My name is Annabelle Mcpherson and I'm a recovering alcoholic.
You may read this and wonder why I say recovering and not recovered. Alcoholism is something I will carry for the rest of my life and it is a daily battle which I deal with one day at a time.
I cannot do it alone but thankfully I have been able to reach out for help and after working with Scottish charity Venture Trust and the continuing support of Alcoholics Anonymous I am able to do this.
In 2014, I crashed my car on the M6 motorway. I was three times over the drink-drive limit. Fortunately, nobody was hurt but there is never a day that goes by when I don’t regret my actions. As a result of this I was given a five-year ban, 200 hours community service, court costs and 12 weeks suspended sentence.
Already at a low point in my life, I was now in the criminal justice system.
Through the community justice pathway, I was offered the chance to attend a women's group to begin my rehabilitation.
It was at one of my group meetings that I met some staff from an organisation that would change my life. The organisation was Venture Trust. Two outreach workers came and spoke to the group about the Next Steps programme for women.
Venture Trust provides evidence led and impact driven criminal justice programmes across Scotland. The three-phase personal and social development programme is offered in communities across Scotland and the Scottish wilderness.
The focus is on development in three aspects of life and society aiming to allow everyone to lead a healthy, happy and fulfilling life irrespective of their past. These aspects are wellbeing, prevention and rehabilitation and skills to be ready for work and future learning.
I had been a practicing alcoholic for many years with countless vain attempts to get sober and beat this disease. It took me to many dark places: attempted suicide, psychiatric care, lost driving licence, hurt family and friends, broken promises, the list is endless and worst of all my two daughters taken away to live with their dad because alcohol had become more important to me and I was unable to look after them.
When you are a practicing alcoholic, life becomes a long, black, endless hole. Venture Trust put edges to that and a light at the end which made it no longer an abyss, but a tunnel I could get out of.
The five-day wilderness journey and residential brought many challenging activities, and a lot of soul bearing. There were tears, laughs and shared moments. But after the five days, it brought hope. Most of all hope and many friends made for life.
Venture Trust is an amazing charity comprised of wonderful caring professional people who truly are there to put broken individuals back together and help them move forward to a brighter future.
The organisation has been an enormous part of me getting to where I am today - teaching me self-worth, positivity, confidence, hope, belief in myself and many more life skills.
I am not going to even pretend that everything was plain sailing because it wasn't. There were slips and trips of sobriety along the way, but it was easier to be sober for longer, and to eventually stay sober. Venture Trust was there every step of the way and I was able to do a mentoring course to help others in a similar position to me.
In 2017 I decided to do a sponsored swim in aid of Venture Trust to try and show my gratitude in a small way for everything they have done for me and so many others. I swam the length of the River Tweed – my local river in my local pool in Duns. In two months, after 6144 lengths I completed the 96 miles. As a “hopeless” alcoholic who would sit in the house for days on end, barely able to walk, no job, or family, my life and health all on a knife edge, I had come or swum a long way. The support and generosity from the staff at the pool, all my friends, family and the community was incredible and helped me raise over £1800.
It’s still one day at a time - but I am grabbing my second chance with both hands. My girls have come back to live with me of their own choice. We have just moved into a lovely three-bedroom house, I have respect from family and friends and a job that I Iove. But most of all I have my own self-respect and today I can look in the mirror and love who is looking back!
Annabelle Mcpherson is a former Venture Trust participant.
First published in The Scotsman - Friday 08 March 2019
For more information about Venture Trust’s programmes visit: www.venturetrust.org.uk
Individuals experiencing multiple, complex barriers in their lives, and struggling with chaotic lifestyles, are frequently the heaviest users of acute health and social care services. These barriers mean thousands of Scots are unable to reach their potential for healthy, happy and fulfilling lives.
In Scotland and the UK there is growing interest in a more holistic and integrated way of supporting individuals facing mental health issues, addiction, involvement with the criminal justice system, long term unemployment and other barriers. This support includes social prescription - helping people to access and use ‘non-medical’ sources of support within their community; harnessing the untapped potential of Scotland’s great outdoors; and integrating, non-clinical services and new partnerships to address these issues.
Venture Trust in partnership with our funders and other organisations is working to tackle the cycle of harm and inequality which drives individuals to become dependent on health and social services and leaves some people in the margins of society.
By offering intensive learning and development in communities and the Scottish wilderness, 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.
Our approach is unique with the wilderness being used as a catalyst for change. It has also proven to be preventative and long-term through independent evaluations. We focus on an individual’s strengths, equipping them with essential life-skills and building confidence.
Scotland's spectacular wild places are 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. The therapeutic environment of the outdoors heightens the power of learning through the development work participants undertake.
Watch Jim's Story below
This week Venture Trust senior staff – head of business development Malcolm Jack and head of operations Mike Strang – met with Scottish Government staff in relevant Directorates to share our innovative approach which focuses on developing the life skills, stability and resilience individuals often need to overcome cycles of disadvantage and adversity.
Malcolm said: “In the context of heightened concern around mental health and wellbeing, particularly affecting those considered most vulnerable and disengaged from mainstream services, the presentation highlighted how Venture Trust’s work resonates the house of care principles in a practical way and contributes to cross-policy outcomes through person-centred support and partnership.”
It was also an opportunity to gain the perspectives of Government staff to inform Venture Trust’s aspirations to make a greater contribution to Scotland’s health & wellbeing outcomes, he said.
