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:
Venture Trust is delighted to announce that it has been nominated as a finalist in the Soldiering On People’s Choice award. Nomination for the People’s Choice award, which is voted for by the public, was done in recognition of Venture Trust’s work with veterans through its Positive Futures programme. The Soldiering On awards will be held in London on April 20 where the results will be announced.
To date, the Positive Futures programme, funded by Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT), has supportetd 173 veterans since the first course began in spring of 2016. With additional Libor funding to 2021, the programme can engage with a further 180 ex service men and women.
The Positive Futures programme helps individuals with any military experience, of any age, who are struggling with the transition to civilian life. It is a three phase personal development programme that centres around a wilderness journey in the Scottish Highlands.
Once referred to Venture Trust and assigned an outreach worker, the participant begins the first phase of the programme. They are assessed and attend various meetings and workshops, one-to-one and in groups, to ascertain the best course of action.
Using the outdoors as a catalyst for change, Venture Trust supports its veterans to utilise the skills learnt within the military, and redeploy into a civilian environment. The wilderness journey is the light bulb moment for most people: they are away from negative influences, from phones and social media, drugs, alcohol etc, and close to nature which gives a different perspective. It allows the participants time and space to take stock and work out what they want from life, and it gives them the confidence to start achieving their goals.
The participants may have learnt vital skills, and experienced a shift change mentally while on the wilderness journey, but things can be very different when they return to their own environment, and so this is where Venture Trust really comes to the fore. In the final phase of the programme, the participants begin to make those positive changes, and put those skills into action with the continued support of their outreach worker. For up to 18 months, they are encouraged to achieve their aims; this might be getting a job, finding a home, building bridges with family, or kicking addiction etc.
Amelia Morgan, Chief Executive Officer at Venture Trust comments, "Nomination in the People’s Choice award means that we are getting it right. Positive Futures programme is getting results; supporting veterans to transition to civilian life, successfully, and sustainably. We hope that this nomination shines a light on the issues facing veterans in civilian life and that some people can struggle. Our former service men and women have given so much, it is only right that collectively we work to support every individual needing extra help. So every vote for Venture Trust is one step towards supporting another veteran."
Venture Trust needs your support. It takes no more than 30 seconds to vote. Venture Trust needs you to vote for its Positive Futures programme in the Soldiering On People's Choice award. Winning the award will help Venture Trust to raise the profile of its Positive Futures programme, and ensure that it reaches those most in need of its help. Please click here to make your choice:
Please share on your social networks, and with colleagues and friends. Help Venture Trust to provide much needed support to veterans.
For more information on the Positive Futures programme, please click here.
Levels of domestic abuse in Scotland have been described as “unacceptable” by the Scottish Government with victims often too afraid to report the abuse and seek help. The personal and social costs of domestic abuse are significant. It is now accepted that abuse is often a factor in the development of depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders. The results can be loss of confidence, social isolation, the loss of a job and much more.
Cassie, just 20 at the time, was a victim of domestic abuse from her partner and suffered from the resulting trauma.
She lost her job and experienced severe anxiety and panic attacks. Cassie was unable to function like the young woman she had been before. However, she was brave enough to seek help.
Working with Women’s Aid, Cassie was referred to Venture Trust’s Inspiring Young Futures (IYF) programme. The programme, funded by Scottish Government, Inspiring Scotland, the European Social Fund and The Big Lottery Fund, is designed for young people experiencing challenging life circumstances who want to make positive life changes. Those circumstances might include involvement in offending, anti-social behaviour, history of substance misuse, homelessness or poor family relationships.
Cassie felt the programme would improve her mental health and increase her self-confidence and resilience, particularly as she needed to testify in court against the man who had abused her. Cassie also felt that she wanted to develop and build positive relationships with her peer group - including men - to help her overcome her negative experiences. Longer term she also wanted to develop a wider range of skills, and be able to go back to work.
The three phase programme includes community-based support: participants benefit from a dedicated one-to-one worker before and after embarking on an eight day wilderness journey in Scotland. Ongoing support enables participants to consolidate their new skills, boost confidence, motivation and aspirations, and benefit from opportunities in education, employment and training.
Cassie developed a positive and trusting relationship with her Venture Trust outreach worker and was soon attending one-to-one sessions, group meetings, and reflective learning experiences where her strengths were quickly identified. Cassie and her outreach worker developed a training plan tailored to her individual needs and the goals and positive changes she wanted to make in her life. During Phase 1, Cassie started working towards her SQA Personal Development Level 3 Award.
The second phase of the IYF programme saw Cassie embark on the wilderness journey. This gave her time and space away from daily pressures where she could develop skills in problem solving, goal setting, relationship building, dealing with stressful situations, managing emotions, and developing personal routines. Completing the outdoor activities during the highland winter created challenging and testing situations, in which Cassie thrived and strengthened her abilities to make choices, and manage her behaviour. The course structure also encouraged Cassie to take on and practise individual roles within the group such as morning meeting facilitator, motivator, navigator, and clean camp supervisor.
During one-to-one sessions with her Venture Trust field team development trainer, Cassie reflected on strategies she could use in these different roles and situations, and how to transfer those strategies to her day-to-day life. She was able to practise these life skills in a safe space with the support of Venture Trust staff and other course participants, whilst working on her own personal development goals and a revised personal action plan for use back home.
In the months since returning from the course, Cassie has continued to work closely with her outreach worker. She has been building her skills set through further training, work experience and volunteering, while continuing to access support from Venture Trust, and has even completed her Level 3 SQA Personal Development portfolio. Soon after return from the wilderness phase, Cassie secured a work placement with HM Revenue & Customs in Edinburgh, which allowed her to develop her existing administrative experience, as well as maintaining a stable and positive routine.
In addition, Cassie was accepted to do an intensive peer mentor training course delivered by Venture Trust and Move-On, which enabled her to learn about the role of a mentor. She now supports other young people about to embark on the IYF programme.
Cassie’s experiences with Venture Trust have also shaped her future. She is pursuing a career within the care field and has started a Level 6 Working with Communities course at Edinburgh College. And to repay Venture Trust for supporting her to change her life, Cassie is completing her college work placement at Venture Trust.
“If it wasn’t for Venture Trust, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I was in a bad place and really needed support to help me get my life back on track. Venture Trust has done that,” Cassie said.
“The course helped me build my confidence, learn new skills and do the things I want to do.”
With her newly developed skills and confidence and her engagement with her college course, Cassie is on track for her chosen career path. A path that will one day allow her to help other young people who are suffering from abuse, depression, anxiety or other challenging life circumstances.
“The impact Venture Trust has had on me, I want to have that impact on somebody else who has been in similar situations.”