A change for the best can offer new hope to some of our most disadvantaged youngsters, says Joe Connelly.
Last New Year, like many others, I promised myself I would make some changes in my life. I was determined to take up swimming more regularly, finally quit smoking for good, and make more time in my hectic schedule to spend quality time with my family. I’ve done well with the first and third of these goals, but have failed miserably with the second. This week, wondering whether I should just “give up and give in”, I turned to an unconventional source for advice and inspiration.
Let me explain. Over the past year, I have been privileged to meet literally hundreds of young people who vowed to change their lives and who have triumphantly, resoundingly, emphatically achieved their goals.
Last year, Sharon told me this: “I’ve had very dark thoughts, times when I’ve considered it might be better if I’m not here”. This year, she’s a prize-winning student at an Outdoor Education College, where she’s learning to share her skills to teach and inspire other young people.
Last Christmas, David was out of work, becoming increasingly despondent as he struggled to find an employer who would take him on. This Christmas, things look quite different: “I am no longer unemployed. After so long without a job, I’m really delighted to have been given a chance.”
Scotland is waking up to the fact that society's response to women's offending needs to change, says Venture Trust's Malcolm Jack.
Scotland (and, to a lesser extent, England and Wales) is slowly waking up to the fact that society’s response to women’s offending needs to change. The female prison population in Scotland has doubled in the past ten years, many women in the system are frequent reoffenders, and short-term prison sentences have little or no impact on reoffending (70 per cent of women who received a sentence of three months or less are reconvicted within two years). Last month, the first public statement by Scotland’s new inspector of prisons (and former Police Chief Constable) David Strang was quite clear: “We send too many people to prison, particularly for short sentences.”
Having launched specific programmes for women in the criminal justice system in 2009, Venture Trust was one of few agencies ahead of the game. Based upon a belief that all individuals have the capacity to change, Venture Trust’s Next Steps programme offers women time, space and intensive support away from their day-to-day circumstances, where they can unlock the skills and motivation they need to make positive changes in their lives. And the quotes below, from a number of women who have taken part in our provision, show that – actually – there is rather a lot of hope around:
“My life’s changed for the better, I’m healthier, happier, thriving. I’ve got a career now, I can see a future.”
“[If I hadn’t come on the Venture Trust course] I’d be in jail, I’d be sitting in Cornton Vale. There’s no two ways about it.”
“It’s made me a better person. It’s made me more determined to help other people. That’s a determination that I’ve got now, to help other people, to help other people to achieve their goals.”
“My relationships with other people have changed, because people are seeing a change in me. And they’re willing to spend time with me now, whereas before, they just didnae want to know, cos they thought you were trouble. It’s been a total change of attitude, I’m nicer to people now, treat people with more respect.”
At Venture Trust, we’re aiming to support 48 women this year, each of whom has access to over 100 hours of intensive, personalised support. It costs us around £12 per hour to offer this support; relatively little compared to the long-term costs of offending, imprisonment, children in care and unemployment.
Today saw young people about to leave school in Glasgow introduced to charity Venture Trust at a prestigious City Chambers event. At the ‘Secure Your Future’ event, Venture Trust offered inspiration and opportunity to this year’s school leavers, and challenged those who are struggling with the transition from school to take ‘a chance for change’.
As Glasgow celebrates its best ever exam results this year, the future holds uncertainty and doubt for many of those who did not get the results they hoped for this week. For those who remain unclear about their futures, the ‘Secure Your Future’ event at the City Chambers today offered young people the support they need to get their futures on-track. Whilst interview training, careers advice and jobcentre vacancies offered the right option to many, Venture Trust’s provision – offered from an eye catching mobile vehicle parked right outside the City Chambers – was a little different.
Venture Trust gives young people in Glasgow the opportunity to engage with a challenging, intensive personal development programme. Specialising in supporting those who’ve disengaged from education, experienced care, have caring responsibilities or who are at risk of involvement in the criminal justice system, Venture Trust offers Glasgow school-leavers the chance to reassess the path their life is taking. Combining one-to-one local support with an intensive ten day expedition in the Scottish Highlands, Venture Trust challenges participants to develop new skills and capabilities for the future. The mix of learning activities and discussion sessions offered by Venture Trust inspire, encourage and support participants to develop the motivation, self confidence and life-skills necessary to make their ambitions reality. Outcomes show that more than three quarters of those who engage with Venture Trust are measurably more employable after participation.
The opportunity to join one of Venture Trust’s programmes proved popular with young people today, with almost two hundred stopping by to find out more. With the opportunity to talk to staff, tour the flagship mobile vehicle, and see work produced by previous participants, this year promises to see more Glasgow young people than ever take advantage of Venture Trust’s provision.
Venture Trust has seen over 560 Glasgow young people referred to its programmes over the past three years, and has supported almost 100 Glasgow young people into employment, education, training or voluntary work. In doing so, it is supporting the Council’s Employability Pipeline and complementing an Employability Programme which aims to “take a 'whole needs' approach to the issues and barriers encountered by workless and disadvantaged clients”. Glasgow, with its Community Planning Partnership that brings together key public, private, community and voluntary representatives to deliver more effective services in the city, is taking a genuinely proactive approach to supporting those young people who didn’t get the results they hoped for this week – those who need extra support to achieve their future potential.
For a significant few, Venture Trust will be the chance they need to turn this week’s disappointment into the opportunity of a lifetime.
We are delighted to welcome five guests from our Moving On: Malawi programme to Scotland. As part of the programme's handover to local partners, our five visitors are spending two months with Venture Trust in Scotland thanks to the Commonwealth Fellowship Scheme.
