Participant stories

  • | News | Participant stories

    Fighting back from the brink - Harry's Positive Futures journey

    Carnage and the devastation surrounded 18-year old infantryman Harry Marshall. When the smoke and dust cleared Harry was faced with two men lying dead and almost half a dozen more severely injured. He had survived a deadly explosion involving three anti-tank mines. Even though he was incredibly close to the blast Harry managed to walk away physically unscathed. But then he had to deal with the casualties alone for over an hour before help arrived.

    While Harry may have escaped physical injuries from the explosion in Bosnia that killed his comrade and a local man, the mental injuries from such a traumatic experience eventually caught up with him.

    Now with the help of Venture Trust’s Positive Futures programme – funded by the Forces in Mind Trust – Harry is fighting another battle to reclaim his shattered life. The Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT), is a £35 million funding scheme run by FiMT using an endowment awarded by the Big Lottery Fund.

    The three phase programme provides specialist support to ex-service men and women struggling with the transition to civilian life.

    “It must have traumatised me more than I noticed,” Harry says 20 years later.

    In 2003 Harry was medically discharged from the armed forces. He left after having attempted suicide and bouts of uncontrolled depression. He was put on 6 months leave and then Harry was on “Civvy Street”. “Back then there wasn’t really any ongoing support for ex-servicemen,” Harry says.

    Life on Civvy Street appeared to be going well for Harry. He used his previous skills as a plumber to run his own construction company and he got married.

    But the Black Dog was lurking.

    “In the beginning of 2012, I found myself having nightmares, crying inappropriately. I was feeling sick and horrible,” Harry recalls.

    Life began to spiral out of control.

    “I separated from my wife, I lost my family, the company closed down and I was in a very dark place with depression. I moved off the grid. I went to live in the woods. I feared everything going wrong in front of the people I loved.” Harry made the woods his home for 9 months. “I was alone and suicidal,” he says.

    Eventually Harry found the courage to “make a call” for help. When he contacted military charity Combat Stress, it was the start of a long journey from out of the wilderness and back into society.

    “I managed to get housing. A roof over my head.”

    It was also the first time since that tragic day back in Bosnia many years ago that Harry was finally diagnosed with severe Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

    “There was a reason for my anxiety and depression. And it was caused by loss and guilt from all those years before,” Harry says.

    Harry undertook 13 weeks of residential therapy for trauma. He also began volunteering with charities. “I felt like I was making progress but I also felt like I was in a safe zone. I needed to get out of the safe zone. I focussed on getting back into the community.”

    This is where Harry was referred to Venture Trust and the Positive Futures programme.

    “I met Clare, my outreach worker, and she has been by my side all the time. I was continuing to struggle and go through hard times but she was there and we would meet up once a week.”

    The initial support and work with Venture Trust prepared Harry for his wilderness journey. It set and established his goals and ambitions. “My goal was to see if I could live back in the community with my condition.”

    The five-day journey in the Scottish wilderness provided the time and space for Harry to develop new skills, gain confidence and face his fears.

    “The staff were spot on. They were very understanding, non-judgemental and gave me hope. There were one-on-one sessions and the peer support was good,” he says.

    Fear and anxiety had been part of Harry’s everyday life and initially the activities on the wilderness journey evoked those same feelings. “The week was broken up with activities that I would never do. The adrenaline would have been similar to anxiety so I avoided them. But with Venture Trust I could stay calm, my fear levels went down and my confidence went up. I felt safe to participate and understood I could enjoy the activities.”

    Harry also thrived on the long marches or ‘tabs’ with the fully loaded kit. “I loved the walking with the kit. Others thought I was crazy but I felt feelings I had not had for a long time.”

    The group of veterans on the wilderness journey came from very different military backgrounds and had different personalities, Harry explains. But at the end of the journey they were a band of brothers. “At the start it felt like we were all a bit judgemental but at the end were close with a firm bond. The end of the journey was an emotional place to be.”

    Harry’s journey with Venture Trust is continuing with further one-to-one support during Phase three. It’s still a hard road but by engaging in the Positive Futures programme Harry is now armed with the skills needed in the fight to claim back his life.

