The sun is shining in Portobello.
Stephen is smiling and excited as he talks about supporting and mentoring people fighting to break free from the “grip” and “madness” of addiction and the pain and suffering addiction brings.
He has just finished a peer mentor training programme and is now qualified to help those facing the same struggles he has.
“My life is brilliant right now,” he says.
However, life was not always sunny for Stephen.
As a teen he turned to drugs as an escape from the trauma and turmoil in his life.
His addiction caused his life to spiral out of control. He lost everything that was once important to him - family, friends, his home and eventually his freedom.
After a chaotic childhood, Stephen joined the army as a 16-year-old as a way to set his life on a steady path. However, after issues with alcohol his military career did not last and shortly after he left the service his girlfriend was tragically killed in an accident.
“This was me. I had lost my chance at a career I wanted, I had lost my girlfriend, and I had lost the house. I had lost everything,” Stephen recalls.
At times he felt so lost and alone he believed life was hardly worth living.
His drug use increased and so did his criminal activities to feed his habit. After several appearances in front of the court, Stephen was eventually locked away in Polmont Young Offenders' Institution.
Prison didn’t end up being a place of rehabilitation for Stephen. He was able to get access to drugs from while he was behind bars. “It wasn’t a very nice place as you can imagine and I soon got into heroin,” he says.
For the next decade, life for Stephen was filled with “a misery inside”. Drugs, crime and homelessness were all part of his existence. He even robbed his family. For a moment a relationship with a woman appeared to give Stephen a reason to change his life. But the relationship ended and he once more turned to the only source of relief he knew – drugs.
“I started using legal highs. That’s when I really hit rock bottom. I had drug psychosis, I was running about with knives. It was absolute madness. I lost 25 kilogrammes in two months. I had to be carried out of my house and into hospital,” Stephen remembers.
“I had no will to live.”
On his release from hospital Stephen was accommodated in housing for individuals struggling with substance abuse. He was also placed on a Drug Treatment and Testing Order (DTTO). He had to undergo regular drug testing and he also began to engage with professional support services. He took inspiration from a support worker who had turned his own life around.
“I was drug tested, I cut off a lot of people who I had been associating with and with the help of medication I began to see this wee bit of light at the end of a dark tunnel.”
The same worker that had inspired him to make changes in his life referred him to Venture Trust.
Venture Trust’s programmes of personal development help people involved in the criminal justice system who recognise that they need to address their behaviours and attitudes. There is support for individuals to develop the skills and motivation to work towards a life free from crime, to become more employable, see more possibilities and build positive relationships with others. Staff work with participants in their community and also in the Scottish wilderness.
A unique phase of the programmes is a wilderness journey in the wilds of Scotland. Outdoor activity and experiential learning techniques allow participants to make positive changes in negotiating barriers, gaining control of their life circumstances, and working towards achieving personal goals. These could be re-deploying skills learnt within the military; living independently; rebuilding broken relationships; moving towards jobs, training or volunteering; and generally working towards living a healthy, safe and stable life.
Stephen had always loved the outdoors and adventure. It was what drew him to the Army all those years ago. “It sounded like my kind of thing.”
He met with an Outreach Worker and they began working towards getting Stephen physically and mentally prepared for the three phase Living Wild programme - funded by The Scottish Government and also by the Armed Forces Covenant for ex-service personnel in the Scottish community justice system. This meant cutting back on medication and making the commitment to change.
It hasn’t easy for Stephen. He has had his setbacks and a short relapse but with his determination and desire to escape “the wreckage” that had been his life for 20 years he has broken free from the grip of addiction. He is experiencing life through clear eyes and mind. With his confidence up and a desire to help others access the service Venture Trust provides, Stephen also threw himself off a bridge - with an elastic chord tied around his ankles - to raise funds for the organisation.
“It’s great to have a life back. To not feel hopeless or like you are nothing or useless. Venture Trust has helped me to become somebody again. It’s still a daily struggle at time but I now have the skills to deal with life,” Stephen says.
“My family all want something to do with me. I’m re-building relationships that were broken.
“The life that I have now is brilliant compared to what it was like. I thought I was a failure and that I was going to die in that horrible existence of addiction, prison, violence and fear.”
Watch Stephen's story below:
Venture Trust has been awarded an £18,000 grant from the Scottish Children’s Lottery to support its work with young people.
The grant from the Scottish Children’s Lottery will help fund the Inspiring Young Futures programme, which targets young people in West Lothian, Edinburgh, East Lothian, Dundee, Glasgow, Inverclyde, North Lanarkshire and South Lanarkshire, who are living in complex and chaotic situations.
Through one-to-one support, the programme helps young people reflect on the changes they would like to make to their lives, and helps unlock their confidence, motivation and life skills.
Amelia Morgan, chief executive at Venture Trust, said: “We are extremely grateful for the funding from the Scottish Children’s Lottery, which will be used to support 140 young people in Scotland.
"The grant will allow us to reach those who are struggling with chaotic life circumstances such as homelessness, abuse, isolation, substance misuse and involvement in the criminal justice system.
"Our experienced team of staff will assist them to gain life skills, work-readiness, a sense of purpose and to work towards making positive life changes.”
The Scottish Children’s Lottery was launched in October 2016 to raise money for children in Scotland, with proceeds helping to improve the lives of children right across the country and make a real difference to those who need it most.
Trustee Alan Eccles represents Chance to Succeed, which operates as a society lottery under the Scottish Children’s Lottery. Chance to Succeed supports projects that focus on employability and employment skills, helping to deliver a productive future for our young people.