Here, we introduce our five Fellows. Read on for an introduction from Greg, our Project Officer in Malawi, and for each Fellow's own hopes and aspirations for their time in Scotland.
Samuel Mbweza (State Prosecutor)
From Greg:Sam was our first Malawian contact back in 2010 when Joe Connelly (our Head of Programmes) met him at the Ministry of Justice. Joe and Sam visited Kachere Juvenile Prison together and although Sam’s job is as a prosecutor for the State, he had never set foot inside a prison and especially a juvenile one. What Sam saw shocked him and has given him a professional drive to use incarceration as a last resort and in his job “to ensure that justice is just even for those vulnerable young people who cannot afford it”.
From Samuel: As a State Prosecutor working in the Ministry of Justice under the Director of Public Prosecutions my job is to represent the government in courts. The Constitution of Malawi empowers the Director of Public Prosecutions to prosecute all cases in Malawi that make us to handle every case that is brought to the directorate. In Scotland, I look forward to learn, learn, and learn. The experience I will gain I will first impart it to my colleagues in my office and also other organizations that deal with children in conflict with the law. I wish to see Mwai wosinthika becoming a hope for all the hopeless and helpless children in Malawi, a place where children would launch their dreams and see them come to pass and become responsible and productive citizens not only for Malawi but the entire world.
Fanny L Mwale (Police Officer)
From Greg:Fanny has been a great help to Venture Trust in her tireless commitment and passion for young people both in her work and in her own community in Area 24 of Lilongwe. As well as a very busy dayjob, as a “Agogo” (Grandmother) she has a very busy homelife after hours.
From Fanny: My goal is to become the best child prosecutor, divert as many child cases as possible, and reduce numbers of children in conflict with the law in Malawi. In Scotland, I want to experience how children in conflict with the law are assisted, and how reform is conducted.
Yotamu Yotsie Chaonaine (Police Officer)
From Greg: I first saw Chaonaine (Chewa for “He has been seen”) or Chao as we call him now, on the road to the prison .The police patrol vehicle he was driving very fast was packed full of prisoners I waved at him to slow down. Later he explained that he had to drive fast so they would not escape. It was the start of a really good working relationship and he assisted us to move many young boys from imprisonment.
From Chao: It is my wish of becoming a responsible leader both at my workplace as well as in my society. I hope to achieve this through the knowledge gained from different spheres, as it is said “knowledge is power”. I hope to return to Malawi filled with knowledge ready to disseminate to my colleagues through sensitisation meetings and submission of reports. I want to be planning on where, when, how to start a “mwai wosinthika” (a chance for change”) programme, and I will be filled with joy to have travelled by aeroplane out of Malawi for the first time in my life and to have seen Scotland a place where most of my ancestors have never been courtesy of Venture Trust, Scottish Government and the Commonwealth Professional fellowship.
Chosadziwa Sakwiya a.k.a Chosa (Child Protection Officer and Social Worker)
From Greg: I first met Sakwiya (chewa meaning “he is not angry”) at the District social Welfare Office inputting data. I must say he did not look overly happy about it! However once he joined our “mwai wosinthika” (a chance for change) programme and became a facilitator it was clear he had a real passion and drive for working with young people “at risk“. He has worked voluntarily alongside Venture Trust for nearly two years as well as doing his own 24/7 job as managing the Social Transit Centre for children “in or on the streets” of Lilongwe.
From Chosa: My job here , is so delicate in the sense that l work with children and young men ensuring their emotional and physical wellbeing thus enabling them to trust me hence being able to protect them from any form of abuse that may hinder their developmental growth to become useful citizens of Malawi. During my stay [in Scotland] l will be looking forward most in the sharing of skills, culture and the experience in technology as compared to my home country friendship development, and that hospitality that will not make me regret why l left the “warm heart of Africa” (Malawi) and of course learning the Scottish sense of humour ;-)
Kenneth Thom (Prison Warder/HIV & AIDS Counsellor)
From Greg: Thom was the first warder at Kachere Prison to demonstrate a real desire to work with the young people there. Unlike many of his colleagues at the time he was not afraid to be open to change. Working with Venture Trust within Kachere has been a huge personal challenge for Thom, in terms of conflict amongst his previous colleagues. However, there is about to be a new management at Kachere Reformatory Centre with the a new Officer in Charge and her young and freshly trained staff from the training College - Thom will surely return with new inspiration to make a real change and his knowledge will fall on fertile ground!
From Kenneth: I come to work with Greg at Kachere in 2011. When Venture Trust come to work at Kachere my responsibilities, translation ability and openness to learn suited the criteria of Venture Trust. I helped Greg in translation during “one-to-one” interviews with young offenders. I now conduct these interviews finding out about their education, accommodation, health HIV and AIDS and relationship with their parents or guardians and also help them to make their plans and doing Venture trust session in prison emphasising behaviour change. My trip to Scotland will have a huge impact on my day to day work as I will acquire new knowledge and skills that will help me to effectively assist the Malawi Prison service, and I will interact with other fellows from other countries sharing experiences. I want to visit Polmont Young Offenders Institute in Glasgow which is the equivalent to Kachere in Malawi and maybe set up a relationship.
We look forward to keeping you updated about our Fellows' time and adventures in Scotland.
Our friends and colleagues in Malawi - Eithne Lynch and Ruth Dowling - accept the Irish Law Awards 2013 honour for their human rights work with Irish Rule of Law International in Lilongwe, Malawi.
This short film features footage from Kachere Reformatory Centre, home of Venture Trust's Moving On - Malawi programme. Some of those featured in the film will be travelling to Scotland later this year to spend time with Venture Trust, as part of our handover of the programme to local partners.
Documentary by film maker Mr Patrick Garety.