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.’One of the most important areas that Lizzie would come to develop was her confidence. She knew she wanted to attend university, but because of her housing situation she encountered some mixed reactions. Speaking of her experiences with other people, she said ‘when I told them that I was going to Uni they would say “Really!?”. They were quite surprised. When I went to Uni, I discovered why people can have different perceptions like that.’ She explained further ‘I think it’s all about that idea of homelessness. It carries a kind of stigma as well. For example, when you say that you’re living in a B&B, there are a lot of images that are attached to that, like being involved in crime, drugs, alcohol. It’s not always the case.’ Not only was the day-to-day reality of living in unstable accommodation taking its toll, but Lizzie also felt herself being constrained by the preconceptions of those around her. These were preconceptions that she would ultimately challenge and overcome.
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.’
Change and Transition: The Hero’s Journey!
Deciding that you want to make a step change in your life and making it happen is a period of transition that is challenging and exciting in equal measure. Much like a journey, if you can be guided and supported along the route you have chosen you will have a better chance of reaching your destination. If you journey for a while with other people in a similar situation it is a much richer experience. An experience punctuated by the scenery, the stops you make, and the views and insights that you and your fellow travellers will share along the way. Imagine a journey where you can see yourself differently and be seen differently by others...
Venture Trust’s ‘ Transitions to Independent Living’ programme is such a journey. The programme, which has been running for nearly 5 years, is designed to help young people resident in supported accommodation to develop their confidence and employability, increasing their access to local services and establish sustainable lifestyles. The programme has been successful and is popular with the participants, referral networks and partners. It is regularly proven to better equip participants with the skills and attributes needed to access employment, education, training, or volunteering as well as offering a catalytic shift in attitude and perspective that helps participants plan their move into independent accommodation.
Venture Trust developed the ‘Transitions’ programme to address the unique needs and circumstances facing young people in supported housing situations. Using our established and effective personal development curriculum, based on Choice Theory and Reality Therapy, the programme gives each participant the opportunity to join a 10-day wilderness expedition, where they are given time, space and intensive support in a wilderness setting, where boundary-stretching challenges serve as a vehicle for learning, reflection and discussion as a group and on a 1-to-1 basis
The ‘Transitions’ programme has several unique features :
- It works very closely with a network of supported accommodation providers, taking referrals from all over the UK. A programme with a truly national reach
- A bursary scheme is now a key part of the programme which allows a wider network of partners , increased places and increased accessibility of the programme to participants by offering subsidised places
- It is a journey both literally and metaphorically. Most participants will take a train to Inverness or another agreed location in the Scottish Highlands, where they are met by Venture Trust staff. Previous participants have travelled from Foyers all over the UK, including as far south as Eastbourne, Plymouth and Truro. The independent journey to northern Scotland is a core part of the experience, challenging participants to be self-determined and self-reliant from the outset.
The Bursary scheme has proved popular in concept and in execution. It is supported by the Joseph Rank Trust and is a good example of partnership working that allows Venture Trust to deliver a targeted and specific programme to the greatest number of participants where the need is greatest. This pioneering approach has elicited much interest as a model for both programme funding and delivery. The Joseph Rank Trust bursary scheme and the places that it funds are referred from organisations grounded in the Christian ethos and practice, but who support young people of all faiths and none. This reflects the common values that we share and our commitment to helping the less fortunate members of society.
Since the ‘Transitions’ programme started in 2009 over 125 young people from all over the UK have participated, with referrals from over 40 different referral routes and organisations. Our most recent ‘Transitions’ programme took place earlier this summer at the beginning of July (the start of the midge season in Scotland). A glimpse into the participant journey demonstrates the impact that the ‘Transition’ programme has.
Shona (not her real name), a referral from the Foyer network was the beneficiary of a Joseph Rank Trust bursary. She travelled from London to Inverness to start her wilderness expedition earlier this spring. Her progress towards addressing her personal development needs was commented upon by a staff member
‘Although she showed confidence to talk in front of the group from the beginning of the course she demonstrated an increase in her confidence to assert herself. To begin with she often agreed with others opinions but as the course progressed she began to be able to express alternative opinions. She was able to openly and maturely disagree and talk up in a conversation about ‘exclusive relationships’.
Kevin (not his real name) took part in a wilderness expedition earlier this summer and impressed many of the staff team with his attitude and approach whilst on the expedition and after returning home. His outreach worker commented on the positive turn that he has taken:
‘Kevin returned from the course with a clear idea of what his action plan would be and stated the support he got from VT field team staff was the best he's ever experienced . He wants to thank staff for believing in him and giving him back his self respect and self belief as well as the ability to go forwards in life helping others in similar situations to himself. He is now working as a peer support drug and alcohol worker for the NHS ...’
The programme continues to be popular having real relevance and impact for those participants who undertake this challenging journey. A journey which helps them to shape, change and influence their future and that enables them to reach their destination.
