At a recent event at the Scottish Parliament hosted by Kenny MacAskill MSP, five young people, including two former Venture Trust participants, were invited to speak about their experience of the criminal justice system alongside experts and academics in the field.
The event was organised by the Centre for Youth & Criminal Justice (CYCJ), the Scottish Consortium for Crime and Criminal Justice (SCCCJ) and Venture Trust following the publication of a special edition of Scottish Justice Matters entitled “Living it: children, young people and justice”. Ministers, MSPs, practitioners and young people were all in attendance to hear directly from the young people featured in the publication.
During her presentation, Susie commented on the impact Venture Trust had in turning her life around:
“The sheriff put me on a course with Venture Trust, this made absolutely the difference in my life, it was the right help at the right time. Which is what I needed all along.
[After] the Venture Trust course, I came back and I was motivated and I had everything, an action plan; I had the tools for life; I had everything that I needed to get on with life and ever since then hand on heart I can say that my life has gotten so much better. I’m working, I’ve worked for the police and young offenders and prison services.vated and I had everything, an action plan;
From all the bad stuff that happened in my life I try and make something good come from it and that’s about all I can do.
Individuals in this room have a responsibility to our young people in Scotland to give them a better chance. I don’t want to be standing here in another ten years’ time and there’s more young people with the same story that would just be pointless.”
Brian, another former Venture Trust participant also reflected on his experiences and the huge change which has occurred in his life as a result of the programme:
“My experience in the past wasn’t good, growing up, I never had a father-figure in my life. The day it’s different, the day I’m at college. I work part day with social work to help homeless people, it’s an amazing cause to be part of. I love life but it wasn’t always like that for me, it’s only because of the support I got from the Venture Trust.”
The ‘Living It’ feature was edited by Claire Lightowler from CYCJ along with the two former Venture Trust participants and together they were able to ensure that other young people had genuine opportunities to make their voices heard. As editors, they guided and shaped the publication, and subsequently engaged with the wider Criminal Justice Voluntary Sector Forum to facilitate the participation of a wide range of young people who have had different experiences at the sharp end of the justice system.
The team have explored issues which came to the fore, such as ‘kids with family members in custody, the impact of traumatic events in young lives, experiences of supervision and the intricacies of gaining employment with an offending history. They have also sought to highlight the importance of being positive about young people and how positive professionals can help make a difference.
Two Venture Trust participants from Edinburgh have recently benefited from work experience opportunities with local tourism businesses. They both achieved a great deal including updating their CVs, growing in confidence and gaining an insight into the world of work. This collaboration demonstrates the potential for young people developing their skills supported by business.
Working in partnership, Scottish Business in the Community, Venture Trust and local business volunteers have supported young people over the last few months with help in CV writing, interview skills and being prepared for work. For many Venture Trust participants this is the start of a journey towards getting a job and in taking part in workshops with business volunteers has supported new insights and learning including breaking down barriers.
We are delighted to be working with SBC and business volunteers. This builds on Venture Trust’s focus to help young people to develop core skills for life, learning and work. To find out more about some our work please see our earlier feature in the Scotsman here or visit the programmes section of our website.
You can read the whole story by Hilary Robb, SBC's Hubs Manager East on the Scotsman's website.
Network Rail and registered charity Venture Trust are working in partnership to help individuals get their lives back on track. The partnership is already having a major impact on the lives of some of Scotland’s most disadvantaged people – leaving a lasting legacy in families and communities across Scotland. With lots more planned, here’s where it all started. This is Martin’s story:
Martin (not his real name) was referred to Venture Trust in March 2014, and it was immediately clear that his relationship with his young son was the most significant motivation for him in his life. At that point, he had sporadic contact with him, with the added difficulty of potential conflict with the child’s mother, after they had split a year earlier when his son was a few months old. Martin was spending a lot of his money on gambling, as well as spending many days at the pub or at home smoking cannabis, and admitted to difficulties managing his anger and frustration. This resulted in offending behaviours, for which he was sentenced to a Community Payback Order. Since then little had changed for Martin, other than that he began sleeping on the sofa at his father’s house, and he saw his son even less.
Martin had asked his Criminal Justice Social Worker to refer him to Venture Trust, as he had heard from a few friends that it had helped them to ‘sort their heads out’. He said that they appeared much more confident and clearer about what they wanted to do with their lives, and he said that one of them now had a job after getting put forward for a work placement through Venture Trust.
During Phase 1 of the Venture Trust “Living Wild” programme (which is part-funded by The Scottish Government, Comic Relief and several UK trusts & foundations), Martin’s focus was on reducing his alcohol and cannabis use in preparation for the toughest part of the Venture Trust programme – a 10-day personal development “coreskills” course all in Scotland’s dramatic wilderness. His Venture Trust Outreach worker supported him to set clear and measureable goals to work towards week by week in the build-up to his personal development journey.
New ideas and new skills – the wilderness journey:
By the time he started Phase 2 of the Venture Trust programme in April, Martin had worked out exactly what he wanted to achieve. He wanted to learn to control his drug and alcohol use; to stop gambling; and to learn to negotiate differences in order to better communicate with the mother of his child. He thought that if he developed his thinking skills to the point that he was able to achieve these goals, then perhaps the future could be different for him, and that maybe he could even think about having his own tenancy and start looking for work.
