s say food was the winner!
The next day despite a huge snowstorm the girls trekked out knee deep in snow to climb a cliff and then abseil back down. Tracey overcame her fear of heights and all the girls succeeded.
The final day we all awoke early to the best sunrise of winter over Shiehallion. Like the sunset all good things must come to an end but not before the girls had prepared a final action plan for their next steps...
There will always be another sunrise!
A special thanks to Becks & Bill from the 218 project - you are great people.
Good luck from all the staff at Venture Trust