Venture Trust is delighted to announce today a new partnership with Craigie's Farm Deli and Cafe!
Craigies Farm Deli and Cafe, situated in South Queensferry, offers pick your own fruit, an impressive selection of groceries, cheeses, and butchery, a fabulous cafe, and a chance to have wander around the farm and a look at their animals... including their chickens which are partial to a bit of radio (seriously!). Venture Trust is delighted to have been picked as Craigie's Farm Charity of the Year 2014 and is excited about the year to come working with this dedicated, local family business.
It was a tough decision for John and Kirsteen, owners of Craigie's, but they were particularly impressed with how Venture Trust enables young adults experiencing multiple disadvantages get their lives back on track.
John Sinclair, owner of Craigie's said:
“We hope that we can not only demonstrate our personal support for Venture Trust but contribute through fundraising and other community based work. We hope that our community growing initiative and peaceful, outdoor space will provide an opportunity and environment to help the Venture Trust participants to recognise and meet their needs for change.
“I think it’s very important that a local business such as ours contributes something back into the local community as a thank you for the loyal custom of so many people from the area.
"We are excited to work with the Venture Trust team and hope to have a good deal of positive news to report over coming months."
Paddy Cassidy, Fundraising Manager at Venture Trust, said:
"I am delighted that Craigie’s has chosen Venture Trust as their Charity of the Year 2014. We look forward to working with John and Kirsteen and the rest of their team over the year ahead in what we are sure will be a promising and fruitful partnership. This presents many opportunities which will be of mutual benefit to Venture Trust’s existing and future supporters, Craigie’s existing and future new customers, and the young people who we will support and work with together. I am impressed with John and Kirsteen’s personal qualities and their commitment to engaging with young people who are experiencing multiple disadvantages. Their belief in putting something back in order to help others and their willingness to engage with our participants forms the basis for a successful partnership.
"The details of the partnership programme will be worked up towards the end of the summer. This will include Venture Trust and Craigie’s having a visible and complementary brand presence at the entrance to the farm shop and cafe, with visitors and customers being invited to make a modest donation of £1 when they make their purchases. The farm is an ideal venue and location for the young people with whom we work to engage in the outdoors and we hope to host personal development focussed activities at Craigie’s throughout the year. There will be opportunities for the staff at Craigie’s to take part in fundraising events and for our young participants to improve their employability skills through work experience placements and potential employment during peak times throughout the seasons.
"Venture Trust and Craigie’s are a natural and complementary fit and we look forward to creating and sharing the stories and successes that will emerge. There will be something of interest to communicate to all of Craigie’s visitors, customers, and staff and Venture Trust’s participants and valued supporters. Bringing staff, participants, customers, and supporters together in one location will be a unique feature of the relationship."
Please do head over to Craigie's Farm's website where you can read more about what they offer. You can also follow Craigie's Farm on Twitter and Facebook! We'll be keeping you posted over the coming year about this great new partnership, so be sure to keep checking back!
Following a successful pilot and subsequent evaluation in 2013, Venture Trust has continued to develop our On the Hoof programme and here’s an update on the year’s developments so far...
Venture Trust’s On the Hoof programme was developed to provide personal development support targeted to the needs of young people with learning disabilities. The programme builds upon Venture Trust’s 30 years of experience of working with many young people with learning disabilities across all of our programmes, introducing the use of ponies and, in doing so, creating additional opportunities for participants to learn and develop through taking responsibility for and building relationships with the ponies.
The programme has evolved in line with the initial evaluation over the year. The initial strategy was to use ponies as pack animals and this was implemented, with the help and expertise of Highlands Unbridled, in the first two pilot wilderness journeys. This allowed the group of young people participating in the programme to cover a greater distance and hence complete a more meaningful journey, whilst the challenge of caring for and travelling with the ponies added further depth to each young person’s development experience. In other words, having additional responsibility for the wellbeing of the ponies (with support and appropriate professional supervision) offered a greater opportunity to catalyse change in a participant’s thinking, attitudes, and behaviour.
The On the Hoof evaluation made a number of suggestion of which Venture Trust took on board and On the Hoof as we see it today began to evolve. Firstly, it was suggested that future courses should be run closer to the central belt (whilst still maintaining a commitment to using wilderness environments and a sense of distance away from home environments). This would minimise travelling and maximise the useable personal development time on the journey. It was agreed that more usable time would increase the therapeutic value of the ponies by giving time for relationship building between participants and ponies. We now run our On the Hoof programme in the Borders of Scotland in line with the evaluation’s suggestion.
Another consideration highlighted in the On the Hoof evaluation was that the programme should include a greater diversity of activities with the horses without losing the focus upon relationship building skills, working with others, effective communication, and organisational skills. Additionally, participants fed back that they thought the journey should be 5 days long, rather than the piloted 4 days, and Venture Trust staff agreed that the 4-day length limited the depth of personal development that could take place and 5 days would allow more bonding time with fellow participants, staff, and the ponies. Finally, participants expressed a preference for a centre-based expedition with only one or two nights camping. A centre-based expedition makes the trip more manageable for less fit individuals and makes group work sessions more effective in light of the needs of the participants.
