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.’
Change and Transition: The Hero’s Journey!
Deciding that you want to make a step change in your life and making it happen is a period of transition that is challenging and exciting in equal measure. Much like a journey, if you can be guided and supported along the route you have chosen you will have a better chance of reaching your destination. If you journey for a while with other people in a similar situation it is a much richer experience. An experience punctuated by the scenery, the stops you make, and the views and insights that you and your fellow travellers will share along the way. Imagine a journey where you can see yourself differently and be seen differently by others...
Venture Trust’s ‘ Transitions to Independent Living’ programme is such a journey. The programme, which has been running for nearly 5 years, is designed to help young people resident in supported accommodation to develop their confidence and employability, increasing their access to local services and establish sustainable lifestyles. The programme has been successful and is popular with the participants, referral networks and partners. It is regularly proven to better equip participants with the skills and attributes needed to access employment, education, training, or volunteering as well as offering a catalytic shift in attitude and perspective that helps participants plan their move into independent accommodation.
Venture Trust developed the ‘Transitions’ programme to address the unique needs and circumstances facing young people in supported housing situations. Using our established and effective personal development curriculum, based on Choice Theory and Reality Therapy, the programme gives each participant the opportunity to join a 10-day wilderness expedition, where they are given time, space and intensive support in a wilderness setting, where boundary-stretching challenges serve as a vehicle for learning, reflection and discussion as a group and on a 1-to-1 basis
The ‘Transitions’ programme has several unique features :
- It works very closely with a network of supported accommodation providers, taking referrals from all over the UK. A programme with a truly national reach
- A bursary scheme is now a key part of the programme which allows a wider network of partners , increased places and increased accessibility of the programme to participants by offering subsidised places
- It is a journey both literally and metaphorically. Most participants will take a train to Inverness or another agreed location in the Scottish Highlands, where they are met by Venture Trust staff. Previous participants have travelled from Foyers all over the UK, including as far south as Eastbourne, Plymouth and Truro. The independent journey to northern Scotland is a core part of the experience, challenging participants to be self-determined and self-reliant from the outset.
The Bursary scheme has proved popular in concept and in execution. It is supported by the Joseph Rank Trust and is a good example of partnership working that allows Venture Trust to deliver a targeted and specific programme to the greatest number of participants where the need is greatest. This pioneering approach has elicited much interest as a model for both programme funding and delivery. The Joseph Rank Trust bursary scheme and the places that it funds are referred from organisations grounded in the Christian ethos and practice, but who support young people of all faiths and none. This reflects the common values that we share and our commitment to helping the less fortunate members of society.
Since the ‘Transitions’ programme started in 2009 over 125 young people from all over the UK have participated, with referrals from over 40 different referral routes and organisations. Our most recent ‘Transitions’ programme took place earlier this summer at the beginning of July (the start of the midge season in Scotland). A glimpse into the participant journey demonstrates the impact that the ‘Transition’ programme has.
Shona (not her real name), a referral from the Foyer network was the beneficiary of a Joseph Rank Trust bursary. She travelled from London to Inverness to start her wilderness expedition earlier this spring. Her progress towards addressing her personal development needs was commented upon by a staff member
‘Although she showed confidence to talk in front of the group from the beginning of the course she demonstrated an increase in her confidence to assert herself. To begin with she often agreed with others opinions but as the course progressed she began to be able to express alternative opinions. She was able to openly and maturely disagree and talk up in a conversation about ‘exclusive relationships’.
Kevin (not his real name) took part in a wilderness expedition earlier this summer and impressed many of the staff team with his attitude and approach whilst on the expedition and after returning home. His outreach worker commented on the positive turn that he has taken:
‘Kevin returned from the course with a clear idea of what his action plan would be and stated the support he got from VT field team staff was the best he's ever experienced . He wants to thank staff for believing in him and giving him back his self respect and self belief as well as the ability to go forwards in life helping others in similar situations to himself. He is now working as a peer support drug and alcohol worker for the NHS ...’
The programme continues to be popular having real relevance and impact for those participants who undertake this challenging journey. A journey which helps them to shape, change and influence their future and that enables them to reach their destination.
