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.
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.”
David* was 15 when he found himself on the street.
He left home and moved to Oban to escape the emotional and physical abuse he had suffered at the hands of his family since childhood. He soon became homeless and was unable to complete his school exams.
In 2016, David moved to Glasgow. Still homeless and facing a high risk of social isolation, the teenager was referred to Venture Trust by Phoenix Peer Mentor Service.
Working with a Venture Trust outreach worker David opened up about his past experiences that led him to the harsh Glasgow streets without family or friends to support him. He explained he found it difficult to build relationships and trust people, but that he had an interest in the outdoors. The physical activity helped with his depression. He was told about the Inspiring Young Futures (IYF) programme which included an eight day wilderness journey. The programme is funded by The Big Lottery Fund, Inspiring Scotland, Scottish Children's Lottery, and several other organisations.
Ahead of the wilderness journey, David met weekly with his outreach worker to discuss his short and long-term goals. These included securing his own accommodation, to be more confident, to act quickly on problems instead of letting them build up and to increase his fitness levels.
Two weeks before leaving for the wilderness journey, David secured his own tenancy through Glasgow Housing Association. He planned to move into the property when he returned from the journey. It was hard for him to believe things were finally beginning to look up. “Things are going good but I’m waiting on something bad happening as nothing has ever been this good and I haven’t experienced people supporting me.”
David rose to the challenges on the wilderness phase of the IYF programme. His development trainer was extremely positive describing the progress David made. “As the course went on he seemed to come out of his shell and open up in what was a safe space for him where peers and friends were encouraging and supporting him. He built some good friendships and will hopefully continue to talk with these people about the positive experience shared.”
David excelled during the tasks and demonstrated his ability to learn new skills quickly, and showed his willingness to support others in the group who were struggling. He challenged and broke one of his own rules that he had previously set for himself - ‘not to trust anyone’.
On the journey David began placing faith in his peers and his confidence grew. He also worked with his development trainer to accept praise and positive feedback. These were things he’d previously struggled to do.
After returning from his journey David was looking ahead. “I feel highly motivated and in good spirts - I feel the wilderness gave me time away to think about my future”.
The main focus was to move into his own accommodation. However, with very few belongings - an inflatable mattress (without a pump), a pillow and a single quilt it was not straight forward. Continued support from Venture Trust and the housing association led to an offer of a home starter pack, which included bedding, pots, pans and cutlery. Following a meeting with Job Centre Plus, David was also supported to apply for a community care grant for white goods and carpets.
To avoid slipping back into a life of isolation after the wilderness journey David and his outreach worker considered his options. Focusing on his love of the outdoors, David was offered a one day per week placement for one year with Venture Scotland.
This was the stepping stone to take on the challenge of employability courses to help David progress into employment in the future. He gained a place on the Venture Together four week employability course which covered IT sessions, CV writing, budgeting skills, interview skills, self-presentation skill and mock interviews. He was also introduced to our CashBack Change Cycle programme.
The hard work has paid off. Venture Scotland have offered to train David to become a volunteer on their courses.
David said he could see the difference in his confidence now.
“I speak more openly about problems and don’t let them build up anymore. I can’t believe how much my life has change since the beginning of the year. I can’t thank Venture Trust enough for the support they have given me. I now find it easier to trust people and build positive relationships.”
* Name changed
More information about the programme can be found here: Inspiring Young Futures.
Military veteran, Mark Monaghan has already spent 22 years serving Queen and Country in the Royal Navy; a role that often means giving up your right to choose, sacrificing family time, friends, and independence in order to keep the UK safe from harm.
What an inspiring mindset to then choose to help others despite finding the transition to civilian life a difficult prospect. Mark has not rested on his laurels; he has just completed the Great Glencoe Challenge to raise funds and awareness for Venture Trust, and the work we do to support military veterans.
The Great Glencoe Challenge comprises 26.2 miles of Scotland’s iconic scenery, through Glencoe to the foot of Ben Nevis, and covers 5,000ft of ascent. And Mark did it all with a smile on his face!
