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From the depths of despair to a positive future with Venture Trust

At his lowest point Jim Gardiner was too scared to go outside his front door.

“I might have been the only smoker who would run out of tobacco but be too afraid to go down to the corner shop and buy a new packet,” the former British soldier says. “There should be no reason to be afraid to go out your own home. There are no lions out there … in Falkirk at least. No one is dropping bombs. But there I was trapped in my own house.”

Jim was in a state of “really deep” and “dark” depression and suffering from severe anxiety. “There was absolute fear and terror, over nothing.”

The downward spiral in Jim’s life began when his family life fell to pieces after a successful military career with the Royal Corps of Signals.

“I served in the 70s and loved every minute of my time in the signals. As a young man my time in the army set me up for life. I had done a brilliant apprenticeship. I was full of confidence, full of beans and energy.”

Jim shakes his head when he recalls how he went “from that good place to being depressed, miserable and anxious.”

The death of his brother at 21, his divorce and the death of his father in a short time hit Jim hard. This was followed by coping as a single dad to two daughters and fighting a custody battle for his two sons. These series of challenges knocked him down a hole flooded with adrenaline with no apparent way to haul himself out.

“I had become unemployable even if I did decide I wanted to go out there and get a job. I was too nervous to go to interviews or sit in large groups of people. I was missing family events. A man should never be too frightened to spend time with his children and grandchildren.”

It was when Jim was at his lowest point and trapped inside the four walls of his home that he was referred to Venture Trust by its partner agency Poppyscotland and their Employ-Able programme, run with SAMH.

Jim was accepted onto the Positive Futures programme. The programme provides specialist support to ex-service men and women struggling with the transition to civilian life and is funded by the Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT), a £35 million funding scheme run by FiMT using an endowment awarded by the Big Lottery Fund.

“I met Sharon my outreach worker and we would catch up once a week. Eventually we were meeting in cafes, shopping centres and other public places. And I didn’t notice at first but gradually we were meeting in busier and busier places. Sharon began to teach me my fears were unfounded. I was getting back into the outside world again.”

The next phase in Jim’s journey was a five day wilderness expedition with other ex-servicemen. The personnel development programmes are specifically designed to help with the transition to civilian life. Individuals are taken out of their usual environment, and the outdoors are used as a catalyst for positive change, redeploying skills learnt within the military and the learning of new skills. Following the journey, veterans like Jim continue to receive one-to-one support for up to 18 months.

“As a group and individually we were improving our confidence, motivation and developing new skills to better deal with stressful, unfamiliar or negative situations,” he says. “It was a combination of an education from other ex-servicemen, the Venture Trust team and the wilderness and weather.”

The anxiety and nerves that had been holding Jim back began to loosen their grip and his confidence started to return while he was out in the Scottish wilderness.

“When I returned from the wilderness journey, I felt back to my old self again. Not somebody new. Not somebody invented. It was the full of confidence, full of enthusiasm me. Like I was when I was a young soldier.”

Jim’s time away, his participation in the personal development programmes and his commitment to making the most of the one-to-one support from his outreach worker put him in a place where he felt confident enough to apply for a job.

One of the jobs was a traineeship being offered by Venture Trust.

“I had to go through the job application and the job interview. I wouldn’t have been able to do that before the Positive Futures programme. Less than a year ago you couldn’t get me out of the front door without a crowbar,” Jim reflects.

Jim got his traineeship and now works as an admin and stores assistant at the Venture Trust National Participant Centre. His job involves prepping and kitting out fellow veterans heading out on their wilderness journey along with participants on Venture Trust’s other programmes. And often he can be found sharing an encouraging word and a cigarette with those following in his footsteps, helping to settle their nerves.

Now even more veterans like Jim will be able to get help and support transitioning to civilian life after Venture Trust was awarded a £699,384 LIBOR funding grant in November. The grant from the UK Government will enable Venture Trust to support 180 more former servicemen and women and extends the programme until 2021.

For further information visit Venture Trust’s Positive Futures programme.

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