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.
“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.
Scottish Veterans Minister Graeme Dey has met with participants of Venture Trust’s Positive Futures programme at the organisation’s Head Office in Edinburgh, to hear how the scheme has helped them to make sustained positive change.
The meeting provided an opportunity for the veterans to discuss their experiences on the Positive Futures programme, and the impact it has had on their lives. It was also an opportunity for them to speak to Mr Dey about what is being undertaken Scotland-wide to support the small but significant number of ex-service personnel struggling with the transition to civilian life.
Positive Futures, funded by LIBOR (UK Government), comprises a three phase programme, including one-to-one and group work, and an intensive 7-day 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, of all ages and length of service, are given support to achieve their goals. For many this will result in utilising the skills learnt in service, applying them to prepare for employment, education, training or volunteering.
These veterans are on their way to reaching positive destinations, working towards managing what can be very challenging life circumstances as a result of leaving the military behind. Their struggle to adapt to civilian life can often lead to homelessness, isolation, addiction, abuse, breakdown of family relations, and long term unemployment.
The programme creates a therapeutic environment where those participants with mental health issues (frequently part of a complex presenting set) can identify behaviour triggers and develop, and practice, coping strategies as a foundation for making and sustaining positive life changes.
The event took place at Venture Trust’s head office in Edinburgh on 15 November. Mr Dey visited the office to meet with Venture Trust’s Chief Executive Officer, Amelia Morgan, and to find out a little more about the work that is being done to help our ex-service personnel. Mr Dey then met with the participants and talked to them about their own personal stories and experiences with Venture Trust.
Amelia Morgan, Chief Executive Officer at Venture Trust, comments, “We were delighted that Mr Dey met with us, which sent 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 of those 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. The Positive Futures programme offers ex-service personnel the support and space to begin to see themselves differently – that they can have a different life.”
Mr Dey said: “I was very pleased to have the opportunity to visit Venture Trust and learn more about their Positive Futures programme, and also to hear first-hand from those who are benefiting from it.
This is an excellent example of a charity offering support to our ex-service men and women by helping them learn new skills, regain their independence and to make positive changes in their lives.”
Venture Trust’s Positive Futures programme has just won the Institute for Outdoor Learning Supporting Health and Wellbeing Project Award. The award was for Venture Trust's work in the outdoors, and recognises schemes that are making a difference to individual and community quality of life.
For the past three years Positive Futures was funded by a grant of £689,453 from the Forces in Mind Trust. Over the course of the three years, an independent evaluation was undertaken and the results were released in November 2018. The report, commissioned by GAP Communications, highlights the significant improvement to participants’ lives while also being cost-effective and high value for money. The programme has delivered overall benefit impacts to society in the region of £2.6m to £4m; for every £1 spent, £4.56 of societal benefit impact has been generated.
For further details of the Venture Trust’s Positive Futures programme, visit: http://www.venturetrust.org.uk/programmes/positive-futures-programme/
A programme for Veterans – centred on the Scottish wilderness –has made significant improvement to participants’ lives while also being cost-effective and high value for money, new research has highlighted. The programme has delivered overall benefit impacts to society in the region of £2.6m to £4m; for every £1 spent, £4.56 of societal benefit impact has been generated.
Venture Trust’s Positive Futures Model is a combination of cognitive behavioural approaches, experiential learning, skilled facilitation, relationship building, coaching, mentoring and aftercare. It is delivered through a three-phased programme in the community and in the wilds of Scotland.
Positive Futures has been independently evaluated by GAP Communications for the past three years. During that time Venture Trust has supported 90 veterans and the programme has the potential to support hundreds more in the coming years.
Some of the key research findings from GAP Communications’ evaluation include:
- 0% of ex-Service personnel who participated in Positive Futures have re-offended following the programme.
- 43% of participants have since entered into employment, education or training.
- Over a third (34%) of participants who were homeless or in insecure accommodation are now sustaining their own tenancy.
- Improved mental health for participants has led to more openness with family members and calmer, happier households.
- The overall benefit impact to society through a) reduction in interactions with state services (reduced costs) and b) moving into the workplace (tax gains) or volunteering is calculated to be over £2m. The average benefit impact is over £45k per person.
- The programme has delivered overall benefit impacts to society in the region of £2.6m to £4m; for every £1 spent, £4.56 of societal benefit impact has been generated.
- The model, if replicated, would work with veterans needing support in other parts of the UK.
Referrers have said the service appeals to ex-servicemen and women who refuse to engage with therapeutic programmes but who will engage with an outdoors programme.
Positive Futures was funded by a grant of £689,453 from the Forces in Mind Trust. The programme creates a therapeutic environment where those participants with mental health issues (frequently part of a complex presenting set) can identify behaviour triggers and develop, and practice, coping strategies as a foundation for making and sustaining positive life changes.
Ray Lock, Chief Executive of the Forces in Mind Trust, said: “The funding for the Positive Futures programme is the largest grant awarded to date by the Forces in Mind Trust. The measure of its success will be the lasting change that it brings to those who undergo the experience.
“The Report provides evidence of a model that can be used to help some of the most challenged ex-Service personnel make a successful and sustainable transition into civilian life. This proven effective model should be expanded so that every ex-Service man and woman across the United Kingdom who needs it, can easily access and gain benefit from it.”