Alan Eccles said: “Chance to Succeed believes that every young person in Scotland deserves a chance to be seen, prove themselves and forge a successful career for themselves.
"By supporting Venture Trust we hope to help deliver a productive future for our young people.
"Thank you to those who play the Scottish Children’s Lottery; you are helping to support the great work that our charities undertake.”
If you want to know more about what we do and who we work with at Venture Trust visit our website.
Venture Trust is pleased to announce that it won not one but two awards at Clydesdale Bank’s Spirit of the Community Awards 2018 for its CashBack Change Cycle employability programme.
Venture Trust was one of five organisations to win a prize in the ‘help people into employment’ category through its CashBack Change Cycle programme. It also won the first B Innovation award for demonstrating innovation in its CashBack Change Cycle programme. Awards for innovation are usually reserved for the latest technology or something digital, but Venture Trust won for a programme where technology is removed, and phones are definitely not allowed!
CashBack Change Cycle is an employability programme supporting disadvantaged young people to develop the life skills required to gain sustainable employment. Along with partners, Bike for Good and The Bike Station Edinburgh, the programme centres around building and maintaining a bike, combining one-to-one support and group mentoring, outdoor activity and classroom work, developing confidence, responsibility, and job readiness.
The Yorkshire and Clydesdale Bank Foundation, the organisation behind the Spirit of the Community Awards, has a strong tradition of supporting communities by providing funds to help registered charities, not-for-profit organisations, community and other voluntary organisations make life safer, healthier and better for those around them.
The awards support projects that help people have a healthy relationship with money, help people into employment and help people improve their local environment.
CashBack Change Cycle takes disadvantaged young people out of their normal environment, away from technology, away from peer pressure, and digital media, and gives them the space and peace to see themselves differently. Individuals are supported to learn skills that most people take for granted: working as a team, following instructions, dealing with confrontation, and building self-worth. Young people learn practical skills of building a bike, bike maintenance, and gain certificates in Health & Safety, First Aid, and Tech City and Guilds. Time is spent in the classroom developing employability skills such as CV writing, interview techniques, and setting and achieving goals, and valuable time is spent in the outdoors developing bike skills and building confidence. Once completed, the individuals are supported to achieve their goals and gain sustainable employment, along with having their own bike to travel economically to their place of work.
Amelia Morgan, Chief Executive Officer for Venture Trust comments, “We are delighted to have received both awards at the Spirit of the Community Awards. The prizes total £10,000 which is invaluable in ensuring that we continue to run the CashBack Change Cycle programme, along with our main funder, CashBack for Communities. This is a fantastic programme that really supports young people with complex issues who have for some reason found themselves on the margins of society. Innovation doesn’t always mean high technology – it can also mean seeing things differently and that is what we have done with our CashBack Change Cycle programme.”
For more information about CashBack Change Cycle programme, please visit our programmes page.
Venture Trust is pleased to announce that it has been awarded Scottish Government funding for its Next Steps women’s programme.
The grant has been secured to help Venture Trust maintain the service’s availability for2018/19. The funds will allow even more vulnerable women - who've been involved in offending or at high risk of offending – to access help and get the support they need to make positive changes to their lives.
Venture Trust CEO Amelia Morgan welcomed the funding announcement:
“This endorsement reflects and validates the impact of the programme. By continuing to deliver a high quality and transformational programme, we can help even more women from getting caught up in the criminal justice system.”
Next Steps is helping women to break the cycle of reoffending. Individuals on the programme have succeeded in making and sustaining positive changes in their lives. Many have shown increased self-confidence; improved employability skills; improved behaviours and circumstances likely to reduce risks of reconviction. There is evidence that they have improved their relationships with those around them, and are making increased use of services and opportunities in their community such as libraries, gyms or doctors’ surgeries.
The funding announcement comes on top of the recently released independent evaluation findings for the Next Steps programme.
Our three year study shows that the Next Steps programme has the power to change women’s lives:
• More than half of all women who completed the Next Steps wilderness journey went on to achieve at least one ‘positive destination’ (education, employment, training or volunteering)
• Two thirds of women showed improvements in relation to stability and reduced likelihood of reoffending
• 8 out of 10 showed increased employability skills and self-confidence
• Participants and stakeholders praised the programme
A copy of the executive summary can be found here.
Venture Trust would also like to acknowledge the vital support from a range of funding partners for the Next Steps programme and evaluation over the last 3 years, including the Big Lottery Fund (primary programme funder 2014-17), European Social Funds, City of Edinburgh Council, Porticus UK, the Goldsmiths’ Company Charity, as part of the SHINE Mentoring Service, and a number of other trusts and foundations. Thanks also to key delivery partners within the SHINE family and Move On.
Venture Trust is delivering collaborative and effective community-based interventions for people caught up in the Scottish criminal justice system.
The work we are doing was recently featured in The Scotsman.
Evidence shows community sentences are more effective at reducing reoffending than short prison sentences and outside of prison people can access the services to help with rehabilitation.
Collaborative and sustained support does break the cycle of offending and reduces the social harm and financial costs for individuals, families and communities. Often it is poverty, inequality and adverse childhood experiences and the trauma resulting from domestic abuse, addiction to drugs and alcohol that underpins offending behaviour. These issues need to be addressed and can be best addressed outside of prison for many people. Scotland can create safer communities by being bold. Investing for the long term - in services which work - is fundamental to build confidence for victims of crime, sentencers and the public, and will result in making communities safer.
Read the full article here: Amelia Morgan: We must recognise that people can change – not just lock them up in jail