Last week Venture Trust's new Fundraiser, Jenny, took on a seven day Inspiring Young Futures wilderness expedition in the Cairngorms. Here's her diary:
Day 1: 'Getting to Know'
The day had arrived for me to head out on expedition with Venture Trust. As a bit of a city girl, mobile phone always close to hand and a big fan of the odd Starbucks or two, I arrived at Stirling train station after an hour’s journey from Edinburgh feeling more than a little nervous. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, I didn't know anyone, and the idea of living in the wilderness for seven days was a daunting one. However, I viewed the expedition as a great opportunity for me to really see Venture Trust in action, and to see how this city girl would cope with the challenge that lay ahead.
I walked towards the Venture Trust bus and was met with smiles, positivity, and some lunch! The field team were so welcoming and made me feel comfortable right from the word go. I stored my bag and sat down ready to meet the participants, who I’m sure were all feeling the same trepidation as myself.
As the participants arrived on the Venture Trust bus, we all introduced ourselves and where we had travelled from. The atmosphere was a combination of excitement and nerves, but after an impromptu game of hacky sack whilst we handed over our valuables (including our mobile phones, which I think we’d all admit, had to be prised from reluctant fingers!), nerves were gradually replaced by anticipation.
Once we’d said goodbye to our valuables for the week, we discussed our social contract, five very simple conditions: no drugs, no alcohol, no theft, no threatening/violent behaviour, and no exclusive/sexual relationships. It was explained that everyone had a part to play in creating a safe environment for learning and development.
After about a four hour drive and a quick change into our outdoor kit, the group arrived at base camp in Carrbridge and set up the tipis which would become home for the next two days. Next, the camp boundaries were discussed: where the group could smoke, the eating area, and the toilets. What I found particularly interesting was that participants weren’t told what to do or where the boundaries were, they were asked; participants' opinions and suggestions were taken into consideration and everything was mutually agreed on between the participants and the field team.
As day light faded the group set off, with head torches firmly attached to foreheads, on a night-walk around base camp following the river. As another way of getting to know each other, we were given the task of thinking of two truths and one lie which we shared with one another and were grilled on in an attempt to expose the fib. There were a number of pretty imaginative lies, some of which included ‘I have had seven near-death experiences’ and ‘I have recently acquired a chainsaw license’ (I actually fell for that one, and was sorely disappointed when it was exposed as a lie!).
Day 2: ‘Plan, Do, Review, Transfer’
After a filling breakfast of porridge and individual support sessions in which participants laid out their goal for the day (and it was explained that they would continue to set a new goal for each day of their wilderness journey), the group began a motivational game of... passing a stick. However, this terrible description makes it sound simple, and it certainly wasn’t. I’ll explain:
The participants were split into two teams and were separated by a rope. They then had to work out how to pass the stick from one team to the other over the separation without stepping over the rope. This was simple at first, participants just had to lean across and hand the stick over, but as the gap got bigger and bigger, participants had to become more and more imaginative. The value of team-work was stressed as participants had to discuss their technique, and the theme of the day immediately came into play: plan the technique, try it, review it, and transfer it. I have never seen two people held horizontally before, and when the stick was successfully passed over a separation wider than I am tall, the group cheered loud enough to be heard in town.
Late morning, the group then headed to Cummingston to take on a climbing and abseiling challenge on the rocky coast. I was really impressed to see one participant in particular overcome a fear of heights as he dangled from a rope and lowered himself to the ground all the while taking deep calming breaths. As his feet reached the ground his chalk-white face burst into a grin as he realised that he’d taken on the challenge and, with the support of the field team and his fellow participants, beaten it!
Once everyone was back on the rocky ground, the group were set the challenge of building a bridge to a wee island just off the coast, again putting the day’s theme of ‘plan, do, review, transfer’ into action. With a combination of team work and enthusiasm the group finished the bridge, had an opening ceremony, and proudly named it ‘The Bad-Ass Bridge’ (and I have to say, it was pretty bad-ass!).
Later that afternoon we headed back to base-camp to cook our very first meal on a Trangia. The process was explained thoroughly and we all set about making a meal themed around a country. Cooking was creative and the combination of Chinese spices, Spanish chorizo, and Indian curries wafted around camp. As someone who has cooked on a Trangia on a number of occasions, I was really surprised to see the plethora of inventive dishes served up- I had no idea one could make such an exciting meal on a stove! My previous Trangia creations had only ever consisted of a rather dull combination of noodles and packet sauces! Not this time though; I managed to rustle up a dish of fajitas with fresh vegetables and wolfed it down feeling rather pleased with myself.
