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    Life chances should not be a postcode lottery: Andrew Russell

    A young person, or in fact anyone’s, life chances should not be a postcode lottery. Where someone grew up, their family background or previous negative and damaging experiences should not define them.

    However, the recent issues involving the exam results of young people in Scotland and the rest of the UK sadly show and reflect the inequality and attainment gaps that exist between people from wealthier and poorer areas. When systems designed and intended to be “fair and credible” result in in disproportionately affecting young people from areas of deprivation, society needs to stop and take note. Algorithms and AI systems will never get this right while young people from deprived areas continue to be left behind.

    We know young people from poorer areas already have the odds stacked against them. Scottish government figures show last year, before COVID-19, only 43.5% of children from the most deprived areas got at least one Higher compared to 79.3% of children from the least deprived areas. Research also shows young people from poor families are also three times less likely to be in a job or course after leaving school. And less likely to keep a job.

    Achieving good results at school despite the challenges of living in areas of multiple deprivation can be an important lifeline to having a better life. Young people should be judged on their individual performances and efforts and not the address of their school or family.

    A fair and credible system would see individuals from poor areas enjoy a fair chance to earn the same grades as their better-off peers. Instead, this year’s U-turn on moderated results has made clear what we’ve always known – that young people’s chances depend too much on the levels of deprivation they grow up in.

    This stark revelation of the role poverty plays in people’s chances should make us take a good hard look at the system that creates it. This is partly about investment in schools, but it is also about investment in communities and individuals. Growing up in poverty creates barriers for people that the better off do not have to face. Removing these barriers - poor mental health, loss of confidence, lack of role models – will support young people to succeed in education.

    We also acknowledge school is not the perfect fit for every young person. For those who do struggle as a result of barriers and challenges such as chaotic and unstable environments, school might not be a lifeline. Other pathways need to be available for them.

    At Venture Trust we specialise in working and supporting young people for whom school has been a struggle or have left school because they are dealing with issues like alcohol and drug misuse, poor family relationships, mental health issues, learning and housing issues.

    The young people we work with first require significant investment to achieve greater stability – addressing chaotic or destructive behaviours to become ready for training and employment so that they can sustain a job.

    Our personal development and learning support for young people helps them set out and achieve their goals, grow in confidence and stability. We help participants to work on skills such as establishing trust, personal boundaries, consequential thinking, problem-solving, dealing with challenging situations, and responsibility and accountability. These life skills need to be acquired before long-term unemployment and the issues this brings can be tackled.

    We will sustain our support when restrictions are eased by restarting our innovative Change Cycle employability programme with our delivery partners The Bike Station and Bike for Good. [The programme has been paused during the pandemic.] Working around guidelines, the elements of the programme will include employability sessions, bike construction and maintenance including workshop experience and a short outdoor residential that has work-related tasks, and biking. In the meantime, our employability team continue supporting young people through digital workshops and physical distanced face-to face meetings to help them into jobs, training, study and volunteering.

    We have released our independent evaluation that shows with the appropriate and sustained support young people from deprived areas can find a path that is right for them.

    We're very proud of this report which shows the success of our Change Cycle programme - and especially we're very proud of our participants for achieving these results. In the current climate, we know that many young people will be looking for support in getting into work. Change Cycle will continue running to offer this support to as many people as we can reach.

    Read the full evaluation report here: Evaluation of the Venture Trust’s CashBack Change Cycle 2017-2020

    Andrew Russell is Venture Trust's Head of Programme Performance and Impact

  • | News | Participant stories

    Breaking the cycle of disadvantage: Cashback Change Cycle Evaluation

    We are proud to launch the independent evaluation of our youth employability programme - Cashback Change Cycle.

    A programme that has engaged and supported more than 200 young people from disadvantaged and deprived areas of Scotland move towards a positive future.

    With three-year funding from The Scottish Government through its CashBack for Communities, we developed the CashBack Change Cycle (CBCC) programme, an innovative employability programme in partnership with The Bike Station in Edinburgh and Bike for Good in Glasgow. The elements of the programme included employability sessions, bike construction and maintenance including workshop experience and a short wilderness residential that has work-related tasks, and biking.

    It was a programme designed to reach those young people aged 16-24 who were not in education, training or employment. This included young people who face multiple barriers to their career progression, such as involvement with the criminal justice system, homelessness, alcohol and drug use, poor mental health, caring responsibilities, a care-experienced background or early social work involvement.

    After three years, Rocket Science has produced an independent evaluation report that highlights the impacts of the programme.

    It works. That is why we are continuing to run the programme.

    There are many agencies getting young people ready for work but most of those young adults already have the soft skills to engage in training or to start working. The people Venture Trust help first require significant investment to achieve greater stability – addressing chaotic or destructive behaviours to become ready for training and employment so that they can sustain a job.

