“I’d lost everything I had worked so hard to have in my life in a few short months because of my behaviour and bad choices.”
Shaun suffered from PTSD. His condition was triggered by tragic life events before his time in the military and exacerbated during deployment to Iraq. Eventually the trauma, nightmares and mental scarring “broke” him. Shaun turned to alcohol to numb the anguish and pain he was suffering.
However, instead of helping, alcohol ripped Shaun’s world apart.
“I lost my job, I almost lost my house, my partner at the time left and a lot of people could not handle my unpredictable behaviours,” he says.
When life hit rock bottom Shaun managed to get initial support from veteran charity Combat Stress. Through Combat Stress, he was referred to Venture Trust.
At Venture Trust we have been delivering intensive person-centred personal development in communities and the Scottish wilderness to help people who need more support to realise their potential. By offering intensive learning and development in communities and outdoors, we support people to gain life skills, stability and confidence. Our work aims to end cycles of disadvantage and adversity for individuals, their families and in communities.
We use experiential learning with cognitive and therapeutic developmental techniques to build skills and unlock confidence. This offers support and challenge, so individuals make sustained progress towards their goals. This can take time; we help people build the right foundations and protective factors to succeed for the rest of their lives.
The Positive Futures programme is specifically for veterans struggling with the transition to civilian life. It is for anyone who has served or been trained in the Armed Forces, including reservists and Territorial Army who have initially transitioned well or are currently struggling to transition to civilian life.
For Shaun, the programme was the catalyst for him to fight back from the brink and regain control of his life.
“It was amazing to be part of something again. At this stage I literally couldn’t feed my cat.”
There was sustained support and development during the three-phase programme. Firstly, Shaun was assigned an Outreach Worker who worked to stabilise the chaos in his life. Together they set clear and measurable goals to work towards in the build-up to Phase 2 – the wilderness journey.
The Scottish wilderness is at the heart of all our programmes, we give people time, space and intensive support in an outdoor setting.
This setting - far removed from participants' everyday environments - gives people the chance to tackle physical, emotional and social challenges. These challenges are carefully designed to encourage learning and development, to help participants increase their aspirations, confidence and motivation, and to develop a range of skills for life, learning and work.
Shaun says the space and time away allowed him to focus on what he wanted from life and taking part in intensive personal development began to rediscover strengths he had forgotten and discover new skills he didn't think he had.
One of the most important things Shaun realised was to ask for help.
Back in his community, Shaun had long-term support his Outreach Worker. She helped him to consolidate and apply new and old skills, and to use the tools developed to work towards opportunities such as employment, education, training and voluntary work.
On the shore of the Forth of Firth, the breeze creates small whitecaps and the gulls caw as they glide across the horizon. It’s a peaceful and calm scene.
“I can’t believe the chaos that consumed my life is now gone,” Shaun reflects.
“Through a combination of the skills and development I received from Venture Trust, support from Combat Stress, by taking a more active role in UK SMART Recovery and Forth Valley Recovery Community along with working with a mental health professional I have been able to make changes to my life.
“I began to see my own potential. I realised it was up to me to make different decisions and take different actions. But I also needed support to do that. Without Venture Trust and the other organisations who supported me, would I be in a second year of a counselling degree, would I be a SMART Recovery co-ordinator helping others who are in the same situation I used to be in?
“I’m living my life in the moment now and it’s brilliant.”
Oscar lost his 17-year-old sister to a drug overdose.
The trauma and challenges he faced following this “knocked him off his path”.
He turned to alcohol to cope with the pain and sadness. He almost ended up in the criminal justice system through anti-social behaviour. He also began suffering from isolation and a loss of confidence and motivation.
The chance to turn his life around came when Oscar was referred to Venture Trust and he began a series of programmes for young people offered by the organisation. One of these programmes is the Inspiring Young Futures programme which supports young people facing multiple and complex challenges in their life. Through intense personal development in the community and in the outdoors, individuals learn new skills, boost confidence, motivation and aspirations.
Many of the young people who complete the Inspiring Young Futures programme are then signposted to our employability programme – CashBack Change Cycle.
The CashBack Change Cycle programme is funded by the Scottish Government’s Cashback for Communities which takes funds recovered from the proceeds of crime and invests them to deliver activities and opportunities for disadvantaged young people.
The elements of the programme include employability sessions, bike construction and maintenance including workshop experience and a short wilderness residential that has work-related tasks, and biking. Participants learn about responsibility and getting up to be at a job Monday to Friday. They get to keep the bike they have built and use it for job hunting, accessing services, training, getting to work, and leisure.
Oscar excelled on the course. He is now in college and the skills he developed on the CashBack Change Cycle programme has allowed him to get a job in a bicycle workshop.
“I am doing something I love, and my life is back on the right path”.
Riding to success with Cashback for Communities:
In the first two years of the CashBack Change Cycle programme Venture Trust has:
• Worked across 17 Scottish local authorities
• Engaged 116 young people facing complex life challenges
Of the participants who completed the programme over the two years:
• 91% of participants have reported an increase in their confidence
• 94% of participants have reported an increase in skills
• 98% participants have achieved accredited learning
• 81% of participants across the programme’s two years have reported an increase in wellbeing
• 65% of participants have moved into positive destinations including employment, education and training
Dean was homeless at 16. He faced the high risk of social isolation and long-term unemployment. Jonathan got caught up in the criminal justice system after he turned to alcohol and drugs to deal with trauma and challenges in his young life. Aiden found himself couch surfing and without permanent accommodation aged 16. This instability made it very hard for him to focus on finding a job.
