From service user to support worker: our former Inspiring Young Futures participant puts her own experience and passion for helping others to good use.
Phase 1: Referral and Engagement
Lizzie was first referred to Venture Trust through Action for Children’s Path Project. Following some issues in her home life, which in her words lead to a ‘breakdown in the relationship’ with her family, she moved out of the house and found herself homeless. She spent the following six months living in a B&B, an experience which coincided with her trying to complete her final year at school and sitting her exams. ‘It was really stressful because I was studying for exams at the same time.’, she explained. ‘There were always different people coming in; you had to share a room with people you didn’t know; you were being shifted to different rooms all of the time. You never really had your own space or your own time to do something.’ It was a situation which was not only impractical, but also emotionally draining. ‘It was quite upsetting at times as well.’, she said. ‘You think to yourself “Where do I go from here?”’
That question was answered in June 2010 when Lizzie was referred to Venture Trust’s “Inspiring Young Futures” programme by the team at the Path Project. She was introduced to a member of Venture Trust’s outreach team from the Clackmannanshire area, Sharon Hill, who would work with Lizzie on a regular basis to support her on her personal development journey. It seems Sharon made quite a strong impression on Lizzie during her time with VT. ‘I remember with Sharon, we would go for a coffee or play pool... You felt like you had a friend really, somebody you could speak to and have a laugh with. (She) didn’t pressure you into doing anything either. (She) just helped you.’One of the most important areas that Lizzie would come to develop was her confidence. She knew she wanted to attend university, but because of her housing situation she encountered some mixed reactions. Speaking of her experiences with other people, she said ‘when I told them that I was going to Uni they would say “Really!?”. They were quite surprised. When I went to Uni, I discovered why people can have different perceptions like that.’ She explained further ‘I think it’s all about that idea of homelessness. It carries a kind of stigma as well. For example, when you say that you’re living in a B&B, there are a lot of images that are attached to that, like being involved in crime, drugs, alcohol. It’s not always the case.’ Not only was the day-to-day reality of living in unstable accommodation taking its toll, but Lizzie also felt herself being constrained by the preconceptions of those around her. These were preconceptions that she would ultimately challenge and overcome.
Phase 2: Wilderness Expedition
Shortly after her first engagement with Venture Trust, Lizzie began studying at Stirling University. She had been accepted earlier that year to study Sociology and Criminology, a choice that she says was influenced heavily by her experiences of living away from home. ‘I’ve got a real interest in social inclusion’, she explained. ‘how you can support people in the community who are affected by homelessness, disability, criminal backgrounds, that kind of stuff. I think from my personal experience of using some of the services out there I thought to myself “This is what I want to do”.’
Lizzie initially attended a four day taster session near Crieff. She admits that although she was willing to take on the tasks and activities presented by her experience, she was very nervous when presented with new challenges. Much later, in July 2011, she managed to attend a ten day expedition in the Cairngorms. Many of the participants – Lizzie included – had previously attended short taster sessions with Venture Trust, but this longer expedition offered a chance to progress and build upon existing skills. Reflecting back on these expeditions, Lizzie commented on the difference she saw in herself. ‘When I first started with Venture Trust, we did some abseiling up in Crieff. I was absolutely petrified; I refused to do it…Whereas, when we went to the Cairngorms, I did it fine. That one was a lot higher than the one in Crieff!’ When I asked her where she thought this change stemmed from, she said ‘I think it was more of a confidence thing, in myself. I felt more confident to actually take a chance and go do it.’
Besides simply being mentally and physically challenging, Lizzie’s time with Venture Trust and the other participants on her course helped her develop transferrable skills to equip her with the tools to build a better future for herself. She picked up practical hard skills such as managing bills and budgeting, but also many valuable ways to develop confidence and channel motivation. Again referring to the course, she explained ‘(We learned a lot about) leadership and support skills. I’d never really gone out and lead a group before. I’m usually the one standing back and letting other people do it. We did a trek, it was quite a long trek. I took a turn leading, and I had to make sure that everyone was alright, that there were no issues, and that we were all helping each other. It was the first time that I had ever done leadership. It made me realise “I can actually do this”.’
Phase 3: Moving Forward
Four years ago people were surprised to hear that the homeless girl living in the B&B wanted to go to university of all places and get a degree. The truth is that those same people – and many of us in general – would still probably be skeptical if this assertion were put towards us today. However, rather than let such people and their skepticism deter her, Lizzie has since gone on to obtain her joint honours from Stirling University: a respectable 2:1, she is happy to report. According to Lizzie it was not only the reactions of other people but her time with organizations such as Venture Trust that influenced her time at university. ‘When I think back to the B&B, you can feel quite lonely, quite low. You might feel like there aren’t other people in that same situation… Doing things like Venture Trust, it shows you, well, there are other people out there in the same boat… It made me want to challenge myself to actually go out and do stuff. For example, Uni is one of my biggest achievements. Venture Trust gave me the confidence to go to Uni; to work hard.’