    They are often dealing with one or more of the following: poverty, alcohol and drug addiction, poor family relationships, mental health issues, learning and housing issues. The majority also have had little or no work experience.

    The programme aimed to help participants increase their motivation and self-confidence, develop vocational and employability skills, and support their progression towards work, training or study, increasing the stability of their lives.

    The outcomes achieved by young people throughout the three years of the programme show the powerful and positive impact of innovative and person-centred support.

    Nearly all the targets were exceeded but more importantly the young people we worked with rode away with a new bike armed with the skills, motivation and confidence to break the cycle of disadvantage holding them back.

    Despite youth unemployment figures in Scotland having dropped significantly when the programme was launched, almost 4000 young people remained long-term unemployed because they lack the very basic life skills needed to begin working towards securing and sustaining a job.

    Now with the impact of Covid-19 is being felt heavily by young people in Scotland, especially on their future employment prospects a programme like CashBack Change Cycle is never more needed. For those young people who were furthest away from the job market before the coronavirus crisis, inequalities are likely to get worse before they get better. Solutions that include the voices of young people are integral to ensure they are not left behind.

  • | News | Participant stories

    Venture Trust: Back working in Scotland’s communities and greenspaces

    With the easing of lockdown, we have resumed face-to-face work with participants.

    This will be one-to-one and in outdoor spaces observing physical distancing. Our staff are using public greenspaces local to those people we are working with. While initially the number of participants staff can meet will be limited, we have ensured all those who want and need physical meetings will get it.

    Safely – under the Scottish Government’s route map – we can start building back better by being there in person.

    For many of the people we support the ability to meet their worker face-to-face will be a huge boost to their wellbeing, learning and development. We know being cut off physically from their Venture Trust key worker has proved difficult and stressful. In addition, regular meetings with social workers, addiction counsellors, mentors and community workers could no longer take place in person. This further disrupted partnerships between organisations supporting Scotland’s most vulnerable.

    Venture Trust director of operations Mike Strang says:

    “The act of social connection – walking and talking, sharing life’s struggles and looking at options to make changes (even at a physical distance) – will be invaluable and beneficial for both those needing and those delivering support. Our staff will offer participants support and guidance, connecting them with services and opportunities in their local communities, and helping them to make and sustain positive changes in their lives.

    "Working with a network of local partners, organisations and services, participants will be able to access the best possible package of support and opportunities.”

    We discovered during the coronavirus crisis that the impacts, including reduced social contact, self-isolation and disruption of services, had a disproportionate effect on people who were already struggling with complex life circumstances.

    In response we adapted so we could continue to be there. We turned our services outside – in, moving from group-based personal development in Scotland’s outdoors and in communities to working with smart technology to reach those who needed help most in their own homes. Phone calls, video chats and text messages replaced meeting face-to-face. And for those who could use those lifelines, help has still been available. This digital service continued to reach more than 300 people.

    But we also found that for too many people the capacity to reach help was throttled by data poverty. They didn’t have the kit, data capacity or skills to reach support services. This further isolated and continues to cut off those who need the most help. In response we will continue to advocate and work to alleviate data poverty alongside other organisations, government, funders and partners.

    So, as we start to see restrictions lift, we will begin to move towards our ‘new normal’: returning to our core programmes while keeping the best bits of learning from the last three months to build back better. By blending our physical and digital services we can provide the best possible offer of support for those who need it most.

  • | News

    Venture Trust signs Open Letter to Boris: “Kick start the economy by investing in jobs and people”

    Venture Trust along with over 200 organisations across the UK, has signed an open letter to the Prime Minister, calling on the Government to publicly commit to a new Opportunity Guarantee.

    The UK is experiencing the biggest economic crisis in 300 years, and on Tuesday 16th June latest figures are expected to show the highest rate of unemployment in over 100 years.

    The new Opportunity Guarantee scheme, backed by some of the UK’s biggest employers, would help to kick start the UK’s economic recovery by investing in jobs of the future, helping people access the jobs market, and providing opportunities for young people.

    The open letter, signed by cross industry partners - including The Prince’s Trust, Heathrow Airport, Asda, universities and charities – has political backing from Metro Mayors Steve Rotheram (Liverpool City Region), Dan Jarvis (Sheffield City Region) and Jamie Driscoll (North of Tyne Combined Authority).