Today, Dean is an apprentice vehicle technician with one of the UK’s largest independently owned car retailers and he is living in his own flat. Jonathan has completed a personal development and employability programme with Venture Trust. He is now confident he can work towards getting a job and he has overcome his struggles with substance misuse. Aiden has been supported to find stable accommodation, he has completed Venture Trust’s employability programme – CashBack for Communities Change Cycle – and is working for a large cleaning company.
Watch their stories here: Venture Trust Inspiring Young Futures
Minister for Children and Young People Maree Todd met with a group of young people who returned from eight-days in the Scottish outdoors as part of their journey of personal development with Venture Trust.
Inspiring Young Futures is designed for disadvantaged and often vulnerable young people. It supports them to work on skills such as establishing trust, personal boundaries, consequential thinking, problem-solving, dealing with challenging situations, and responsibility and accountability.
This is achieved through sustained support in the young person’s community and with learning and development in the Scottish wilderness. The outdoors offers inherent challenge for individuals to reflect on beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. With time and space away from influences at home, individuals can unlock skills and learn new, more positive, ways of approaching situations.
Ms Todd said:
“The inspiring effort from the staff at the Venture Trust supports disadvantaged young people, helps them to reach their potential and helps make Scotland the best place to grow up.
“When children and young people have been exposed to adverse childhood experiences and trauma, a holistic approach taking account of their needs has the best chance of keeping them safe.
“The Inspiring Young Futures and the Cashback for Communities Change Cycle programmes are a great example of how a preventative approach is essential to improving life chances of children and young people and helping them move on to positive futures.”
Venture Trust chief executive Amelia Morgan said:
“It was fantastic to have the Minister visit our base in Stirling and meet with the young people who are working towards reaching their potential. Many young people 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.
“Our personal development programmes help young people facing challenges in their lives to set out and achieve their goals, grow in confidence and stability. By offering intensive learning and development in communities and the Scottish wilderness, we help people to gain life skills, stability and confidence. Our work aims to end cycles of disadvantage and adversity for individuals, their families and in communities.”
Where someone grew up, their family background or previous negative and damaging experiences - do not have to define them. We can put this right. Everyone deserves compassion, access to opportunity and justice. By empowering the young people we support to share their experiences coupled with evidence of what works, we can make the case for change. We can tackle disadvantage and inequality that is restricting their potential.
Scottish Veterans Commissioner Charlie Wallace recently met with a group of former Armed Service members at Venture Trust’s base in Stirling after they returned from seven days in the wilds of Scotland.
The group of participants had just completed their wilderness journey as part of a three-phase personal development programme with Venture Trust.
The Positive Futures programme is specifically for ex-Service men and women; individuals who may have a wealth of experience and skills, but who are finding it difficult to either transition fully into civilian life or are struggling with maintaining a civilian focussed identity.
It helps participants work towards achieving their personal goals. These could be re-deploying skills learnt within the military, finding a home, rebuilding broken relationships, working towards living a healthy, safe and stable life, retraining or applying for a job or utilising their skills through volunteering. All of these are highlighted as significant issues encountered when transitioning to civilian life.
We use Scotland's spectacular wild places to deliver intense personal development. The outdoors is inherently challenging. These environments challenge individuals to focus on actions and their consequences - encouraging the discovery of new skills and talents and helping participants to become more self reliant. The sense of space and the distance from everyday life gives individuals time to reflect on their lives and plan the changes they'd like to make.
Sunburnt, windswept, midge bitten but smiling and on top of the world, the ex-service personnel shared their experiences with the Veterans Commissioner.
“It’s brilliant to have someone working to improve the lives and opportunities of veterans sit down and listen to what we are going through,” one of the participants said.
“Hopefully we can help show that programmes like this do make a difference,” another said.
Veterans Commissioner Charlie Wallace said:
“I was delighted to be able to visit and talk to the group of veterans who recently completed the Venture Trust’s ‘Positive Futures’ programme – designed specifically for veterans struggling with transition and integration into their civilian lives.
“It was heartening to hear first-hand from the group and staff how valuable the veterans found the programme. Initiatives like this play a valuable part in helping our veterans improve their confidence to deal with aspects of their civilian lives which they find challenging. Successful integration from the military into the civilian world is not always easy and the Venture Trust should be applauded for recognising this and developing ‘Positive Futures’ alongside their other programmes.”
Venture Trust CEO Amelia Morgan said:
“It was fantastic to have Charlie Wallace meet participants of our Positive Futures programme at our National Participant Centre. It sends a really positive message of support to our participants – for those past, and those about to head out on the next Positive Futures journey.
“For all of those leaving the military, it marks a complete change. Most ex-service personnel thrive, going on to have successful careers and balanced lives. But for a small minority the transition to civilian life can be overwhelming and confusing which can lead to a multitude of negative circumstances.
"Research is showing the Positive Futures programme is offering veterans the support and space to begin to see themselves differently – that they can have a different life. Many are going on to further education, training, volunteering or employment, and this is a key catalyst for positive life changes.”
For more information about Positive Futures click here.
Positive Futures is funded by the Chancellor using LIBOR funds. It was also previously funded by The Forces in Mind Trust with a three-year pilot.
At Venture Trust we are working to close the attainment gap.
We support those struggling with many and complex issues, outside mainstream support and unemployed, or who may have never been in employment. This hinders their life chances and future potential. Our approach is preventative and long-term. We focus on an individual’s strengths, equipping them with essential life-skills and building confidence. Together, we can tackle a cycle of harm and inequality which leaves some people in the margins of society.
Watch our film with some of the young people we have supported.
(Click Play for Video)