That is not the only challenge Mark has faced recently. Since leaving the Royal Navy as a submariner in 2013, Mark has thrown himself into making a new life. However, the Armed Forces can provide a structure and purpose which just isn’t there in civilian life; being removed from that secure environment can feel very isolating and daunting.
Mark embarked on a new career, settling in Scotland with his wife and daughter but began finding the demands of civilian life overwhelming. In 2016 Mark was diagnosed with depression which eventually resulted in him leaving his job. He had a fractious dispute with neighbours that led to intervention with the authorities, and was subsequently referred to Venture Trust.
This proved to be a turning point for Mark. He was determined to do something positive and was keen to find volunteering work with people less fortunate than himself. He made contact with Veterans 1st Point and Step Together who helped him enormously, and he enrolled on a SAAFA Lifeworks employability course.
In November 2016 Mark embarked on our Positive Futures course funded by Forces in Mind Trust. This comprises a five day wilderness-based journey specifically designed for military veterans struggling with the transition to civilian life. The programme, which takes individuals out of their usual environment, and uses the outdoors as a catalyst for positive change, redeploying skills learnt within the military to be utilised in civilian life, also includes one-to-one support for up to 18 months.
Mark was enthusiastic about Positive Futures from the very beginning. On completion of the wilderness journey, he undertook further ‘Speak Up’ employability training with us, and was one of three veterans selected for a traineeship at Venture Trust. Mark has been working as a Data Entry and Funding Admin Assistant since March. Taking part in the Great Glencoe Challenge is Mark’s way of giving something back to those that helped him when he needed it most, and in some way helping others to be able to access the support from which he benefitted.
Mark comments, “I completed a Positive Futures course last year. I have had wonderful support and involvement from Venture Trust and the course itself re-invigorated my love of the outdoors. I am passionate about raising awareness of the great work done by Venture Trust and have been inspired to challenge myself physically and mentally by taking on the Great Glencoe Challenge. I am hoping to raise money to help others get the opportunity that I had.”
To find out more about Positive Futures programme, please click here.
Life has not always been easy for Annabelle McPherson; in fact, it has been a very hard journey. But that hasn’t stopped her from turning things around, and doing great things for others. Her latest escapade? She is swimming 96 miles, the length of the River Tweed, to raise funds for Venture Trust.
Annabelle was struggling with alcohol addiction, which was having a very negative impact on her life, when she was referred to us through her social worker. In June 2015 Annabelle enrolled on our Next Steps course, a programme specifically designed for women in the criminal justice system, funded by The Big Lottery and a number of other trusts and foundations.
It provided enough space away from her existing environment, for Annabelle to begin on the road to recovery and positive change. She has gone on to train as a Venture Trust mentor, helping those in a similar situation to herself, and sought help with both AA and Addaction. Annabelle also attended our Speak Up employability training sessions, volunteered, and enrolled on a further Venture Trust programme, Living Wild, in 2017.
Annabelle comments, "If someone had told me they could change the way I think and feel in five days, I would never have believed it ... until I became involved with Venture Trust. They helped me to learn that although alcohol took a lot from me, it didn’t mean my life was over. It gave me hope that I could recover, and be a responsible and worthwhile person in society. For this I cannot thank Venture Trust enough.”
Throughout the summer, Annabelle is swimming at her local pool in Duns, Berwickshire, clocking up 96 miles (154 km), 6,144 lengths of the pool, or the entire length of the River Tweed. To date, she is almost half way through and aims to complete in August. Annabelle is raising funds for Venture Trust and donations can be made online: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/AnnabelleMcPherson
Amelia Morgan, Chief Executive Officer at Venture Trust, comments, “We are really overwhelmed by Annabelle’s determination to support others, and to take on this remarkable challenge for Venture Trust. She has already come a long way, both in her personal life, and in the pool, and she is an inspiration to anyone going through difficult times. On behalf of Venture Trust, thank you Annabelle!”
To find out more about our Next Steps programme, please click here.