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.’
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.’