“I feel like I have now truly completed my Positive Futures programme with Venture Trust and with the support of people I have grown to love over this last 18 months.”
Former serviceman Jim Gardiner was a participant in Venture Trust’s Positive Futures programme that provides specialist support to ex-service men and women struggling with the transition to civilian life. Following the programme, Jim also successfully applied for one of several paid traineeships offered by Venture Trust.
But despite how far he had come, Jim felt he had some “unfinished business” to complete as he approached the end of his traineeship. After conquering fear, anxiety and depression as part of his journey with the Positive Futures programme, Jim had one more mountain to conquer.
At 450m high, Ben A’an is a mini mountain with a big view. From the summit you can look down Loch Katrine to the Arrochar Alps. Ben Venue is closer, just across the head of the loch, while Ben Ledi is to the east. South lie the Campsies and to the north are the mountains above Crianlarich. It is one of the best views in Scotland.
“Ben A’an was the hill walk that we were to complete on my Positive Futures course in November 2016,” Jim recalled.
At the time, Jim could only manage to get a short distance up the steep track.
“Despite the encouragement and coaxing, the climb seemed much too hard and I did not complete it. I took part in everything else on the course but there was a sense of disappointment that I had not made it to the top of Ben A’an. Especially when I saw the photographs of those who had made the summit. I swore to myself that I would return one day and try again.”
Three days before Jim’s traineeship finished, he made a bid for the summit of Ben A’an. Jim was joined by fellow Positive Futures participant Mark who was with him when he fell short on that frosty November day 18 months ago. Venture Trust staff who had worked alongside and come to know Jim were also at his side.
“The walk was easy at the start and I had a great catch up session with everyone until the steep parts had to be climbed,” he said. “By then I did not have the breath to talk much. The rest stops became more frequent as my lungs screamed for more air and the sciatica started to hurt.
The whole group were rooting for me and encouraging me every step of the way. With that kind of support, giving up was not on the cards.”
The determination and self-belief Jim has gained in the past 18 months was evident as he pushed through the pain barrier and ignored burning legs. With the few final steps, Jim raised his arms and pumped his fists as the wilderness opened up and spread out before him from the peak of Ben A’an.
“The climb has put me on top of the world after Venture Trust gave me the coaching to get my life back on track,” he said.
“My unfinished business is completed. There was a great feeling of elation and accomplishment. The congratulations lifted me even higher and the view in every direction was stunning, beautiful and inspirational. I played a two verse harmonica version of Flower of Scotland and The Rowan Tree. Just because I felt so good.
“I cannot thank Venture Trust enough for the wonderful turnaround they have given my life.”For more information about the Positive Futures programme visit our website.
An external evaluation of Venture Trust's Next Steps programme has found it plays a vital role helping women involved in offending or at high risk of offending make changes to their lives.
The independent evaluation, officially released in March by SMCI Associates, reports: "The Next Steps programme is seen as absolutely complementing other provision for women in the criminal justice system."
The three year evaluation was designed to explore the programme’s impact on the personal and social development needs of the participants, and to what degree the project outcomes have been achieved.
The evaluation will provide learning outcomes for Venture Trust, and other stakeholders interested in either issues surrounding reducing (re)offending for women caught up in the criminal justice system or the use of wilderness/outdoor activities within personal and social development with vulnerable groups.
Venture Trust aims to support people who, because of their life experiences, have become marginalised and vulnerable and are experiencing chaotic and complex lifestyles. It aims to do this by supporting them to recognise what they need to change, and then to develop the confidence, motivation and life skills that they need to make those changes.
The findings of the evaluation highlight the success of the Next Steps programme and its importance in relation to improved stability and reduced likelihood of reoffending, employability and self-confidence for women who complete the programme.
Stakeholders note "the unique value of the Next Steps programme, in particular the residential wilderness aspects of it. They are clear that there would be a gap in provision if the programme did not exist, with no alternative provision".
- 644 women supported by Next Steps
- 256 successfully completed the five day wilderness journey and progressed into phase 3 of the programme.
- More than half of all women who completed the wilderness journey went on to achieve at least one ‘positive destination’ (education, employment, training or volunteering)
- Programme participants’ self-confidence, employability, community bonds, use of local services and opportunities, and stability increased on average by 71%
- 89% of participants’ self confidence had improved
- 84% had improved their employability
- 66% had become more stable and less likely to reoffend
- 60% had improved bonds with their community
- 60% had increased their use of community services and opportunities
"Women who have participated in the Next Steps programme are given hope that they can learn to live a new/better way of life and feel they are given a second chance to feel like a person without a label." - Stakeholder
“My life has totally changed. I’m in a brilliant place with my son. I’ve got a fighting chance to get him home. I have my grandchildren on weekends. These are things that would never have happened before. Venture Trust believed in me. They gave me the support and the drive and it’s changed my life." - Lucy
Venture Trust communications officer Neil Ratley ventures into the wilderness with the Inspiring Young Futures programme.
“I want to move out of supported housing and live in a flat of my own.”