To this end, Venture Trust explored a partnership with Equibuddy, who offer group and 1:1 sessions for riders with additional support needs working together to help develop confidence, self-esteem, balance, and coordination. This partnership has proven to be a huge success, with participants taking in part in riding, vaulting, grooming, leading, and tacking up lessons whilst simultaneously experiencing a centre-based Venture Trust wilderness-based personal development journey. Participants have the opportunity to really build a relationship with the ponies, are involved in a wide variety of activities including caring for the pony, riding, and vaulting, and the course is suitable for a wider variety of fitness levels ensuring all participants can benefit from the wilderness journey experience.
On the Hoof as we see it today is a tried, tested, and evaluated programme that has come a long way since its pilot. It continues to benefit a number of young people with learning disabilities and enables them to make and sustain positive changes in their lives. None of this would have been possible without the invaluable support of our funding partners, Children in Need, The Crerar Hotels Trust, and The Wessex Youth Trust. Venture Trust is looking forward to continuing the successes of the On the Hoof programme and witnessing even more of our participants’ successes along the way!
Copyright Stefan Durkacz
Stefan has completed his 457km solo backpacking challenge around the River Tay watershed in aid of Venture Trust... a huge congratulations!
On 18th May, Stefan set out on his mammoth five-week lap of the River Tay watershed in aid of Venture Trust and Scottish Wild Land Group. The River Tay is the largest river catchment in Scotland cutting across both the Highlands and the Lowlands of Scotland. Stefan began from Monifieth Sands and finished five weeks later at Tentsmuir Point in north-east Fife. View Stefan's full route here.
Despite living in London since 2001, Stefan has managed to remain an outdoor enthusiast and was excited to take on 457km solo challenge:
"I've had a lifelong infatuation with the outdoors, especially the hills and mountains of Scotland and have long wanted to take on the challenge of an extended backpacking expedition. I've been guilty of being a Munro bagger, grabbing summits on day trips and fleeting, often unsatisfying, visits, measuring progress by ticks on a list. Backpacking, however, offers a much deeper satisfaction - something I've always known deep down... Journeying over the land under my own steam, being self-sufficient, sleeping out under the sky, linking these places up to create a whole, is a thrilling prospect."
Copyright Stefan Durkacz
On why he chose to raise money for Venture Trust, Stefan explains on his blog:
"I believe that wild land is essential, not just something that's nice to have. I was lucky enough to have unfettered and often unsupervised access to the outdoors when I was growing up. I took it for granted, and learned important lessons without realising."
Stefan admitted that the hardest part of the trip was being away from his family. On top of that he battled with midges, rain, and was almost hit by lightening:
"I heard the first thunderclap just the other side of An Sgarsoch. I froze: too late to run, nowhere to hide anyway. A flash and another bang, closer now. I threw away my trekking poles and dropped to a crouch. Minutes passed. I started to look up. Everything went white and a gunshot bang sounded, everywhere at once, almost inside my head too. I sprawled, and from depths of memory the Hail Mary came to mind. I recited what I could remember as a mantra to control my fear and stop myself from running."
But despite these challenges, Stefan continued on:
"The final two days of walking were wonderful. I saw golden eagles on Leathad an Taobhain and Carn na Caim, descended a magical tree-lined ravine following a burn from moor to valley floor, marvelled at the awesome Gaick Pass, and fell asleep to the sound of peewits and oystercatchers. The weather grew sunny and warm. The longer I spent alone outdoors the more I noticed. The rhythm of the journey was sinking into me as I sank into the landscape."
I think everyone at Venture Trust can really relate to Stefan's journey, filled with ups and downs, peaks and troughs, high points and low points but overall, an overwhelming sense of achievement. The wilderness is an environment naturally conducive to reflection, challenge, and change, which Venture Trust's participants experience whilst on their own personal development expedition and Stefan's journey along the Tay Watershed really does strike a chord:
"The end had to come eventually... There was the quiet satisfaction of seeing the venture through good and bad to the end. There was also the sense that if the experience had changed me in [many ways], these changes would play out slowly and subtly, at unpredictable times and unexpected ways."
A big thank you to Stefan from everyone at Venture Trust! Please do head over to Stefan's blog for a stage by stage description of his incredible challenge, stunning photos, kit lists, and more. Stefan has also been featured on www.ukhillwalking.com on the 4th July and 28th July; two really great articles that give a fantastic flavour of his journey.
If you're feeling inspired and would like to take on a challenge of your own to raise money for Venture Trust, please visit out Events Page for more information.
"The wilderness is an inherently challenging thing: it has a way of kicking the crutches and distractions away and showing us what we're really made of, which is often more than we think."
Copyright Stefan Durkacz