Before bed, we had an evening meeting in which participants were each given their role for the next day. Some of these included campsite manager, time keeper, navigator, motivator, and environmentalist. The participants were briefed on what their role involved and everyone went to sleep with full tummies, thinking about what tomorrow would bring.
Day 3: ‘Dealing with Change’
Today was the day we left the comforts (or what after three nights sleeping in the Highlands, we’d eventually come to realise as comforts) of base camp. Tents were taken down, tipis were packed away, and the challenge that lay ahead began to seem very real.
After individual support sessions and goal setting, participants were asked to choose the food they would take with them- and there was something to suit everyone’s taste (including myself, a slightly particular vegetarian). Participants were encouraged to take filling, hot food that included protein, carbohydrates, and vegetables, the importance of which was explained carefully in terms of energy levels, nutrition, keeping warm, and feeling full. With individual support from the field team, meals were planned and recipes were discussed.
Once our food was packed in our bags, it really did seem like everything was much simpler; our lives were packed tightly into our rucksacks and would now be carried on our backs.
We set out on the Venture Trust bus which drove us to the beginning of our walk through The Gaick Pass. But before we got started, it was time for our very first motivator to lead a group session and our navigator to get to grips with the map and our impending route.
After a few of hours of walking, we eventually came across what would be camp that evening by a huge dam. After dinner, we had an evening meeting chaired and run by a participant in which we talked about our roles and the day's theme. Each participant had something to contribute and there commenced a detailed discussion about dealing with change and how we could each apply this theme back at home.
That evening, bed time came quickly for the group who were all tired after the first walk and a day of change.
Day 4: ‘Choosing Effective Behaviour’
Day four was a big one! We walked through The Gaick pass carrying rucksacks, water, food, and tents. It was a challenge to say the least, but with consistent encouragement from the day’s motivator we got into the swing of it and headed through the stunning scenery of the Cairngorms.
On our way we met a friendly pony who enjoyed the attention of the group (and some participants even had a carrot or two for him). We saw hares, frogs, frog spawn, and deer tracks. All the while we were kept on time by the day’s time keeper and we made sure to pick up our litter as directed by the environmentalist.
Mid-way through our walk we came across a river, flowing rapidly, and deeper than we first thought. As a group we discussed the best way to cross, whether that was by building ‘Bad-Ass Bridge take-two’, wading, or continuing further along the bank to see if we could find a shallower part. We agreed that the best way to cross was to pull up our trousers, grit our teeth to the cold water, and wade!
Everyone got across first time, except one participant who wasn’t a fan of the idea of wet feet or a particularly strong current. As he became more and more nervous about crossing the river, the field team were on hand to offer him support. Together with the field team, the participant chose effective behaviour and came to a compromise... he would wade if he could tie bin liners around his boots. The group were quick to offer up their bin liners in a show of encouragement and as the participant crossed the river there were whoops and cheers.
He did later admit that he still got wet feet despite the bin liners, but was proud that he’d chosen effective behaviour; rather than simply refusing to cross the river, he thought his options through carefully and offered up a compromise that satisfied himself, the field team, and his fellow participants.
The group neared a possible camp-site but were given the option to keep going to see if they could find a better one. Despite wet feet, the group decided to keep going! We ended up camping at the side of Loch an t-Seilich which was a spectacular setting for the end of day four.
After some stone skimming on the loch (I could never manage more than three bounces!) we cooked dinner together and rounded up the day with an evening review led and chaired by a participant in which we discussed the day’s theme and how we’d each put it into practise. We re-distributed roles and then headed straight to bed. I was asleep as soon as my head hit my make-shift pillow of a rolled up (increasingly dirty) fleece.
Day 5: ‘Trust and Responsibilty’
The day began with a motivational game of ‘Zap’, well at least I think that’s what it’s called. Regardless of name it got the group laughing and ready to begin the day. Today’s theme was introduced in the morning meeting, run by a participant, as ‘Trust and Responsibility’. Once we’d discussed what the theme entailed, participants went into their individual support sessions to choose a goal for the day.