The wilderness journey lasted 10 days, starting with Martin self-travelling to Stirling by train, where he met a group of other young people in similar situations. Together, the group collectively committed to a “social contract” of behaviour to create a safe learning environment for all involved. Basecamp was established to the west of Fort William, from where the group climbed and abseiled in Glen Nevis, canoed for 3 days down Loch Sheil and trekked over 50 miles of mountainous terrain from Glenfinnan to Kinloch Rannoch. During those ten days, Martin worked with the group on problem solving techniques, explored positive and negative habits, choosing effective behaviours, and identified how to recognise and overcome the ‘triggers’ that made him react negatively in challenging situations at home. Martin developed his ability to review and evaluate the strategies that he was using, getting better at thinking through actions and consequences in different situations.
In the wilderness Martin thrived. He learned that through thinking differently he could do things differently and be the person that he wanted to be. He developed strategies to maintain his motivation when in the past he would have thrown in the towel when things got tough. This was particularly evident on the group’s hill day in Glen Nevis – the ascent was challenging for all the participants, but Martin showed determination in order to reach the summit, accepting advice from staff members and reflecting afterwards on his own sense of achievement by seeing it through.
Martin also demonstrated his ability to communicate and negotiate differences with fellow participants whilst in the wilderness. His dedicated field team member even noted that “(Martin) built strong relationships with his peers. He took the safe space of the course seriously and worked to support the others.” On day four, Martin made huge efforts to assist another participant, who was struggling with the course, to keep going. He also managed to avoid negative behaviour that was being displayed by some of the other participants – such as staying up after lights-out – and negotiated potential conflicts in the group dynamic. All of these actions showed the matured intentions of an individual committed to change. Martin went home with a detailed Action Plan, using his newfound confidence and skills to make the changes that he wanted.
Moving forward – with Network Rail’s help
During his first meeting back home with his Venture Trust Outreach Worker, Martin explained that in the wilderness he did the most difficult things he had ever done, but by taking things step-by-step and asking for support, he could succeed even when they had not initially gone to plan. In the past, he would refuse any form of support and often just give up on tasks. He said “No matter what happens there is always a choice, always something that you can do”. He also stated that for the first time since he was about 10 years old he spent 10 days without using any drugs or alcohol: “I now realise that I use that stuff to deal with problems and I don’t need it. If I have got a problem then I need to make a plan and then get off my arse and solve it”.
Following Martin’s wilderness course, he significantly reduced his alcohol and cannabis use, and started visiting his son each weekend: “I used to think it was all my ex-bird’s fault and that she needed to change, but since I’ve been away with Venture Trust I’ve learned that she is actually alright, and since I’ve been different she has been really sound about things. I get to see my wee boy every week now and she has said that I can maybe have him round to stay if I get my own tenancy”. The great news is that a few months later he managed to secure his own tenancy, adding further independence and stability to his life.
Venture Trust has recently been working in partnership with Network Rail to offer employability opportunities and pathways into jobs in the Network Rail industry. Martin was one of the first to take on the challenge – using his outreach worker as a sounding board he completed an application, took part in a full interview process and successfully secured a 6 week work placement as part of the cleaning team at Edinburgh’s Waverly station. The placement was demanding and varied, requiring early starts to commute from East Lothian, and working hard in the Station’s new marketplace to set up stalls, assist stall holders and promote their wares. Martin made a big impression:
“Martin has been involved with all aspects, from the setting up of the market, supporting traders arriving with their products, helping to bring products into the market, checking cabling to the stalls, setting up of the cafe area, flyering, stall holder assistance, and this all before elevenses :o) he turns up early and then we have to literally tell him to stop working as otherwise he would be with us until way over his allotted time!” (Tania, Waverly Market Manager)
“Martin has made some particularly strong and positive impressions on us both. He has consistently turned up for work an hour earlier than his start time of 0800hrs, and remained longer than the 1400hrs we envisaged. Martin was able to work very confidently on the Market set up, and was a great help to Tania and her traders. It was also great to appreciate first-hand how Martin’s confidence and communication skills, in particular, had already greatly improved, and I was delighted to receive an application form from him to work as part of our cleaning contractor team, Interserve, which I’ve forwarded to their Site Manager for his consideration.” (Juliet, Waverley Station Manager)
Having successfully completed the voluntary placement before Christmas, and fully adhered to Network Rail's zero tolerance policy on alcohol and drugs, he has since been offered a permanent part-time position with one of Network Rail’s subcontractors at Waverley Station. His employers have also assured him that he can change to full-time hours once he has completed his college course in railway engineering at Edinburgh College which he began after being inspired by his initial placement.
Martin asked us to mention that he is extremely grateful for all the support he has received over more than a year from Venture Trust and the Network Rail "family" of agencies. Station Manager Juliet and Market Manager Tania played a huge role in helping Martin thrive in the placement, whilst Dave Boyce from the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Project (EGIP) team played a vital role in obtaining the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) without which the placement could not have gone ahead.
