• | Fundraisers' stories | News | Participant stories

    Venture Trust & Network Rail: “On track” employability partnership

    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’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:

    Network Rail The Scottish Government Comic Relief

    For a full list of our funding partners please click here.

  • | Fundraisers' stories | News

    Team Applecross Run The London Marathon

    It's not every day you get the chance to run over 26 miles through London... it's not every day you would want to run over 26 miles through London, but Jess is doing just that in aid of Venture Trust!

    This year celebrates The London Marathon's 35th anniversary, and it's a very special year for Venture Trust too- our first ever London Marathon runner will pound the streets of the capital to raise money for Venture Trust! Jess, who is the Business Development Manager of Venture Trust's social enterprise, Venture Mòr, is currently training hard in the outstanding natural landscapes of Scotland with her team of Applecross runners.

    She is joined by Sarah, who's is raising money for Fight for Sight, and 'Granddad Gerry' who's raising money for Prostate Cancer UK. Together they have organised a number of events, from Zumba-thons, to bake sales, micro-marathons, to film nights to raise their pledged targets of a whopping £2,000 each for their chosen charity. You can follow their progress on Facebook, Twitter, and on their website and blog too.

    On why she decided to take on the challenge, Jess told us:

    "I have been blown away by the good things [Venture Trust does] for disadvantaged young adults through outdoor adventure. A lot of the people who come through the Venture Trust's doors have been missed or even turned away by society. It is the hard work, patience and utter brilliance of the people at this organization that really make a difference to so many young lives.

    The money raised for the Venture Trust will go some way towards funding more places for young people that, because of their past experiences, have become marginalised and vulnerable and are living chaotic lifestyles. The Venture Trust wilderness courses use a combination of counselling, constructive support, practical help and outdoor adventure to provide individuals with the capacity to make positive changes, and to take responsibility for their lives.

    I work for Venture Mòr, the newly established social enterprise wholly owned by Venture Trust. We are made up of three parts: an outdoor activity company providing adventure holidays across the Highlands; a large hub in the form of Hartfield House hostel in Applecross, and; a pledge to provide a springboard into the world of work for disadvantaged young adults. So raising funds for Venture Trust is an extension of what we are trying to do through Venture Mòr.

    I will be working for my money, hosting regular events and putting myself through my paces every week in the spectacularly steep hills of Applecross. For full details of all our events and training, check the Team Applecross Run London facebook page."

    Please pop over to Jess' fundraising page to make a donation and cheer her on... afterall, she's the one doing the leg work... 26 miles of it!

    If you feel like taking on a similar challenge, please do have a look at our events page!

  • | Fundraisers' stories | News | Participant stories

    On Yer Bike!

    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

  • | News

    Our first programme for future leaders

    Calling future business leaders...

    Venture Trust has launched its first leadership programme aimed at middle managers across business sectors and functions.

    We've assembled a team of highly experienced facilitators to offer business a high impact 30 hour residential leadership programme that introduces and reinforces a ready-to-use toolset around Exemplary Leadership.

    The programme draws on our expertise in achieving transformational impact by delivering development programmes - we challenge people to discover their strengths, explore new ways of thinking and enable them to see their potential differently.


    • A strong emphasis on communications gives constant feedback and a richer learning experience.
    • Short, intense package gives immediately applicable development and a rapid return on investment.

    • Small group size gives ample opportunity for individuals to experiment, witness and absorb the fundamentals of leadership.

    Find out more

    The programme runs on 17-18 November at a rural location approximately 45 minutes from Edinburgh and Glasgow. Accommodation, meals and materials are all included.

    To find out more and book your place, please contact Amelia Morgan - or call 0131 228 7700.

  • | News

    The 2014 Living Wild Referrers' Survey Results Are In

    Living Wild Referrer Survey 2014: Key Messages

    Venture Trust recently surveyed our referral partners across Scotland to gather their feedback on our criminal justice programmes. We sent surveys to 889 referral agencies across all 32 of Scotland’s local authorities, and were delighted to receive 95 responses from Social Work Teams, Courts, Third Sector Partners, Prisons, Youth Justice Services and Employability Services. Their feedback helps us monitor how our criminal justice programmes – such as Living Wild and Next Steps – are being received, and where we can improve them for participants in the future.

    We were very pleased to note some encouraging findings. The survey results showed that The Living Wild programme enjoys an extremely high national and local reputation, and is seen by all stakeholders as an important contribution to reducing re-offending at a national and local level. 96% of respondents said there would be a significant gap in service if the programme was not available in their area. We also discovered that referral partners value the combination of long-term, community-based support with the intensive, challenging wilderness journey, and value the distinct Venture Trust approach to personal development. The top-cited reason for referral given by 93% of responders was to improve confidence, and every single aspect of the programme listed in the survey was identified as “important” or “very important” by at least 83% of respondents.

    A more extensive analysis of findings can be found below:

    1) There is high demand for the service, with 96% of respondents indicating that there would be a “gap in provision available” if Venture Trust’s criminal justice programmes did not exist. Only 6% of respondents felt that there was “adequate alternative personal development provision that achieves similar outcomes” to whom they could refer individuals in the absence of Venture Trust provision. Written feedback also strongly supported these findings (see below).