    He has also engaged with other organisations helping ex-servicemen and women including Driven to Extremes.

    “The three phase programme is helping my recovery. My confidence levels have risen and I am building my life back up. I understand that the mental issues I have come with the job of being in the military. I need to be the one to fix it. But without the support of Venture Trust and other organisations, I would have suffered in silence."

  • | News | Participant stories

    Locking up people short-term doesn’t work - Community Justice is an answer

    Venture Trust's community justice programmes have been featured in The Scotsman on Wednesday, January 3rd.

    The article is a great way to start the New Year and highlights the role Venture Trust can play in changing the lives of hundreds of people caught up in the criminal justice system in 2018.

    Enhancing our contribution to community justice in Scotland remains a priority focus and there is much to do to address the harm caused by offending. By tackling the underlying causes of offending and working collaboratively with partners at local and national levels we aim to support those most in need of our intensive programme of personal development.

    Venture Trust wants to be a leader in community justice provision. Strategically, as the new community justice landscape develops, our ambition is to ensure that Venture Trust continues to demonstrate impact in effecting positive change for those involved in offending.

    We will actively engage with national and targeted community planning partnership structures seeking to collaborate to design and deliver services which are effective in tackling the underlying causes of offending.

    The positive and sustained impact for men and women completing the Living Wild and Next Steps programmes, highlights the contribution these programmes can make as part of a coherent range of local services for communities in reducing reoffending and the harm caused by offending.

    Going forward, the operational focus will be to ensure strong links and relationships with a variety of female offender projects that will continue under the new Community Justice arrangements. Venture Trust is committed to its work across Scotland in supporting individuals to move away from offending.

    Read the article here: Locking up people short-term doesn’t work – community justice is an answer

  • | Films | News | Participant stories

    A second chance - community justice in action

    Lucy spent ten years addicted to heroin. During this time she was also convicted of theft and lost her son to care. Her life had hit rock bottom.

    “I was a heroin addict for about ten years and in and out of the criminal justice system. My son went to stay with my mum because I wasn’t looking after myself, and they thought I wasn’t looking after him.”

    Today, speaking from the grounds of Perth College Lucy has been clean for over 2 years; at 37 she has returned to education for the first time since she left school at 15.

    “I’ve got a portfolio of certificates and I am aiming for a degree with a dissertation in addiction and recovery,” Lucy says.

    She has completed peer mentor training with Venture Trust and its partner Move On to help other women caught up in the criminal justice system.

    One of Lucy’s proudest achievements was being recognised with the presentation of a local champion award through the criminal justice system.

    The system that could have locked her away instead provided her with the opportunity to change her life.

    “My life has totally changed. I’m in a brilliant place with my son. I’ve got a fighting chance to get him home. I have my grandchildren on weekends. These are things that would never have happened before,” she says.

    “I get up every day and it’s not drugs I think about. I get up and I want to go to college, I want to take the dog for a walk, I want to eat well, sleep well and be healthy.”

    Reflecting on her journey with Venture Trust’s Next Steps programme which is funded by the Big Lottery Fund, Lucy explains it was the three-phases of the programme all working together that allowed her to “get her life back”.

    Like all of Venture Trust’s programmes, during phase 1 there is support in the participants’ communities which usually lasts for 3-6 months. An outreach worker, in partnership with other agencies, will help the participant to stabilise their lifestyle, so that they're able to embark on (and benefit from) the wilderness phase. The participant will be introduced to other local people in similar circumstances, helping them to build a positive network of peers and supporters. Finally, the participant will receive one-to-one support to identify the choices, actions or behaviours they need to change in order to develop a more sustainable lifestyle.

    Phase 2, the wilderness journey or residential, is at the heart of Venture Trust’s programmes. This setting - far removed from a participant’s everyday environment, and often chaotic life - gives people the chance to tackle physical, emotional and social challenges. These challenges are carefully designed to encourage learning and development, to help participants to increase their aspirations, confidence and motivation, and to develop a range of skills for life, learning and work.

