On a crisp cold morning Timo Condie wakes up and heads out into the dark. Despite the bracing temperatures of the pre-dawn he is in good spirits.
The working day is starting on the horse racing yard in the south of England where Timo is a work rider. His job is to muck out the stables and then ride the horses in order to exercise them and ensure they are in top physical condition before they race. Timo has also been training as a jockey and is due to make his racing debut in coming months.
Astoundingly, two years ago Timo had never even patted a horse let alone sat on one.
“I can’t believe this is actually my life. I have to sometimes tell myself ‘this has actually happened,’” Timo says.
It’s been an incredible turnaround for the 21-year-old.
Just a few years ago, Timo also found himself out in the cold and darkness of the early mornings. But back then there were no reasons to be happy. He was lost. Depressed and homeless.
A dream of becoming a soldier in the Black Watch had been shattered through injury and without the direction of the Armed Forces, Timo’s life had become rudderless. His relationship with his family broke down, he began drifting across the UK.
He ended up living rough. Amidst the despair and frustration, substance misuse also became part of the teenager’s life.
Timo’s experience trying to cope after leaving the army highlights the risks that can face early service leavers. He says he still had the military mentality ‘shut up and soldier on’. “It makes you feel there’s a stigma in asking for help, even if you’re desperate.”
He eventually returned to his home town of Inverkeithing but not to his family. Instead he survived on the streets and in the woods.
“I had a sleeping bag and a travelling shelter I’d put up. It was for about nine months and it got pretty bad with taking drugs to try to find the happiness I was missing,” Timo says.
“I was so depressed, anxious and was having suicidal thoughts.”
At rock bottom, Timo came into contact with Venture Trust referral partner Scottish Veterans Residences (SVR) which works with homeless ex-service men and women. With support, security and a roof over his head, Timo began his journey from homelessness to horseback.
He was referred to Venture Trust and engaged with his outreach worker Clare. She explained that he met the criteria for a programme specifically for ex-servicemen and women struggling with civilian life – Positive Futures. The programme has been funded by the Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT) - a £35 million funding scheme run by FiMT using an endowment awarded by the Big Lottery Fund, with UK Government LIBOR funding and the European Social Fund.
Timo was initially hesitant to commit to the programme. However, through regular meetings Clare discussed what the programme could offer. How it could provide him with the means to a better future. It was also during this time Timo encountered a horse for the first time in his life.
An SVR support officer asked if he wanted to spend the day at the Saddle Up Ranch in Angus. The ranch is a charity that uses horses for therapy. Timo remembers it was a Friday and the suggestion did not immediately appeal to the young resident.
“Why would I want to give up my Friday going to look at horses? I’d never wanted to be around a horse before in my life. I thought it’d be a waste really as I didn’t even like horses.”
This was a similar attitude Timo had been showing towards taking part in the second stage of the Positive Futures programme – a wilderness journey in the Scottish Highlands. Participants learn key skills include problem solving, communication, time management, accountability, establishing trust, dealing with challenging situations, and giving and receiving feedback.
But after taking the bit between his teeth, Timo committed to both visiting the ranch and taking on the wilderness journey.
Being around the horses “worked” for Timo. As he spent more time with them his anxiety and stress levels decreased and before long was offered a chance to ride. The lightweight lad was a natural.
When the train pulled in to Dundee station after Timo’s wilderness journey, Clare was there to meet him. It was a different person who alighted onto the platform she remembers. When she asked how it was he replied: "I’m now ready to take on the world. Before I was very much stuck”.
"I thought I was the only one going crazy but it was nice to talk to people going through the same things," Timo says.
Timo says the best part of being supported by Venture Trust was that there was never any pressure and I felt comfortable working towards the journey at my own pace.
“It felt like it was all up to me to make the decision that I was ready for change.”
And there were changes.
“I came back with new ways of thinking and doors were opened in my mind. After having been so depressed and anxious there felt like there was a way out. After the wilderness journey I was more motivated. Before I had ideas but didn't do anything about this, now I am more focused and determined. My relationship with my family also improved.”
The “way out” was horses. With restored confidence, a lot of hard work and support from all of the charities involved, Timo landed a jockey traineeship before getting a job with one of the UK’s leading racing stables.
The frost sits on the grass and the mist hangs in the early dawn. The thunder of hooves reverberates across the fields. On the back of one of the thoroughbreds blowing hot clouds of air sits Timo Condie riding into his future and hopefully a future winner.
Icy paths, heavy rain, roaring winds and freezing toes.