    2) Referral partners use Venture Trust programmes to achieve a wide variety of outcomes and address a range of criminogenic needs. The most commonly cited reasons for referral to the Living Wild programme (each identified by 80% or more of respondents) included enabling participants to:

    • Reduce their risk of reoffending/change offending behaviours
    • Develop better coping strategies to deal with difficult situations/pressure
    • Improve their ability to develop positive relationships with others
    • Improve confidence
    • Broaden their aspirations of what they can achieve in life

    The top cited reason for referral by 93% of respondents was helping participants to improve their confidence.

    3) Referral partners value the combination of long-term, community-based support with the intensive, challenging wilderness journey and value the distinct Venture Trust approach to personal development. Every single aspect of the programme listed in the survey was identified as “important” or “very important” by at least 83% of respondents. Interestingly 99% of referrers emphasised the importance of the holistic nature of the programme by identifying that “a combination of all of these” was important or very important.

    The Distinct Venture Trust approach to personal development

    The top three most commonly cited elements contributing to the programme’s impact on participants (each identified as “important” or “very important” by at least 98% of respondents) were:

    • The chance to achieve goals and have them recognised and celebrated (99%);
    • The distinct Venture Trust approach to personal development (98%); and
    • The quality/approach of Venture Trust staff. (98%)

    Wilderness Journey

    Respondents also highlighted the importance of the wilderness journey experience as an essential element of Venture Trust’s work and the inherent catalyst for change.

    Over 90% of respondents said it was important or very important for participants to have:

    • The chance to have time and space away from the pressures of day-to-day life; to experience the sense of taking a journey, both physically and emotionally; and to have the opportunity to experience periods of solitude and reflection .
    • The chance to live and work in a group setting; to function without alcohol and street drugs/substances and to access the intensive support provided 24 hours per day.

    Over 80% of respondents also said it was important or very important for participants to:

    • Have the opportunity to face the inherent challenges posed by living and journeying in the wilderness and the challenges posed by outdoor activity sessions;
    • Face the challenges posed by the development and review sessions.

    Long term community based support

    Over 90% of respondents said it was important or very important for participants to have:

    • The chance to access an extended period of support, advice, and guidance offered by a 12-14 month programme and to access 1:to:1 support within the local community .

    Over 80% of respondents said it was important or very important for participants to have:

    • Encouragement and signposting to identify and access support provided by other agencies, programmes, and services; and support to access and identify local employment, training, education, and voluntary services.

    Written comments (from 53 respondents) were overwhelmingly positive, with the majority citing the achievements of participants, the impact of the programme on reducing (re-) offending, and requesting the continuation of the programme. Examples include:

    • ‘The Venture Trust allows the Young People we work with to address their attitudes to their offending. It provides the young people with an alternative to custody, and offers them the skills to make positive life choices for their future. There are no such services similar to this within the area and I fear, without this, many of our young people, particularly the first time offenders who have made poor choices, will end up in custody or following a pro-criminal lifestyle.’‘All my clients who have completed the programme have returned more confident and with goals that they have set. This seems to be reflected in their subsequent behaviour as there seems to be a noticeable reduction in their offending.’

    • ‘I have found that clients who have participated and engaged with the Venture trust programmes have returned with more self confidence and motivation to change and this impacts on their ability to desist from offending.’
    • ‘It provides opportunities to those within the criminal justice system who would not otherwise be offered this type of support. It allows people time to recognise what they can contribute to society, how they can change their lives, and how they can find alternative ways of dealing with the issues they face and causes behind their offending in a non-judgemental way.’
    • ‘From my experience, Venture Trust provides challenging opportunities for young people which can provide so much in terms of promoting confidence, communication skills, group work skills and supporting individuals to see that there are real and positive alternatives to the lives they have been leading. I believe that it is a very valuable resource.’
    • ‘Venture Trust forms an important part of the toolkit available to those working with young people involved in offending, it provides a unique service and offers challenges and opportunities for young people in terms of group living, practical skills and personal reflection that is unavailable elsewhere.’
    • ‘The services offered by Venture Trust are highly valued by community criminal justice social work services. I have seen the benefits participation in the course have brought to the lives of young people; who have gained in confidence and made substantial, lasting changes to their lives upon their return. I think the location of Venture Trust is also crucial. There is something symbolic about driving over the highest road in the UK in one frame of mind and returning with a changed outlook! I would be concerned if the work of the Trust was at risk as a valuable, cost effective support service would be lost to some of our most vulnerable young people.’

    Respondents also identified particular operational queries or areas for improvement; feedback which Venture Trust management consider extremely valuable and which is already influencing operational developments in the context of resources currently available. This included requests and comments which identified the need for similar programmes for those aged 30+. Some further guidance and advice in response to specific queries about post journey support will also be taken forwards. All individual responses have of course been treated in the strictest of confidence and anonymity.

    ‘The impact of Venture Trust upon the lives of young people who are 'ready' is a truly incredible thing to have witnessed. The programmes offer a powerful way to support individuals to experience a potential in themselves that perhaps they never knew existed and to help them genuinely move forward.’

    ‘This is a unique & innovative programme in Scotland & the outcome data is tangible evidence it delivers successfully. Central funding & the national provision of the programme are key to its future success & development.’

    Get the full survey results here.

    Dowload a copy of The Key Messages here.

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