    “We were not far from Pitlochry, but it could have been a million miles away,” Lucy says. “There were no phones and we took on challenges in the outdoors. But all of these challenges and activities were giving us tools for coping when we returned to our everyday life. Dealing with emotions and anxieties and putting into place an action plan for being back in the community.”

    Back in their community during phase 3, each person has access to one-to-one support from a Venture Trust outreach worker. They are supported to achieve their aims, to utilise the skills they have acquired to work towards opportunities such as employment, education, training and voluntary work.

    “Venture Trust believed in me. They gave me the support and the drive and it’s changed my life.”

    Watch Lucy talk about her Next Steps journey.

  • | Films | News | Participant stories

    From the depths of despair to a positive future with Venture Trust

    At his lowest point Jim Gardiner was too scared to go outside his front door.

    “I might have been the only smoker who would run out of tobacco but be too afraid to go down to the corner shop and buy a new packet,” the former British soldier says. “There should be no reason to be afraid to go out your own home. There are no lions out there … in Falkirk at least. No one is dropping bombs. But there I was trapped in my own house.”

    Jim was in a state of “really deep” and “dark” depression and suffering from severe anxiety. “There was absolute fear and terror, over nothing.”

    The downward spiral in Jim’s life began when his family life fell to pieces after a successful military career with the Royal Corps of Signals.

    “I served in the 70s and loved every minute of my time in the signals. As a young man my time in the army set me up for life. I had done a brilliant apprenticeship. I was full of confidence, full of beans and energy.”

    Jim shakes his head when he recalls how he went “from that good place to being depressed, miserable and anxious.”

    The death of his brother at 21, his divorce and the death of his father in a short time hit Jim hard. This was followed by coping as a single dad to two daughters and fighting a custody battle for his two sons. These series of challenges knocked him down a hole flooded with adrenaline with no apparent way to haul himself out.

    “I had become unemployable even if I did decide I wanted to go out there and get a job. I was too nervous to go to interviews or sit in large groups of people. I was missing family events. A man should never be too frightened to spend time with his children and grandchildren.”

    It was when Jim was at his lowest point and trapped inside the four walls of his home that he was referred to Venture Trust by its partner agency Poppyscotland and their Employ-Able programme, run with SAMH.

    Jim was accepted onto the Positive Futures programme. The programme provides specialist support to ex-service men and women struggling with the transition to civilian life and is 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.

    “I met Sharon my outreach worker and we would catch up once a week. Eventually we were meeting in cafes, shopping centres and other public places. And I didn’t notice at first but gradually we were meeting in busier and busier places. Sharon began to teach me my fears were unfounded. I was getting back into the outside world again.”

    The next phase in Jim’s journey was a five day wilderness expedition with other ex-servicemen. The personnel development programmes are specifically designed to help with the transition to civilian life. Individuals are taken out of their usual environment, and the outdoors are used as a catalyst for positive change, redeploying skills learnt within the military and the learning of new skills. Following the journey, veterans like Jim continue to receive one-to-one support for up to 18 months.

    “As a group and individually we were improving our confidence, motivation and developing new skills to better deal with stressful, unfamiliar or negative situations,” he says. “It was a combination of an education from other ex-servicemen, the Venture Trust team and the wilderness and weather.”

    The anxiety and nerves that had been holding Jim back began to loosen their grip and his confidence started to return while he was out in the Scottish wilderness.

    “When I returned from the wilderness journey, I felt back to my old self again. Not somebody new. Not somebody invented. It was the full of confidence, full of enthusiasm me. Like I was when I was a young soldier.”

    Jim’s time away, his participation in the personal development programmes and his commitment to making the most of the one-to-one support from his outreach worker put him in a place where he felt confident enough to apply for a job.

    One of the jobs was a traineeship being offered by Venture Trust.

    “I had to go through the job application and the job interview. I wouldn’t have been able to do that before the Positive Futures programme. Less than a year ago you couldn’t get me out of the front door without a crowbar,” Jim reflects.