Venture Trust chief executive Amelia Morgan said: “We are delighted to share the findings of the Positive Futures programme and its impact for ex-servicemen and women who may have struggled in civilian life. This work represents three years of collaboration to reach those individuals in need and a shared goal of sustained positive change to ensure a civilian life which is fuller, with improved wellbeing and a renewed sense of purpose. We hope that the proof of concept that is Positive Futures and the research findings offer fresh insight and recommendations to enhance support for individuals who struggle with transition. We are hugely grateful to FiMT, the Armed Forces Covenant, partners in Scotland and particularly the ex-service men and women who took part in the programme.”
The report also contains some recommendations for the Veterans’ support sector:
- Sustain and replicate the methodology of the programme through continued investment and effective marketing to ex-Service personnel and also their families.
- Find ‘hidden veterans’ through the collection and sharing of data between services and develop more rigorous enquiries regarding Armed Forces history.
- Higher levels of inter-agency co-operation and partnership across the military and non-military services’ sectors.
- The Armed Forces look at introducing, based on the markers identified in the research, a mechanism to identify, and monitor those at risk of poor transition from point of application and throughout an individual’s career.
You can read the full report here.
Or the impact brief here.
For more information about Venture Trust's work with ex-Service personal visit our Positive Futures programme.
For more infprmation about the Forces in Mind Trust visit: www.fim-trust.org
In and out of care as a child, James’ life in his own words was “chaotic” and “unstable”.
His education suffered as he struggled at school, his relationship with his family was turbulent, he committed several low-level offences and at times his behaviour was out of control.
From care experience, James found himself in a hostel for young people where instability and uncertainty were still part of his everyday life. Dreams and aspirations were buried beneath stress, anxiety and depression. “It was really hard to see any kind of future the way my life was going,” he said. “My life was kind of a nightmare.” His confidence was at rock bottom and he had “no hope”.
The issues faced by James – such as lack of stability, poor educational attainment and negative social or family relationships – are identified as some of the reasons care experienced young people experience poorer life outcomes than their non-care counterparts. These include: worse mental health and physical well-being, poorer access to continuing education or training, greater unemployment and homelessness, and an increased likelihood of involvement in or exposure to criminal activity1.
James was still a teenager when he made the transition out of the care system and into supported accommodation. It was a difficult time and one for which he did not have much preparation for. In contrast most, young people move towards independence gradually, and with ongoing support from family and friends.
This is where Venture Trust works with its partners – such as Who Cares? Scotland, Move On, and Life Changes Trust – to support young people as they move beyond their initial transition out of the care system and into young adulthood.
Many have experienced family life where unemployment, drug and alcohol misuse or violence is part of their everyday experience - making it hard to get into mainstream education or work. Venture Trust delivers intensive needs-led personal development in communities and the Scottish wilderness. Young people are supported to gain the life skills, stability and confidence to become more employable or more stable, raise aspirations, and change behaviours.
“When I was living in the hostel I never looked ahead,” James said. “I had no confidence or motivation and I was struggling to see a good life for myself.”
When life was at this low point, James was introduced to Venture Trust and the Inspiring Young Futures programme funded by The Big Lottery Fund, Inspiring Scotland, the Scottish Government and European Social Fund. Independent research shows nearly 25 per cent of young people Venture Trust supports on this programme are care experienced.
James worked with an Outreach Worker in the community building up the skills he would need to then take part in a wilderness journey. He learnt to control his emotions along with his thinking and decision-making processes.
“They never pushed you. It was always working at my pace and in a way that I never felt any pressure,” he said.
It was freezing and wet at times as James and the rest of his group hiked and camped in the ancient forest along the shores of Loch Rannoch. They were out in the Scottish wilderness as the ‘Beast from the East’ weather bomb lashed the UK. The demanding nature of the wilderness presents participants with emotional, social and physical challenges. These challenges are all designed to enable them to develop more positive and productive attitudes and behaviours.
“It was tough but I loved it. We did activities that taught us to deal with the challenges and make decisions under stressful situations. We were shown how to work through problems, communicate and work together,” James said.
The shy young man who was lacking in confidence and battled with anxiety and anger returned from the frozen wilds “the same person but different”. “I felt more confident and motivated. I felt like I could do things I never thought I could. I have also learnt to control the way I deal with things. If things didn’t work out I would go into a rage. Now I go through the processes I was shown.”
Following his engagement with the Inspiring Young Futures programme, James felt he was ready to continue to take the next steps towards a better future. He decided to take part in one of Venture Trust’s employability programmes – the CashBack Change Cycle programme.
The programme is funded by CashBack For Communities and includes employability sessions, bike construction and maintenance with workshop experience, and a short wilderness residential that has work-related tasks, and mountain 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.
Young people in care are just like all other young people but undeniably face greater challenges. Advocacy work by such organisations as Who Cares? Scotland and Life Changes Trust is ensuring the care system is improving but it is still a sad fact that life outcomes for care experienced young people can be much poorer than their non-care peers.
Venture Trust and our partners believe all young people should have the opportunities to succeed.
“I am in a really good place right now. Since working with Venture Trust I have come from a place where I couldn’t see a future. Getting a job or going to college was something I never thought was possible. Now I am working towards applying for college. I now have the confidence and motivation and belief that this is possible.”
For more information about Venture Trust visit our website: www.venturetrust.org.uk