    Together, over 200 voices called on Government to invest in a new Opportunity Guarantee that:

    - Promotes job creation by investing in the jobs that we need for the future

    - Doubles the capacity in services that help people into jobs, with greatest support for those facing disadvantage

    - Provides an education place, apprenticeship, or job for every young person

    Commenting on the open letter, Lord Bob Kerslake said: “The message to Government is clear – with the Jobs retention Scheme winding up, we must invest in an Opportunities Guarantee. We need to create opportunities for people to skill up, and have a guaranteed role in our economic recovery, and we must put these plans in place now.”

    Venture Trust CEO Amelia Morgan said: “We need to act now and invest in an Opportunities Guarantee to protect more futures. We know from the evidence of the 2008 financial crash that if we do nothing the economic impact of this crisis will fall disproportionately on poor families and communities, and on young people at the start of their careers. Investing in young people, especially those at significant risk of being left behind, will enable us to support them to build the skills and foundations for greater resilience whilst they navigate taking up training opportunities or maximising their chances of getting in, and staying in work.”

  • | News

    Life in lockdown – helping those cut off from help

    Lockdown’s lost services knock people off track

    For people already in a difficult place and getting support to turn their lives around, this pandemic together with lockdown and isolation from family, friends and support services could knock them off track. Half of our clients worry that they face damaging social isolation.

    Lockdown is vital for reducing the spread of infection, keeping us safe and avoiding overwhelming the NHS. No question it’s the right thing to do. But for people who were already facing personal challenges or suffering from the effects of poverty and inequality, lockdown means new problems to address.

    Vital support disrupted

    The effect of lockdown on the people we support has been not only to make their lives even harder but to disrupt the support they need. We are very conscious that for the people we help lockdown has the potential to knock them and their families even further off course.

    At Venture Trust we work with people who want our help to turn their lives around and reach their full potential. They come to us already dealing with a range of issues such as poor mental health, lack of qualifications, substance misuse, or fractured family relationships. Sadly, many face not one but many of these challenges. Alongside our vital partners we help provide the support they need to get their lives back on track. We are part of a team of charities and government agencies providing a network of support for an individual.

    Listening to people’s lockdown fears

    One of the first things we did was to pick up the phone and ask the people we are supporting what they felt lockdown would mean for them. We spoke to 125 people in the first two weeks of lockdown and this is what we found:

    • 48% were worried about social isolation negatively affecting them.

    • 25% suffered from data poverty and worried they would struggle to access help online

    • 33% worried that lockdown would aggravate their mental health problems. (Half of our participants already arrive with mental health issues).

    • 16% were concerned about coping with addiction without access to support services.

    • Over 80% wanted to speak to their community worker at least once a week.

    Concerns over the financial costs of isolation were also significant:

    • 13% - over one in eight – were worried about their finances.

    • 10% were worried about access to food.

    • 15% were worried about how a prolonged period of lockdown will affect their chances of returning to work.

    These findings will no doubt be mirrored across Scotland. The new reality of reduced social contact, self-isolation and disruption of services will have a disproportionate effect on people who were already struggling with complex life circumstances.

    We need to change what we do to keep doing what we do

    In response we have literally turned our services outside – in, moving from group-based personal development in Scotland’s wilderness and outdoors in communities to working with smart technology to reach those who need help most in their own homes. Our new support service is online, with all Venture Trust outreach and development staff providing tailored support by phone, video link or other digital means

    Re-organising how we work was a team effort that involved everyone in Venture Trust pulling together to try something new. We know there will be a lot of organisations trying to adapt so here’s what we’ve learned throughout this process:

    • Put your beneficiaries first. Because we’d talked to people we knew what help they needed. But it still took effort to make sure we focused on these needs and not on what would be easier or less disruptive for us.

    • Moving quickly means letting go. One of the most inspiring aspects of this challenge has been seeing what can happen when you give staff the freedom to come up with their own solutions rather than trying to force change from the top down.

    • Keep talking. Letting people find their own adaptations works but the next step is to share them. Make sure everyone knows what’s happenign and what’s changing.

    • Admin is everything. Once you’ve got new ways of working, you need to make them part of your system. It doesn’t need to be complicated, but to get everyone on the same page quickly you will need new processes for handling these new ways of working – especially for sensitive information.

    • Look to the future. Some of these changes will be temporary, but some might stick. And even “temporary” could be longer than you think. Makes sure you’ll be able to properly report on what you’ve done, even if only for your own learning down the line.

    This is a team effort

    We are continuing to take new referrals as well as supporting our existing clients. Beyond that, we are already working alongside local and national government, the wider public sector, our partners in the charity sector and our funders and corporate partners to play our small part to help minimise the disruption lockdown brings to those who were already at risk of falling through the cracks.

    We’d also love to hear from everyone else working through these issues. There’s a lot to learn and we’d be very happy to be part of a wider conversation about how Scotland’s third sector adapts to the challenges of coronavirus and lockdown.

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