Today the participants were trusted to take responsibility and walk alone. The field team held back after lunch allowing the participants to navigate, pick up litter, and keep an eye on their time without the support or prompting of the staff. The participants rose to the challenge and arrived at camp ahead of schedule without getting lost (and with only one cigarette break!). As soon as they had arrived, the camp manager immediately set about making sure everyone knew the camp boundaries, where the toilets were, where the fuel dump was
(a safe area where Trangia fuel was kept), and where tents would be pitched. By the time the field team had caught up, the group was already well on their way to having an organised camp site.
That evening the support session revolved around five key behaviours: Survival, Love and Belonging, Self- Worth, Fun, and Freedom. Each participant gave an example of each of the five behaviours that was applicable to their own lives. After a short break- more hacky-sack (it’s really quite addictive!) and a surprise visit from a Common Lizard- the group gathered together once again to create their own ‘Quality World’. This involved applying the five key behaviours to their own life and beginning to think about what they would like to include in their Action Plan to take home and put into practise.
Day 6: 'Action Plans'
Once the participants packed up camp and had their individual support session, they each set off on a solo walk. They were encouraged to use this alone time to really reflect on their home lives, their 'Quality World', and begin to plan their Action Plans which they would write with the support of their individual support worker later that day back at base camp.
I was lucky enough to be involved in the Action Plans and could really see the enthusiasm and eagerness of the participants as they planned what they wanted to change at home and how they would go about sustaining this change. The general consensus was that if they can take on this challenge and succeed, they can take on anything back at home (and I whole-heartedly agree)! Once they're home, these Action Plans will be presented to each participant's Venture Trust Outreach Worker who will continue to support them as they put their plans into motion.
Once the Action Plans were written, discussed thoroughly, and agreed upon between participant and support worker, it was time for a celebration barbecue! Steaming hot burgers, roasted peppers, and sausages were served straight from the grill with a side of salad whilst participants congratulated each other and talked positively about home. Once we had eaten 'till we were about to burst at the seam, the group headed down to the Venture Trust bus to watch a slideshow of the week.
It's difficult to describe the atmosphere on the bus that evening... there was an overwhelming sense of pride, excitement about what's to come, but also a twinge of sadness that an amazing week was drawing to an end. Each of the participants were presented with a well-earned certificate along with personalised words of encouragement and feedback from the field team. After hand-shakes, hugs, and congratulations we headed back to camp for one last night's sleep in the wilderness that had become our home and the backdrop of each person's individual achievements.
Day 7: ‘Positive Ending’
We did it! And now our journey together has come to an end. We had tackled a number of physical and emotional challenges, beaten them, and the sense of achievement was electric.
Not only have I learned that actually, I’m not as much of a city girl as I first thought and I can actually survive without my mobile phone and my Starbucks, I now have seen Venture Trust's wilderness journey in action.
More importantly I now understand that putting up a tent is not just about putting up a tent, it's about team-work, efficiency, and organisation. Navigation is not just about navigation, it's about having the confidence to speak in front of a group and the trust that is involved in allowing someone to show you where you're going. Running a morning meeting is not just about running a morning meeting, it's about being brave enough to ask people questions and make your voice heard. And finally, a wilderness-journey is not just about a wilderness-journey, it's about having the perseverance and courage to complete a challenge that was once a daunting prospect, and then take that courage home and apply it where it really matters.
I was sad to say goodbye to the participants but at the same time excited for what’s to come! Armed with a tool belt full of new valuable life skills, I have every faith that every one of them will go on to success and achieve new and wonderful things.
Thank you to each and every person who was a part of my wilderness journey. You’re all unique people with so much to offer. Good luck for the future; you’ll all be amazing at whatever you set out to achieve!
Day 8: The Beginning
Back in the office today, clean, rested, and smelling much better than yesterday! Everyone at head office is excited to hear about my journey, and I’m excited to tell them! As I finish writing my wilderness journey diary I feel an overwhelming pride to be part of such a fantastic life-changing charity and, although I still have a runny nose, I will take away some amazing life-long memories of my own personal wilderness journey.
Venture Trust is a chance for change which each and every one of the participants grabbed with both hands; now it's time for me to do them proud and continue to tell their story along with all the other participants past and present.
Although our time together has come to a end, this isn't the finish for the participants on the Inspiring Young Futures (IYF1401) journey, or for me. It really is just the beginning... and what a bad-ass beginning it is!