“I want to get more confident so I can get a job.”
"I want to be able to provide a future for my kids.”
These are the dreams and aspirations for some of the young people participating in Venture Trust’s Inspiring Young Futures programme.
For many of us fortunate enough to have enjoyed a safe and secure upbringing with support and guidance from our family and loved ones, these dreams don’t seem out of the ordinary or out of reach as we move into adulthood. But when you have grown up without security, stability and support, dreams can seem just that.
The young people (16-21) taking part in the Inspiring Young Futures programme are often dealing with one or more of the following: poverty, alcohol and drug addiction, poor family relationships, mental health issues, learning, housing issues and involvement with the criminal justice system. The majority also have had little or no work experience. However, this does not mean they don’t have the ability to make changes to their lives and achieve their goals and their dreams. They just need the support and opportunity and to be offered the chance to see themselves differently.
The programme - funded by The Big Lottery Fund, the Scottish Government, the European Social Fund and Inspiring Scotland - aims to help disengaged young people, to develop sustainable lifestyles and reach a point where they can apply and get a job, engage in education, training and volunteering. The programme consists of community-based support both prior to, and after, a wilderness journey, all aimed at helping participants to develop the skills necessary to work towards those positive destinations.
I have just spent a week camping, hiking and taking part in personal development activities in the wilds of Scotland with a group of participants and staff as part of the wilderness journey phase for the programme.
The “Beast from the East” – an artic weather bomb - has gripped Scotland in its frozen embrace of snow, ice and blizzards. But with a slight slackening of the icy grasp, five young people from the suburbs of Glasgow, are braving the elements and challenging themselves to gain the skills that will enable them to change their futures in the hills above Loch Rannoch.
The frozen ground, pine trees, and toilet shovel are a far cry from the suburbs they come from. It’s with a mix of wide-eyed bewilderment, fear and for some excitement when they are told the small snow-covered tents will be their home for the next few nights.
Earlier that morning the Venture Trust development team had gathered at Stirling railway station to meet the individuals arriving on the Glasgow train. It was a grey day, a constant drizzle was falling and five young people all with their hoodies drawn up shuffled along the platform. Confidence and self-esteem are often in short supply for those engaging with Venture Trust.
Phase 2 of the programme – the wilderness journey – starts with a group meeting at Venture Trust’s base on the outskirts of Stirling. It’s where introductions are made and the participants discuss and draw up conditions for the course with the aim to create a ‘safe space’ for themselves and staff. Things like a ‘social contract’ for the group and ‘conditions of attendance’ are reinforced and agreed upon. These ground rules come from the group, rather than being a set of rules forced upon them. Combined with the choice to remain or leave, an element of ownership is given to the group, encouraging responsibility and appropriate behaviour.
Initially it takes coaxing from the team to get responses and contributions from the members of the group while they continue to adapt to their new surroundings and the people they will spending the next week with.
The next task elicits a much more profound reaction. Each young person is asked to say goodbye to their mobile phones for the duration of the weeklong journey.
This is the start of the process to leave behind the distractions from home and the environment that makes it so hard to break out of their current cycle. The lack of familiar distractions (TV, computers, phones etc.) provides space to think and relax.
As night approaches at base camp, the first real task for survival is cooking food in the freezing conditions. On the first night, this involves boiling water and cooking pasta. The staff have pre-prepared the Spaghetti bolognaise but for the rest of the journey each person will have to carry and cook their own meals.
I’m given my trangia stove, cooking pots and a fistful of pasta. Helen, one of the development team members, takes us through the process of setting up and using our stoves. Tasks like this, along with setting up tents, effectively using the clothing and equipment we are issued are aligned to Experiential Learning.
The wilderness provides a great setting for experiential learning - ‘learning through reflection on doing’. After being shown how to do something, participants need to self-evaluate the effectiveness of their own actions in future. None of us starve and the “Beast’s” bite seems less intense with a belly full of hot pasta. Before crawling into the tents for the night, we go for a short walk and then return for a group session working on some personal development skills. There is also a call to fill various roles – camp leader, navigator, time-keeper, energizer, morning meeting and end of day review facilitators.
It’s sleeting and close to zero degrees when we are woken early the next morning by the expedition and development team. The smell of bacon is wafting on the fog. For some it’s been a tough initiation to sleeping in the outdoors. But after surviving their first night in the wilderness together, there is also the first real signs the group coming to accept and respect each other as individuals. These early morning calls will help prepare individuals for establishing a routine back home to get to work, college or training.
Each day starts with a group meeting and those with morning roles fulfil their obligations or lead the sessions. Themes for the day and goals are agreed and established. This is followed by a team building exercise before the participants engage in a one-to-one meeting or small group session with an allocated development worker.
As the sleet slowly turns to rain, the order comes to break camp. We are given a demonstration of how to take down our tent, roll away our sleeping bag and pack our backpack. There is a mix of silent stoicism from some participants under the strain, others bear a grimace of glum acceptance and from others there are complaints about the burden they are being asked to carry.