Martin’s achievements are testament to the strong partnership working that Venture Trust and the Network Rail family have set up to help disadvantaged young people and adults enhance their confidence, their motivation and their employability skills. But most of all, they are testament to all the hard work, commitment and talents that Martin has unlocked to get his life “On track”.
Thank you to our key funding partners, including:
For a full list of our funding partners please click here.
Now, we’re not just being rude... participants will be just that, on their bikes on four 10 day Living Wild Courses with a twist! We’re delighted to introduce Venture Trust’s “The Change Cycle: supporting young people who are involved in offending into outdoors recreation and learning”.
Following two successful initial cycling pilots in 2013-14 match-funded by the Big Lottery’s “Investing in Ideas”, and building upon the well-established Living Wild- Change for Change programme with the support of funding from Scottish Natural Heritage, this new programme introduces participants to bikes and cycling, not only in their local environment, but also in the Eastern Cairngorms – an area of outstanding natural beauty but with a wealth of wilderness trails offering great flexibility for cycling expeditions.
This project will work with young people sentenced to Community Payback Orders & facing multiple social and psychological barriers and barriers to accessing and experiencing nature and landscapes in Scotland. Venture Trust will for the first time use cycling activities to introduce them to outdoor activities, to realise the recreational value of such activities, and to learn the vital life skills required to make and sustain positive changes in their lives.
‘The Change Cycle’ consists of the three phases we see in the Living Wild programme, but additionally, phase 3 of the project includes the facilitation of participants by Venture Trust outreach staff to access existing cycling groups/ organisations which offer local and affordable ways to enjoy the outdoors. These will provide participants sustained opportunities to experience nature and landscapes.
The Change Cycle in Action
To begin their personal development journey in the Highlands, participants on the latest ‘Change Cycle’ programme started with a walking expedition. The participants used this part of the journey to really get to know one another... and got to know true Scottish weather in the process (everything from downpours to glorious sunshine).
They started each morning with 1-to-1 support sessions setting their own individual goals, enabling participants to focus on personal development throughout the day. Participants were given their own journals to record these goals in and set a new personal goal each morning. Not only did this get them into the practise of planning ahead, but also got them thinking about what they wanted to include in their ‘Action Plans’ which were completed on day nine and implemented at home.
The second part of the journey was completed on mountain bikes. The participants spent 3 full days on 2 wheels, cycling from camp to camp. The bikes were introduced with a skills session to make sure participants had a thorough understanding of the basics of biking: braking, gears, body position, and speed were all discussed. The bikes took participants through a number of different terrains including farmland, hillsides, and forests; they even managed to cover a huge 25 kilometres in just one day!
A number of kind landowners gave participants permission to have camp fires which made for a nice warm end to the day and the perfect setting for socialising and evening reviews. Head torches were out by 10:30 sharp, but no one minded the early nights- the snoring could be heard from miles away! The group wild camped for 6 nights and even had a night in a Venture Trust tipi.
During the course, participants looked at how to build appropriate relationships with one another as well taking personal responsibility for kit, equipment, and the environment. The group concentrated their efforts into conserving the areas they used and ensured all the rubbish that accumulated over the course was disposed of properly.
On the last night, the participants were involved in individual development sessions to focus their attention on home life and what changes they would like to make when they finish the course. The group completed their ‘Action Plans’ and enjoyed a hot celebration meal in the evening. There was a final course review, where the group discussed the highs and lows of the course and the night was finished off with a course slideshow. Each participant received their own certificates, and according to the field team, ‘they earned every word on them!’
John Muir Award
Another exciting addition to the Living Wild programme is the opportunity for participants to complete the John Muir Discovery Level Award as part of their wilderness journey.
In our latest ‘Change Cycle’ wilderness expedition participants directly experienced how wildlife interacts with the wilderness, for example Sand Martins nesting in the banks of a river and Ospreys swooping to catch fish. The group took responsibility by employing “leave no trace” camping methods including organising litter sweeps, burying human waste, only collecting fallen wood for fires, digging fire pits and ensuring they filled them in afterwards. They also kept a record of the bird species they saw (some of which include Buzzards, Oystercatchers, Lapwings, and Great Spotted Woodpeckers) and the locations in which the spotted them.
Following the end of the wilderness the group split into three groups and each delivered a presentation which included a route description, more information about some of the bird species they had recorded, and how they took responsibility for conserving the wild places they had journeyed through. We are delighted that they all achieved this prestigious award!
Venture Trust have included cycling in four Living Wild wilderness journey courses in this year. The first of these ran in August 2014 with the support of Scottish Natural Heritage and had a phenomenal response from the participants and the staff!
Good luck to previous and future ‘Change Cycle’ participants and a huge thank you to Scottish Natural Heritage, and the Big Lottery’s “Investing in Ideas” for their invaluable support, and to the Peter Harrison Foundation for funding our vital kit and equipment.
“Life is like riding a bicycle. In order to keep your balance, you must keep moving.” - Albert Einstein
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.’