    Jim got his traineeship and now works as an admin and stores assistant at the Venture Trust National Participant Centre. His job involves prepping and kitting out fellow veterans heading out on their wilderness journey along with participants on Venture Trust’s other programmes. And often he can be found sharing an encouraging word and a cigarette with those following in his footsteps, helping to settle their nerves.

    Now even more veterans like Jim will be able to get help and support transitioning to civilian life after Venture Trust was awarded a £699,384 LIBOR funding grant in November. The grant from the UK Government will enable Venture Trust to support 180 more former servicemen and women and extends the programme until 2021.

    For further information visit Venture Trust’s Positive Futures programme.

  • | Films | Fundraising | News | Participant stories

    Vulnerable women go from strength to strength with Venture Trust’s support

    Women from Venture Trust’s Next Steps programme have shared their inspirational achievements at a special event held at the Hilton Edinburgh on November 21.

    The event attended by stakeholders, funders, business leaders also saw the release of an independent study of the programme.

    Dr Shelia Inglis, of SMCI Associates, presented her research findings on the wider impact of the Next Steps programme. In particular, how Venture Trust is unlocking the potential of these women, building their confidence, enabling them to rebuild relationships, improving their chance to move into work, and contribute positively in their communities.

    Next Steps supports women from across Scotland, whose chaotic and disadvantaged backgrounds have led to their involvement in offending or put them at high risk of re/offending.

    Participants are met and supported by outreach teams in their communities before experiencing an intensive five day wilderness journey, which is then followed by ongoing community-based support from Venture Trust and other partners.

    Several incredible women shared their inspiring stories of overcoming adversity. Many of them have arrived at Venture Trust from a place of vulnerability and instability, often struggling with a multitude of issues such as homelessness, addiction, isolation and involvement in the criminal justice system. The Next Steps programme utilises the outdoors as a mechanism for personal development, providing space and a safe environment to begin the road to positive change.

    The programme, funded by the Big Lottery Fund, as well as a number of trusts and foundations, included the opportunity to continually evaluate and fine tune the work being done, and this event was the ideal place to share those findings. Last year, 387 females took part in Next Steps, an increase of 23 per cent from the previous year, with referrals from over 100 different organisations across Scotland. 83 per cent of women participating in the Next Steps programme are more likely to get a job, with 143 already in employment, volunteering, training, or education. And 75 per cent are less likely to re-offend, which has an impact on taxpayers, and an impact on the overloaded prison service; that is great news.

    Annabelle McPherson, who has overcome alcohol addiction, said the programme had changed her life. “I had hit total rock bottom when I engaged with Venture Trust but it was the right time for me to start looking up. It was about pushing yourself, you start to believe in yourself.”

    Fellow participant Kirsty Gallon also believed the Next Steps programme had turned her life around after getting caught up in the criminal justice system. “I was at the lowest point I could possibly be in ... I couldn’t see the other end,” she said. However on the night of the event, Kirsty revealed, “five weeks today I’ve been in full time employment.”

    Newly announced Venture Trust ambassador, and female endurance mountain biker Lee Craigie also spoke about her adventures as an elite athlete and her own battles with the challenges and lows she has overcame.

    "Listening to the women who've been through the Venture Trust Next Steps programme I was struck by the amount of bravery and resilience required to turn their lives around. Not unlike the qualities required to ride long distances by bike. We all suffer the lows but what we all agreed was it is that it's easier to dig ourselves out of feeling low if we're surrounded by supportive people. This programme offers the opportunity and, in my opinion, there's not enough of these programmes about,” Lee said.

    Venture Trust chief executive officer Amelia Morgan, commented, “Tonight was about celebrating the amazing women on our Next Steps programme, and all their potential and achievements. We heard from some of the women who have courageously committed to turning their lives around. Every story reflects a very personal journey of change, with all the pitfalls and small gains of life. We have also demonstrated the impact that the Next Steps programme has on these vulnerable women, their families and the community around them. The programme plays an important role within the criminal justice system and we are very proud of the women we have supported.”

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