These are some of challenges thrown at Venture Trust's participants on a wilderness journey.
Our programmes act as a catalyst for change. The demanding nature of the wilderness, combined with one-to-one support and group activities, presents participants with emotional, social and physical challenges. These challenges are all designed to enable individuals to develop more positive and productive attitudes and behaviours. The wilderness journey is often the most intensive phase of our programmes, but one which generates a huge sense of achievement for our participants.
Here one of Venture Trust's Development Trainers - Sasha - shares what happens in the outdoors on one of our programmes and how the forces of nature can be a catalyst for change.
"Stripping life away and enduring the raw power of the Scottish wilderness provides an opportunity to test yourself physically. Removing the chaos of busy city life gives clarity as to what you want in life and what you need. Having the time around a fire, sharing and reflecting, allows you to recognise your achievements and realise your strengths.
This was the story of the latest Living Wild programme.
Through grit and determination the group overcame challenges they had not faced before. They supported each other and were surprised at their new found and rediscovered strengths.
Travelling 21km across Cairngorm forests, making camps and warming fires along route, they were inspired by snowy mountains and supportive words.
The group played out what triggers a negative reaction in them in their home life. Through sharing similar experiences and feelings they built awareness of their triggers, how they initially respond to them and how this will help them manage their emotions when triggered in the future.
The group also thought about how changing from a fixed to a growth mindset can help them embrace opportunities.
To finish their 10 day wilderness journey the group wanted to challenge themselves even more and requested climbing a mountain! The final days they summited Ben Varckie and learnt the ropes of rock climbing!
An amazing effort from a very determined team, well done to all those who took part!"
Venture Trust is delighted to have received £14,000 in funding from Arc’teryx, helping us make a difference to those struggling with challenging life circumstances.
The funding – part of the Canadian outdoor clothing and sporting goods company’s “In My Back Yard (IMBY) Grant program” – will allow us to effectively deliver more intensive person-centred personal development in local communities and the Scottish wilderness.
Arc’teryx is keen to increase its impact in supporting organisations that break down barriers to self-propelled activity. Both Arc’teryx and Venture Trust place a high value on the “power of time spent outside”. In Venture Trust’s programmes time outdoors is used as a catalyst for change.
The wilderness journey is an intensive, challenging part of our programmes, but one which generates a huge sense of achievement and impact for participants.
Venture Trust’s Head of Operations, Mike Strang says: “The demanding nature of the wilderness, combined with one-to-one support and group activities, presents participants with emotional, social and physical challenges. These challenges are all designed to enable individuals – many who have never had access to the wilderness or outdoors – to develop more positive and productive attitudes and behaviours.”
Both organisations place great importance on solving impactful problems. For Venture Trust this is supporting people struggling with many and complex issues, including addiction, being caught up in the criminal justice system, are outside mainstream support and unemployed, or who may have never been in employment.
Evidence-led impact will allow us to advocate for better policy and practice that recognises and delivers greater equity and opportunity for those who need it most.
Venture Trust believes that where someone grew up, their family background or previous negative and damaging experiences - do not have to define them. Everyone deserves compassion, access to opportunity and justice. By empowering the people we support to share their experiences coupled with evidence of what works, the case for change can be made. Disadvantage and inequality that is restricting people’s life chances can be tackled.
Together, Venture Trust and Arc’teryx can continue to tackle this cycle of harm and inequality which leaves some people in the margins of society.
Arc'teryx director of sustainability Drummond Lawson says the company is proud to support Venture Trust and the other IMBY grant recipients.
"We love the work these organizations are doing, and our team is excited to help them achieve more positive impact in the future."
Arc’teryx is a global design and manufacturing company based in North Vancouver, B.C. specializing in technical high-performance apparel, outerwear and equipment. Arc’teryx delivers creative products to enable and inspire those who live at the edge of their passions.
Arc’teryx is named for the Archaeopteryx Lithographica, the first reptile to develop the feather for flight, and exists to Accelerate Evolution. www.arcteryx.com
"I have worked for Venture Trust for more than 12 years. During that time, I have seen hundreds of young people come through the doors. The fact that there are just as many coming through today as there were back in 2006 tells me that Venture Trust and organisations like us still have a huge amount to offer young people in Scotland."
- Louise Dall, former Venture Trust Operations Manager
After more than a decade working with Venture Trust, Louise shared her thoughts on why it is vital for society to support young people to achieve there potential.
Venture Trust continues to do this through our programmes of intensive person-centred personal development in local communities and the Scottish wilderness. Working with our partners including Inspiring Scotland, The Scottish Government, The Big Lottery Fund and Comic Relief.