With an integrated and aligned approach that is person-centred, individuals can find stability and be self-reliant. They can prioritise their health, specifically their mental wellbeing and tackle alcohol or substance misuse. This will contribute to meeting Scottish Government policy objectives across departments including improving health and wellbeing, making Scotland a safer place through innovative justice, tackling homelessness, giving everyone access to public services and improving people's job prospects.
Venture Trust has taken its expert knowledge and evidence-led approach to helping young people struggling with multiple and complex issues, including long term unemployment, to the European stage.
Chief executive officer Amelia Morgan was a keynote speaker at a Working Group in Brussels on Improving the Performance of Labour Markets and Social Systems : “Young people in Europe: how to reduce the number of NEETs?”
Her presentation to a group of European social partners highlighted the context in Scotland regarding youth employment, the skills agenda and the issues we see for young people.
The focus of the working group will be on how to reduce the number of young people who are neither in employment nor in education or training (NEETs) in Europe. This may result in a joint or co-ordinated social partners’ proposals or actions, which will take into consideration national practices and will be related to the European process.
“Venture Trust is sharing our outdoor learning approach to helping young people acquire the life skills to be ready for work and to then transition well and keep a job,” Amelia said.
“Our organisation has been working in the outdoors with vulnerable groups for more than 20 years. We have a distinctive and unique approach. Venture Trust supports individuals to develop the skills to become more employable and enjoy more stable lives. The outdoor element is a key part of our programme, but it produces great results because we weave community engagement and ongoing support into our offer, and that is what produces sustainable outcomes.”
Through Inspiring Young Futures – a programme for young people – Venture Trust has supported 2,200 disadvantaged young people to overcome multiple and complex life circumstances during the past 10 years. This has resulted in 1,150 individuals achieving positive destinations – jobs, training or volunteering.
How did we achieve this? Over 2,000 individuals received 1-to-1 outreach support in local communities. One thousand young people were supported to take part in personal development courses, using experiential learning with cognitive and therapeutic developmental techniques in Scotland’s challenging wilderness environments. We have also helped 120 individuals gain recognised qualifications.
Other impacts included 84% improved confidence, 89% were more employable, 74% improved community bonds and 70% increased use of community services.
Youth unemployment figures in Scotland have dropped significantly over the past few years and a target to cut youth unemployment in Scotland has been met four years ahead of schedule. This is encouraging. However, 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.
Evidence shows being unemployed when young leads to a higher likelihood in later life of being impacted in terms of pay, high unemployment, fewer opportunities, and poorer health.
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.
Our impact driven results will contribute to supporting a group of young people throughout Europe who continue to struggle and need support. Venture Trust and our partners will help them tap into their potential by giving them the skills to change their lives.
Cabinet Secretary for Justice Humza Yousaf was “moved” today after meeting with participants of Venture Trust’s criminal justice programmes to hear first-hand how keeping people out of prison benefits individuals, society and creates safer Scottish communities.
Mounting evidence shows that community sentences are more effective at reducing reoffending than short prison sentences. Venture Trust runs specific development programmes aimed at supporting people to take charge of their own life, acquiring the necessary resilience and skills to take responsibility, be ready to look towards employment, training or education and nurture positive relationships. These outcomes are reducing rates of reoffending and providing paths to rehabilitation.
The Scottish Government’s Justice Vision and Priorities and the subsequent proposal to end jail terms of less than 12 months will set challenges to address reoffending in communities. However, Venture Trust with support from the Scottish Government and other funders is delivering collaborative and effective community-based interventions.
Venture Trust chief executive officer Amelia Morgan said: “We believe there should be a far greater emphasis on rehabilitation alongside unpaid work and other measures of support in community sentences. We are committed to investing in our community-based provision and working collaboratively with Scottish Government, local authorities and third sector partners to help people get their lives back on track and away from potential involvement in crime.
“Independent evaluations show our criminal justice programmes have positive impacts on individuals. They have gained new skills, improved their confidence and have started working or studying. They are more stable and less likely to reoffend. These positive changes are then transferred to their families and communities.”
Venture Trust has supported hundreds of people caught up in the criminal justice system into positive destinations of education, training, volunteering or employment. Monitoring data from the last five years shows that for our criminal justice programmes: two thirds of participants showed behaviours and circumstances likely to reduce risks of reconviction; 60% improved their relationships with those around them and were making increased use of services and opportunities in their community; and 80% improved their employability skills.
Venture Trust’s Living Wild and Next Steps (women) programmes comprise three phases. These include one-to-one and group work, and an intensive multi-day (5-10 days) journey in Scotland’s wilderness, where outdoor activity and experiential learning techniques are used as a mechanism for unlocking and redeploying skills, building confidence and raising aspiration. Following this journey, the participants are given support to achieve their individual goals.
Through a preventative and long-term approach, the focus is on an individual’s strengths and equips them with essential life-skills while building confidence. This evidence-led method tackles a cycle of harm and inequality which leaves some people in the margins of society.
“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. In turn this will allow for a safe, just and resilient Scotland,” Morgan said.
Participants from Venture Trust’s Next Steps programme Annabelle and Angela shared their inspiring journeys with Mr Yousaf.
Read Annabelle's inspiring account of her time with Venture Trust:
Justice secretary Humza Yousaf said: “I was deeply moved hearing the impact the work of Venture Trust can have on helping individuals who have offended to turn their lives around. We know from evidence that community-based interventions are more effective than short-custodial sentences and programmes such as Living Wild and Next Steps can help individuals to address the issues they are battling with which helps prevent re-offending and make positive changes that benefit them, their families and their communities.”
For further details of the Venture Trust’s programmes, visit: http://www.venturetrust.org.uk/programmes/
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.