After several hours of trekking we take shelter under the creaking bows of the Caledonian pines. The soft green moss and pine needles are a comfortable seat to rest weary legs.
When it’s time to get moving, it’s difficult going. The snow lies thick on the ground, at times the path climbs steeply up among the trees and it’s cold. The worst of the “Beast from the East” may have passed but there is still a whip in its tail. The hardships these young people are facing now and the learning and development strategies they are being asked to complete in the wild will help them back in their communities and in the face of the challenges waiting back home.
Individuals work on skills such as establishing trust, personal boundaries, consequential thinking, problem solving, dealing with challenging situations, and responsibility and accountability. Each participant is supported to design an individual 'action plan' for their future, ensuring they can continue on their personal journey when they return to their community.
With the whiteout turning to a murky darkness and temperatures plummeting we find a clearing above a stream to set up camp. The deep snow means we need to dig out an area to pitch out tents. Armed with the skills we have already learnt we work fast to put up our shelters before cooking a warm meal and completing more activities.
It’s another frozen start to the day. But spirits in the camp seem buoyant. There is a sense of pride and determination among the young participants. They’ve survived an overnight blizzard and whatever creature left its strange footprints in the snow. In the morning meeting, new goals are set and there is encouragement and animated discussions between individuals. A far cry from the silence and reluctance to talk to each other on the first day.
On the banks of a small stream deep in the Black Wood of Rannoch our expedition stops for lunch. The wilderness journey is drawing to a close. The development team members gather the troops together and hand them each a sheet of paper. Armed with their parchments, they are sent off to read the sheet in private. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.
There is a sparkle in the eyes each individual, a smile on their lips and a visible puff of pride in their stance and demeanour. For some the sparkle turns to tears and there is a slight quiver on their lips. These are tears and quivers of pride resulting from the positive praise they have just received. For many young people who participate in the programme this kind of praise, the receiving of compliments or encouragement has been very rare or non-existent in their lives.
Descending from the higher ground along a gorge towards the shore of Loch Rannoch, the sun escapes from clouds. The light dapples through the branches of ancient pines and reflects off the moss on the forest floor. The complaining heard from many at the start of the journey is gone. There is chatter in the air, laughing and words of support for each other.
The wilderness is a catalyst for change.
Each participant will be supported to design an 'action plan' for their future, ensuring they can continue on their personal journey when they return to their community. Here, they will continue to be supported through regular meetings with Venture Trust's outreach teams. The outreach teams help participants continue to develop and apply their new skills, access other specialist support services, and work towards employment, training, education or voluntary work. Each one of the young people I shared this journey with has a greater chance to make and sustain positive changes in their lives.
“I want to move out of supported housing and live in a flat of my own.”
“I want to get more confident so I can get a job.”
"I want to be able to provide a future for my kids.”
With hard work and support from Venture Trust and our partners, these dreams can become a reality for many young people who thought they were out of reach.
Venture Trust's work to improve the employability of participants was featured in The Scotsman this month.
Employability Manager Stuart McMillan highlighted the fact while youth unemployment has fallen in Scotland, thousands of young people still remain long-term unemployed because they lack the very basic life skills needed to begin working towards securing and sustaining a job.
Many young adults referred to Venture Trust have come from life circumstances where they are not given the best start. They are often dealing with one or more of the following: poverty, alcohol and drug addiction, poor family relationships, mental health issues, learning and housing issues. The majority also have had little or no work experience.
There are many agencies working to help unemployed people find work. However the individuals engaging with these other agencies already have enough 'soft' skills to enter employment and training. Who is there to help those without the basic tools necessary to begin training, studying or working? The people Venture Trust help first require significant investment to achieve greater stability – addressing chaotic or destructive behaviours to become ready for training and employment so that they can sustain a job.
There is a considerable evidence - highlighted in Government research - to suggest that being unemployed when young leads to a higher likelihood of long-term ‘scarring’ in later life in terms of pay, high unemployment, fewer life chances and poorer health. These effects seem to be stronger for younger people and those with less education. Through Venture Trust's employability programmes like the CashBack Change Cycle and our core programmes, participants are gaining the basic skills to have a better and more realistic chance of moving towards employment.
Read the article in The Scotsman here.
Our Director of Funding & Contracts, Malcolm Jack, was interviewed last week by Forces Network for an article on its website about Venture Trust’s work with ex-service men and women for the Soldiering On, People’s Choice award nomination. The article can be found here:
Malcolm then headed off down to London for an interview with BFBS Forces Radio this morning. The interview, and a further interview for Facebook Live, can be found here:
https://www.facebook.com/BFBSRadio/videos/10155843260297949/ (BFBS radio interview)
https://www.facebook.com/TheForcesNetwork/videos/533921396989427/ (Forces Network Facebook Live interview)
Please like and share on Facebook or twitter if you can. The articles are to raise our profile as one of the finalists for the People’s Choice award at Soldiering On. Please take a moment to vote if you haven’t done so already. It takes approximately 30 seconds and could really help us to reach the right people for our ex services programmes. You can vote here: