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!
Working together, we are offering individuals the opportunity to overcome obstacles in their lives and accelerate towards more positive futures. We’re helping people on their personal development journey, getting their lives back on the rails, and not falling into the trap of making obvious puns in any way shape or form.
In 2013 Network Rail granted funding to support Venture Trust’s work with people who feel their lives have hit the buffers – involved in offending, facing drug/alcohol issues, struggling with unemployment or feeling isolated. Network Rail recognised that Venture Trust could engage individuals with whom many other agencies couldn’t or wouldn’t work. But most importantly, Network Rail also shared an ethos with Venture Trust; that many individuals have the capacity to change, and, with the right support, can flourish and make valuable contributions to their communities. Engineering change if you will...
The starting point, as with all Venture Trust programmes, is providing intensive support to help individuals develop the confidence, the motivation, the aspiration and the core lifeskills they need to make change possible. Time, space and carefully designed support in wilderness environments away from day-to-day pressures helps participants recognise and unlock skills that many of us take for granted. Recognising the “triggers” that wind us up and how to avoid them; communicating effectively with other people and building positive relationships; how to set goals and stick with them. Most importantly, the wilderness of Scotland demands and reveals self-reliance, helps people celebrate their personal achievements often for the first time in their lives, and builds a sense of self-worth and purpose.
And did you know, most participants take the train to the starting point of their journeys from as far afield as Exeter, Wick, London and Ipswich? Sometimes it’s the first time they’ve taken a train, and as the train heads towards Scotland’s amazing mountains, rivers and coastlines, individuals start to reflect on their lives at home, what’s working and what’s not, and so the journey of change is already beginning.
Whilst funding for Venture Trust’s world leading personal development programmes forms a vital component, the partnership with Network Rail also goes well beyond that. We want to offer people employability opportunities, in a sector which is growing with major infrastructure projects across Scotland and the rest of the UK. And we want to help Network Rail in their mission to keep people and the railway safe. So in case there are any engineering jobs going, we’ve done a blueprint for success!
Over the next few months, we’ll aim to keep you updated about this partnership and its successes.
We’ll surprise you with some facts and figures about rail safety.
We’ll show you photos of the work that Network Rail’s money is supporting in Scotland’s wonderful wilderness.
We’ll share incredible stories of lives transformed.
And we’ll stop all this punning, which is frankly de-railing a perfectly good article!
Fantastic news this morning, with the announcement that the BIG Lottery Fund Scotland's 'Young Start' fund has donated £50,000 to Venture Trust. This donation will support the expansion of our Inspiring Young Futures programme to young people in the Highlands, where we know there's demand from young people and referrers.
Run by the Big Lottery Fund Scotland for the Scottish Government, Young Start awards money from dormant bank and building society accounts that have seen no customer activity for at least 15 years.
Venture Trust recieved the largest grant from this funding round, marking the continuation of our fantastic support fdrom the BIG Lottery Fund. Aileen Campbell, Minister for Children and Young People, said: "I've seen first-hand the difference that local initiatives are making to help young people reach their full potential, supported by our partnership with the Big Lottery Fund.
"This year I'm delighted that a wide variety of projects across Scotland have been successful in securing funding either from Young Start or from the Communities and Families Fund, which together are enabling communities to deliver the right kind of support needed to improve the lives of local children and families."
Maureen McGinn, chairwoman of the Big Lottery Fund Scotland committee, said: "I am delighted to announce this funding today. Through both Young Start and the Communities and Families Fund, we help ensure Scotland's next generation has the best possible start in life.
"The awards made today include playgroups and creches working with the very young right up to organisations supporting young people outside the education system.
"All of them make a huge difference by enabling children and young people to gain the abilities, skills and confidence required for positive and healthy futures."
We're thrilled by this news, and look forward to reporting our first ever intake of IYF participants in the Highlands!
We buy it, we use it, we store it.
We use it, we fix it, we patch it.
We re-purpose it, we use it, we Gaffa tape it.
Eventually, we replace it.
...and now, you can help us with that.
Inevitably, in our line of work, we need a fair bit of kit. It's not just important, it's vital. It keeps us and our participants safe, dry and warm, and therefore able to focus on the development and discussion activities that are at the heart of our programmes. And as we head into winter, decent kit and equipment becomes even more vital to our work.
We've launched an Amazon wishlist, where you, our friends and supporters, can donate kit directly to our programmes. It's the easiest and most direct way of seeing exactly where your donation will go, and you'll know that your kit is going directly to use in our 'front line' programme delivery.
Kit starts from just £1.48, and covers just about every aspect of our wilderness expeditions, so we hope there'll be something to suit all budgets and interests. There's water bottles, wetsuit gloves, boot laces, tent pegs and trangias, to name just a few. Oh, and Gaffa tape, obviously.
Will you buy us a present this Christmas? It really is a gift that'll last all year long, and which will benefit hundreds of participants through the winter, and into 2014. To donate some kit, just head over to our wishlist.
This is Stefan Durkacz. In May 2014 he's going to take on an epic challenge - to walk around the watershed of the River Tay - some 290 miles - to raise money for to raise money for Venture Trust and the Scottish Wild Land Group, supported by the British boot manufacturer Alt-Berg.
This is a huge challenge, estimated to take around 5 weeks to complete. We wanted to find out a bit more about Stefan, and his challenge:
What exactly is the 'River Tay Catchment'?
A catchment is the area drained by a river system. The River Tay is Scotland's most extensive river system, draining an area of nearly 2,000 square miles, mostly in the southern and central Highlands. It's also the largest river in Britain in terms of the amount of water it discharges into the sea.
I'll be walking the entire boundary of the River Tay catchment, starting from Monifieth Sands east of Dundee. The route will follow the watersheds between the River Tay and other river systems, through the eastern Mounth, the central and southern Highlands, and finally along the Ochil Hills from Gleneagles to the North Sea at Tentsmuir Point in north-east Fife.
Why have you chosen to take on such a challenge?
I've always loved the outdoors, especially the hills and mountains of Scotland, and have long wanted to take on the challenge of an extended backpacking expedition. I've been guilty of being a Munro bagger in the past, climbing hills and ticking them off the list. More recently I've moved away from this and become more focused on backpacking and long-distance walks, which I think offer greater satisfaction. Most of the areas this walk will take me through I've visited before on day trips. Journeying over the land under my own steam, being self-sufficient, sleeping out in the hills and linking all these places together on foot, is a thrilling prospect, and I expect I'll get to know them much more deeply.
Turning 40 in 2013 has pushed me to make it happen as well. I felt it was now or never.
So why this walk in particular? It will take me about a month or so to complete - as I'm married with two children, this is already pushing it! Any more would be asking too much. There's also the fact, as I mentioned, that the walk covers mostly familiar territory. I'm hoping this will increase my chances of success, as my backpacking experience is fairly limited. To paraphrase something I read from veteran backpacker Chris Townsend, the only way to find out if you can get through a long backpacking trip is to get out there and start walking.
Finally, as I far as I can tell, it's an original route that hasn't been walked in its entirety before. This gives it a bit of an exciting and exploratory feel.
How challenging is it?
Because the route follows the high ground between river systems, it's essentially a mountain walk, so will be physically demanding especially if the weather is poor. There are 31 Munros along the Tay catchment boundary, and many other hills, ridges and moors. Most of the route is trackless and tends to stay away from towns and villages. In fact, between the Cairnwell Pass and Drumochter Pass, it crosses some of the remotest hills and moors in Britain. I'll be wild camping mostly, and am hoping for some good early summer weather, rather than the wintry May we had this year. However, this is Scotland, so anything could happen, and I'm prepared for the worst!
I expect it to be mentally demanding as well. I've never walked this distance before in a single trip, or spent so much time camping in the outdoors. Continuous bad weather can sap morale, and the concentration needed to navigate properly, make sound judgements, and stay safe in poor conditions can be draining.
Also, although friends and family will walk parts of the route with me, most of the time I'll be on my own. I often enjoy walking and camping solo on short trips, but how I'll cope with extended periods of solitude remains to be seen. Most of all I'll miss my wife and children. I've planned in a few rest days in villages near to the route so we can meet up.
If success was 100% guaranteed, it wouldn't be much of an adventure. However, with good planning and preparation, there's no reason I can't succeed. Reading the blogs of experienced long-distance backpackers and how they go about it has been especially useful.
Why have you chosen to support Venture Trust and the Scottish Wild Land Group?
I was lucky enough to have regular access to the outdoors from a very young age, as my family used to own a house in the Highlands.
It wasn't until I was a lot older that I began to realise how much I had taken it all for granted. I also began to understand more about issues such as conservation and land ownership, and how threatened our few remaining wild places are by exploitation and development. Sadly, people – especially children – are becoming increasingly detached from nature, and many in positions of power don't seem to understand what's being lost. It's hard to measure the value of wild land in terms of money, but Venture Trust's work proves the value is nevertheless real. Access to the wilderness can help turn even the most difficult lives around.
So, whilst I initially wanted to do the walk just as a personal challenge, I decided to use it as an opportunity to support Venture Trust, and also Scottish Wild Land Group, a volunteer-run charity that campaigns for the protection and promotion of Scotland's wild land, and publishes a very informative magazine called Wild Land News which everyone who enjoys the outdoors should read.
How can we keep up to date with the challenge?
Check out my blog, at http://ansgarsoch.blogspot.co.uk/, where you can sign up for updates.
How can we get involved?
Support Stefan's challenge by sponsoring his two chosen charities:
Venture Trust: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/taycatchmentwalkvt
and the Scottish Wild Land Group: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/taycatchmentwalkswlg
Please, if you can, split your donation between both Venture Trust and Scottish Wild Land Group.