In addition to gaining her degree, Lizzie spent a great deal of her time at university volunteering for support organizations and has worked with children and people with disabilities for organizations such as Plus. After returning from her wilderness expedition with Venture Trust, she was assisted by her outreach worker, Sharon, who took her along to the Volunteer Centre in Stirling. She also sought opportunities to volunteer within Venture Trust (in her words she was inspired to ‘give something back’), and helped out in drop-in sessions; administration; and events.
She has now embarked on her first job after graduation - working for Scottish Autism, helping children and young people with autism who require additional support. Speaking about her current vocation, she said ‘I’m working with (young people) trying to show them that just because they’re in a certain situation it doesn’t mean that you can’t go out into the community, you can’t be included. I’m still relating it back to the skills that I learned with Venture Trust: still trying to learn new things, enhance my core skills. I’m still thinking back to how the staff supported me. How can I put that into practice with the young person that I’m working with?’
Her ambitions haven’t failed her so far. When I ask her ‘Where does she plan to go from here’, I’m not surprised by her response:
‘I just want to keep working with people and trying to make a change in society. I want to show people that you can’t judge somebody based on a certain situation that they’re in; trying to change perceptions.’
Change and Transition: The Hero’s Journey!
Deciding that you want to make a step change in your life and making it happen is a period of transition that is challenging and exciting in equal measure. Much like a journey, if you can be guided and supported along the route you have chosen you will have a better chance of reaching your destination. If you journey for a while with other people in a similar situation it is a much richer experience. An experience punctuated by the scenery, the stops you make, and the views and insights that you and your fellow travellers will share along the way. Imagine a journey where you can see yourself differently and be seen differently by others...
Venture Trust’s ‘ Transitions to Independent Living’ programme is such a journey. The programme, which has been running for nearly 5 years, is designed to help young people resident in supported accommodation to develop their confidence and employability, increasing their access to local services and establish sustainable lifestyles. The programme has been successful and is popular with the participants, referral networks and partners. It is regularly proven to better equip participants with the skills and attributes needed to access employment, education, training, or volunteering as well as offering a catalytic shift in attitude and perspective that helps participants plan their move into independent accommodation.
Venture Trust developed the ‘Transitions’ programme to address the unique needs and circumstances facing young people in supported housing situations. Using our established and effective personal development curriculum, based on Choice Theory and Reality Therapy, the programme gives each participant the opportunity to join a 10-day wilderness expedition, where they are given time, space and intensive support in a wilderness setting, where boundary-stretching challenges serve as a vehicle for learning, reflection and discussion as a group and on a 1-to-1 basis
The ‘Transitions’ programme has several unique features :
- It works very closely with a network of supported accommodation providers, taking referrals from all over the UK. A programme with a truly national reach
- A bursary scheme is now a key part of the programme which allows a wider network of partners , increased places and increased accessibility of the programme to participants by offering subsidised places
- It is a journey both literally and metaphorically. Most participants will take a train to Inverness or another agreed location in the Scottish Highlands, where they are met by Venture Trust staff. Previous participants have travelled from Foyers all over the UK, including as far south as Eastbourne, Plymouth and Truro. The independent journey to northern Scotland is a core part of the experience, challenging participants to be self-determined and self-reliant from the outset.
The Bursary scheme has proved popular in concept and in execution. It is supported by the Joseph Rank Trust and is a good example of partnership working that allows Venture Trust to deliver a targeted and specific programme to the greatest number of participants where the need is greatest. This pioneering approach has elicited much interest as a model for both programme funding and delivery. The Joseph Rank Trust bursary scheme and the places that it funds are referred from organisations grounded in the Christian ethos and practice, but who support young people of all faiths and none. This reflects the common values that we share and our commitment to helping the less fortunate members of society.
Since the ‘Transitions’ programme started in 2009 over 125 young people from all over the UK have participated, with referrals from over 40 different referral routes and organisations. Our most recent ‘Transitions’ programme took place earlier this summer at the beginning of July (the start of the midge season in Scotland). A glimpse into the participant journey demonstrates the impact that the ‘Transition’ programme has.
Shona (not her real name), a referral from the Foyer network was the beneficiary of a Joseph Rank Trust bursary. She travelled from London to Inverness to start her wilderness expedition earlier this spring. Her progress towards addressing her personal development needs was commented upon by a staff member
‘Although she showed confidence to talk in front of the group from the beginning of the course she demonstrated an increase in her confidence to assert herself. To begin with she often agreed with others opinions but as the course progressed she began to be able to express alternative opinions. She was able to openly and maturely disagree and talk up in a conversation about ‘exclusive relationships’.
Kevin (not his real name) took part in a wilderness expedition earlier this summer and impressed many of the staff team with his attitude and approach whilst on the expedition and after returning home. His outreach worker commented on the positive turn that he has taken:
‘Kevin returned from the course with a clear idea of what his action plan would be and stated the support he got from VT field team staff was the best he's ever experienced . He wants to thank staff for believing in him and giving him back his self respect and self belief as well as the ability to go forwards in life helping others in similar situations to himself. He is now working as a peer support drug and alcohol worker for the NHS ...’
The programme continues to be popular having real relevance and impact for those participants who undertake this challenging journey. A journey which helps them to shape, change and influence their future and that enables them to reach their destination.