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.”
Annabelle McPherson struggled with alcohol addiction.
Her dependence on alcohol was like a weight dragging her down beneath the water and had significantly impacted her and her family.
However, with support from Venture Trust and partner organisations, Annabelle has turned her life around and is repaying those who helped her when she was sinking. She has “swum” the Tweed River raising funds so others facing the same struggles she once did can get support.
“I wanted to help, in a small way, other people in similar situations to myself and give them hope,” Annabelle said.
“Venture Trust helped me to learn that although alcohol took a lot from me it didn't mean my life was over and that I could recover and be a responsible and worthwhile person in society and for this I cannot thank them enough.”
In June 2015 Annabelle enrolled on Venture Trust’s 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.
Two years later, the mother of two is giving hope and inspiration to other people.
In the early hours of August 18, when most people were waking up for breakfast, Annabelle set off on the final two lengths of her epic swim at her local swimming pool in Duns. When she touched the wall after length 6144 – or 96 miles – it signalled the end of an incredible two-and-a-half months of dedication, grit and endurance.
Almost 30 people, including her two daughters, joined Annabelle for her final lengths in the water and cheered as she “swam out past the lighthouse at Berwick-upon-Tweed”.
“That was great, really really good. When I got in the pool I was quite emotional but when I started to swim I just got on with it,” Annabelle said as she dried off.
“It hasn’t really sunk in. Some people might think it is utter madness but it has been good for me.”
To complete her marathon fund-raising effort, Annabelle powered through just over 100 lengths each day, five days a week. Her record for a day was 180 lengths!!
A fellow pool user said: "Anyone who swims will know what she has achieved. It's one thing to swim 100 lengths in one day, but to do it five days a week for two plus months, that is something else!!!"
Duns swimming pool manager Kirsty Inkpen said Annabelle should now “swim around the coast of Britain”.
“What she has achieved is absolutely wonderful. She’s done brilliant,” Kirsty said.
“Annabelle is a true inspiration to everyone. She has come a long way - I went to school with her. She took each day as it came and it just goes to show what you can achieve. I've never seen her so happy. She just looks so happy.”
To date Annabelle’s swim has raised over £1,200 for Venture Trust. Donations can still be made until the end of September online at Virgin Money Giving.
“The money I am raising will hopefully help people who have fallen on hardship and lost their way and enable them to rebuild their confidence and self-esteem to enjoy a better more fulfilling life,” Annabelle said.
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.”
You can still donate to Mark's cause and help him achieve his goals. Click here for his Virgin Money Giving page.
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.
Today marks the end of Volunteers’ Week Scotland (1-7 June 2017), which has seen charities celebrate the vital contribution made by volunteers the length and breadth of the country – the work of volunteers contributes an estimated £2.6 billion every year to the Scotland.
Nikki has been volunteering with the funding team at our Edinburgh office for two days a week since September 2016, and has made a great contribution to our fundraising efforts, particularly focussing on making applications to Trusts & Foundations. As someone who has a love of the outdoors and a desire to help people negotiate difficult life situations, she told us,
"I’m very much drawn to the ethos and values of the Venture Trust. I’m inspired by how the charity combines lessons and values that can be gained by wilderness challenges with very practical, valuable life skills once back home."
Nikki, who lives in Edinburgh with her husband and children, also volunteers as a Beaver Scout Leader, and loves getting herself and her family outdoors. She has taken on a number of charity challenges over the years, completing the Edinburgh Marathon for us in 2014.
"It was an amazing experience running the marathon for Venture Trust in 2014- the fundraising team were really encouraging and appreciative of my efforts and I knew then it was for a great cause.
“Now, volunteering in Venture Trust’s head offices, I get to see more of where the fundraising money goes and the amazing difference the charity Trust makes to people's lives. I would heartily encourage anyone considering doing a sponsored challenge to consider doing it for Venture Trust.”
Nicola Clark, our Employability & HR Officer commented,
“Volunteers bring a unique range of skills and abilities to complement those of our fantastic staff team, and create additional capacity to develop key pieces of work. In 2016/17 volunteers contributed an incredible 890 hours to supporting our fundraising, finance and administrative functions.
“We recognise the generosity of individuals giving up their time and sharing their expertise with us, and pride ourselves on ensuring all volunteering opportunities are of value to the individual too; whether through tailored and supported inductions, providing opportunity for volunteers to attend in-house training opportunities or registering volunteers for Saltire Awards to formally acknowledge hours committed to Venture Trust.”
A huge thank you to all our volunteers, past and present, who have freely contributed their time, skills, and enthusiasm to support Venture Trust.
Upcoming opportunities include volunteer positions on our Board of Directors.
If you are interested in volunteering with Venture Trust please get in touch with Nicola on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0131 228 7700.