Living Wild Referrer Survey 2014: Key Messages
Venture Trust recently surveyed our referral partners across Scotland to gather their feedback on our criminal justice programmes. We sent surveys to 889 referral agencies across all 32 of Scotland’s local authorities, and were delighted to receive 95 responses from Social Work Teams, Courts, Third Sector Partners, Prisons, Youth Justice Services and Employability Services. Their feedback helps us monitor how our criminal justice programmes – such as Living Wild and Next Steps – are being received, and where we can improve them for participants in the future.
We were very pleased to note some encouraging findings. The survey results showed that The Living Wild programme enjoys an extremely high national and local reputation, and is seen by all stakeholders as an important contribution to reducing re-offending at a national and local level. 96% of respondents said there would be a significant gap in service if the programme was not available in their area. We also discovered that referral partners value the combination of long-term, community-based support with the intensive, challenging wilderness journey, and value the distinct Venture Trust approach to personal development. The top-cited reason for referral given by 93% of responders was to improve confidence, and every single aspect of the programme listed in the survey was identified as “important” or “very important” by at least 83% of respondents.
A more extensive analysis of findings can be found below:
1) There is high demand for the service, with 96% of respondents indicating that there would be a “gap in provision available” if Venture Trust’s criminal justice programmes did not exist. Only 6% of respondents felt that there was “adequate alternative personal development provision that achieves similar outcomes” to whom they could refer individuals in the absence of Venture Trust provision. Written feedback also strongly supported these findings (see below).
2) Referral partners use Venture Trust programmes to achieve a wide variety of outcomes and address a range of criminogenic needs. The most commonly cited reasons for referral to the Living Wild programme (each identified by 80% or more of respondents) included enabling participants to:
- Reduce their risk of reoffending/change offending behaviours
- Develop better coping strategies to deal with difficult situations/pressure
- Improve their ability to develop positive relationships with others
- Improve confidence
- Broaden their aspirations of what they can achieve in life
The top cited reason for referral by 93% of respondents was helping participants to improve their confidence.
3) Referral partners value the combination of long-term, community-based support with the intensive, challenging wilderness journey and value the distinct Venture Trust approach to personal development. Every single aspect of the programme listed in the survey was identified as “important” or “very important” by at least 83% of respondents. Interestingly 99% of referrers emphasised the importance of the holistic nature of the programme by identifying that “a combination of all of these” was important or very important.
The Distinct Venture Trust approach to personal development
The top three most commonly cited elements contributing to the programme’s impact on participants (each identified as “important” or “very important” by at least 98% of respondents) were:
- The chance to achieve goals and have them recognised and celebrated (99%);
- The distinct Venture Trust approach to personal development (98%); and
- The quality/approach of Venture Trust staff. (98%)
Respondents also highlighted the importance of the wilderness journey experience as an essential element of Venture Trust’s work and the inherent catalyst for change.
Over 90% of respondents said it was important or very important for participants to have:
- The chance to have time and space away from the pressures of day-to-day life; to experience the sense of taking a journey, both physically and emotionally; and to have the opportunity to experience periods of solitude and reflection .
- The chance to live and work in a group setting; to function without alcohol and street drugs/substances and to access the intensive support provided 24 hours per day.
Over 80% of respondents also said it was important or very important for participants to:
- Have the opportunity to face the inherent challenges posed by living and journeying in the wilderness and the challenges posed by outdoor activity sessions;
- Face the challenges posed by the development and review sessions.
Long term community based support
Over 90% of respondents said it was important or very important for participants to have:
- The chance to access an extended period of support, advice, and guidance offered by a 12-14 month programme and to access 1:to:1 support within the local community .
Over 80% of respondents said it was important or very important for participants to have:
Encouragement and signposting to identify and access support provided by other agencies, programmes, and services; and support to access and identify local employment, training, education, and voluntary services.
Written comments (from 53 respondents) were overwhelmingly positive, with the majority citing the achievements of participants, the impact of the programme on reducing (re-) offending, and requesting the continuation of the programme. Examples include:
‘The Venture Trust allows the Young People we work with to address their attitudes to their offending. It provides the young people with an alternative to custody, and offers them the skills to make positive life choices for their future. There are no such services similar to this within the area and I fear, without this, many of our young people, particularly the first time offenders who have made poor choices, will end up in custody or following a pro-criminal lifestyle.’‘All my clients who have completed the programme have returned more confident and with goals that they have set. This seems to be reflected in their subsequent behaviour as there seems to be a noticeable reduction in their offending.’
- ‘I have found that clients who have participated and engaged with the Venture trust programmes have returned with more self confidence and motivation to change and this impacts on their ability to desist from offending.’
- ‘It provides opportunities to those within the criminal justice system who would not otherwise be offered this type of support. It allows people time to recognise what they can contribute to society, how they can change their lives, and how they can find alternative ways of dealing with the issues they face and causes behind their offending in a non-judgemental way.’
- ‘From my experience, Venture Trust provides challenging opportunities for young people which can provide so much in terms of promoting confidence, communication skills, group work skills and supporting individuals to see that there are real and positive alternatives to the lives they have been leading. I believe that it is a very valuable resource.’
- ‘Venture Trust forms an important part of the toolkit available to those working with young people involved in offending, it provides a unique service and offers challenges and opportunities for young people in terms of group living, practical skills and personal reflection that is unavailable elsewhere.’
- ‘The services offered by Venture Trust are highly valued by community criminal justice social work services. I have seen the benefits participation in the course have brought to the lives of young people; who have gained in confidence and made substantial, lasting changes to their lives upon their return. I think the location of Venture Trust is also crucial. There is something symbolic about driving over the highest road in the UK in one frame of mind and returning with a changed outlook! I would be concerned if the work of the Trust was at risk as a valuable, cost effective support service would be lost to some of our most vulnerable young people.’
Respondents also identified particular operational queries or areas for improvement; feedback which Venture Trust management consider extremely valuable and which is already influencing operational developments in the context of resources currently available. This included requests and comments which identified the need for similar programmes for those aged 30+. Some further guidance and advice in response to specific queries about post journey support will also be taken forwards. All individual responses have of course been treated in the strictest of confidence and anonymity.
‘The impact of Venture Trust upon the lives of young people who are 'ready' is a truly incredible thing to have witnessed. The programmes offer a powerful way to support individuals to experience a potential in themselves that perhaps they never knew existed and to help them genuinely move forward.’
‘This is a unique & innovative programme in Scotland & the outcome data is tangible evidence it delivers successfully. Central funding & the national provision of the programme are key to its future success & development.’
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!