In the last 10 years of delivering the Inspiring Young Futures programme, Venture Trust has received 2355 referrals, engaged 2115, and supported 1093 young people to achieve a first positive destination of education, training, volunteering or employment.
Her article was published in The Scotsman. Read more at: Supporting young people achieve their potential
“My Dad had the opinion that he wasn’t a ‘proper veteran’ - he’d never Served in a ‘real’ war, he hadn’t been injured and he felt other people needed support more. I tried, I really tried to get him to veterans’ services but he could be so stubborn.”
From an early age, Becky was effectively her father’s carer. “It was complete role reversal. I parented him rather than the other way around. I was about 10 when his mental health issues began to affect family life. It was me who took the responsibility of looking after us kids and Dad”. Becky’s carer role continued as she studied, went into work and had her own family.
Over time, she’d watched as her dad, Stewart, gradually isolated himself through confining himself to his own home. Time went on and his behaviours became entrenched. He started to consume rolling news media and wouldn’t leave the house - just in case he missed something. “He’s a very caring man and I’d say he couldn’t take all the world’s troubles on his shoulders, so he should turn the telly to something else. He wouldn’t though.”
Becky vividly remembers coming across Positive Futures. “We’d had his advisor suggesting a service and Dad’s usual stubborn reaction of ‘I’m not taking charity’ or ‘It’s not for me’. To be fair, he had tried some of the suggestions and they hadn’t worked out so he could be a wee bit sceptical.”
Positive Futures struck a real chord with Stewart, who had enjoyed outdoor activities in the Army.
“The next step was probably the best thing that’s happened to Dad in years - he met his Outreach Worker. She’s phenomenal - the most incredible lady - and I can’t praise her or thank her enough for what she, and the rest of the staff, did for Dad. They truly changed my Dad’s life for him.”
Becky was impressed with the management of her father’s case, watching how her Dad engaged with his worker and Positive Futures. “Dad’s needs were accommodated. His Outreach Worker offered a time and a place to meet that Dad could cope with getting to and he was happy meeting her alone. I could see progress even before he went away.”
When her Dad’s Wilderness Journey came around, Becky accompanied her father to the station. “He didn’t want to go. He stood there and made every excuse not to. In the end, I phoned his worker, and she helped to persuade him to go. I wouldn’t say I shoved him on the train but it was very close.”
Waiting to meet her Dad on his return, Becky was apprehensive about how he might be. “A completely different man bounced off the train. The changes in him over those few days were completely incredible - I’d never expected anything like that. I don’t know what I expected but it certainly wasn’t what I got. He was so upbeat and spilling over about the great time he’d had and how wonderful it had been.”
Struck by the immediate changes in her Dad, Becky wasn’t entirely ready for the complete change in his behaviour. From being socially isolated and staying indoors, Stewart started to go out and about. “I’d be in Tesco and he’d pop up there doing his shopping. I’d bump into him in town or see him out and about. It was a real shock at first, but I’ve got used to it. Now, he’s never at home.”
“And he’s turned the telly off.” To Becky this was a strong indicator of lasting change in her Dad, especially when he started to listen to a positive radio station instead. “He listens to good things now rather than bad and he’s taken to pinning positive messages about his flat.”
Stewart’s new behaviours have helped Becky too. “It’s taken a huge weight off my mind. I don’t have to worry about him with the intensity I did before. I didn’t realise what a burden it was until it wasn’t there anymore.”
“I thought there would be a drop off in the effects of being away but there hasn’t been. He goes for everything now. No anxiety, no ‘what if’s?’, no ‘but’s…’ He’s completely changed his life around and he’s happy.”
The only minor downside for Becky is one she’s been very happy to accept. “I’ve lost my on-demand babysitter. Dad was always there, alone in the house, and he would step in if I needed childcare in a hurry. It doesn’t matter though - I’d rather have Dad as he is now than as he was then.”
“Up until the point he went on Positive Futures, I was effectively his carer. I’m not anymore. He looks after himself and there’s now two people living fulfilled lives - him and me. It’s a huge change for me and an even bigger change for him. I do genuinely miss (in a very positive way) not seeing him every day but I wouldn’t ever want to go back to where we were.”
* The names have been changed in this case study
**This is a case study from an independent report of the first three years of the Positive Futures programme by GAP Communications.
*** The programme during this time was funded by the Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT), a £35 million funding scheme run by FiMT using an endowment awarded by the Big Lottery Fund.