At his lowest point Jim Gardiner was too scared to go outside his front door.
“I might have been the only smoker who would run out of tobacco but be too afraid to go down to the corner shop and buy a new packet,” the former British soldier says. “There should be no reason to be afraid to go out your own home. There are no lions out there … in Falkirk at least. No one is dropping bombs. But there I was trapped in my own house.”
Jim was in a state of “really deep” and “dark” depression and suffering from severe anxiety. “There was absolute fear and terror, over nothing.”
The downward spiral in Jim’s life began when his family life fell to pieces after a successful military career with the Royal Corps of Signals.
“I served in the 70s and loved every minute of my time in the signals. As a young man my time in the army set me up for life. I had done a brilliant apprenticeship. I was full of confidence, full of beans and energy.”
Jim shakes his head when he recalls how he went “from that good place to being depressed, miserable and anxious.”
The death of his brother at 21, his divorce and the death of his father in a short time hit Jim hard. This was followed by coping as a single dad to two daughters and fighting a custody battle for his two sons. These series of challenges knocked him down a hole flooded with adrenaline with no apparent way to haul himself out.
“I had become unemployable even if I did decide I wanted to go out there and get a job. I was too nervous to go to interviews or sit in large groups of people. I was missing family events. A man should never be too frightened to spend time with his children and grandchildren.”
It was when Jim was at his lowest point and trapped inside the four walls of his home that he was referred to Venture Trust by its partner agency Poppyscotland and their Employ-Able programme, run with SAMH.
Jim was accepted onto the Positive Futures programme. The programme provides specialist support to ex-service men and women struggling with the transition to civilian life and is funded by the Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT), a £35 million funding scheme run by FiMT using an endowment awarded by the Big Lottery Fund.
“I met Sharon my outreach worker and we would catch up once a week. Eventually we were meeting in cafes, shopping centres and other public places. And I didn’t notice at first but gradually we were meeting in busier and busier places. Sharon began to teach me my fears were unfounded. I was getting back into the outside world again.”
The next phase in Jim’s journey was a five day wilderness expedition with other ex-servicemen. The personnel development programmes are specifically designed to help with the transition to civilian life. Individuals are taken out of their usual environment, and the outdoors are used as a catalyst for positive change, redeploying skills learnt within the military and the learning of new skills. Following the journey, veterans like Jim continue to receive one-to-one support for up to 18 months.
“As a group and individually we were improving our confidence, motivation and developing new skills to better deal with stressful, unfamiliar or negative situations,” he says. “It was a combination of an education from other ex-servicemen, the Venture Trust team and the wilderness and weather.”
The anxiety and nerves that had been holding Jim back began to loosen their grip and his confidence started to return while he was out in the Scottish wilderness.
“When I returned from the wilderness journey, I felt back to my old self again. Not somebody new. Not somebody invented. It was the full of confidence, full of enthusiasm me. Like I was when I was a young soldier.”
Jim’s time away, his participation in the personal development programmes and his commitment to making the most of the one-to-one support from his outreach worker put him in a place where he felt confident enough to apply for a job.
One of the jobs was a traineeship being offered by Venture Trust.
“I had to go through the job application and the job interview. I wouldn’t have been able to do that before the Positive Futures programme. Less than a year ago you couldn’t get me out of the front door without a crowbar,” Jim reflects.
Jim got his traineeship and now works as an admin and stores assistant at the Venture Trust National Participant Centre. His job involves prepping and kitting out fellow veterans heading out on their wilderness journey along with participants on Venture Trust’s other programmes. And often he can be found sharing an encouraging word and a cigarette with those following in his footsteps, helping to settle their nerves.
Now even more veterans like Jim will be able to get help and support transitioning to civilian life after Venture Trust was awarded a £699,384 LIBOR funding grant in November. The grant from the UK Government will enable Venture Trust to support 180 more former servicemen and women and extends the programme until 2021.
For further information visit Venture Trust’s Positive Futures programme.
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.”
Venture Trust’s Next Steps programme for women has been featured in The Scotsman on Thursday, November 2nd
The article highlights the impacts of the programme and how Venture Trust is making a difference to the lives of women caught up in the criminal justice system.
It also explains the challenges community justice and other statutory and third sector partners have in guiding women caught up in the criminal justice system to turn their life around.
"The programme is breaking the cycle of reoffending. During the last five years women on the programme have succeed in making and sustaining positive changes in their lives; with 86 per cent of participants showed increased self-confidence; 83 per cent improved their employability skill; 65 per cent showed behaviours and circumstances likely to reduce risks of reconviction; 50 per cent improved their relationships with those around them, and were making increased use of services and opportunities in their community such as libraries, gyms or doctors’ surgeries."
Despite the challenges to reach women in the justice system, the Next Steps programme has operated at increased scale to reach greater numbers of vulnerable women. Last year, 387 females with a history of offending took part in the programme, an increase of 23 per cent with referrals from over 100 different organisations across Scotland.
The article comes ahead of the Next Steps - Moving out of the Past towards the Positive event being held on November 21.
Business leaders have been invited to celebrate the achievements of the women involved in the Next Steps programme and the wider impact of the programme. In particular, how Venture Trust is unlocking their potential, enabling them to rebuild relationships, move on to work, and contribute positively in their communities.
Dr Sheila Inglis, Director of SMCI Associates will share the findings of an independent programme evaluation. Evidence will be presented of what works to support women in moving away from offending towards more productive, healthier and happier lives.
You can read the full article on The Scotsman website.
David* was 15 when he found himself on the street.
He left home and moved to Oban to escape the emotional and physical abuse he had suffered at the hands of his family since childhood. He soon became homeless and was unable to complete his school exams.
In 2016, David moved to Glasgow. Still homeless and facing a high risk of social isolation, the teenager was referred to Venture Trust by Phoenix Peer Mentor Service.
Working with a Venture Trust outreach worker David opened up about his past experiences that led him to the harsh Glasgow streets without family or friends to support him. He explained he found it difficult to build relationships and trust people, but that he had an interest in the outdoors. The physical activity helped with his depression. He was told about the Inspiring Young Futures (IYF) programme which included an eight day wilderness journey. The programme is funded by The Big Lottery Fund, Inspiring Scotland, Scottish Children's Lottery, and several other organisations.
Ahead of the wilderness journey, David met weekly with his outreach worker to discuss his short and long-term goals. These included securing his own accommodation, to be more confident, to act quickly on problems instead of letting them build up and to increase his fitness levels.
Two weeks before leaving for the wilderness journey, David secured his own tenancy through Glasgow Housing Association. He planned to move into the property when he returned from the journey. It was hard for him to believe things were finally beginning to look up. “Things are going good but I’m waiting on something bad happening as nothing has ever been this good and I haven’t experienced people supporting me.”
David rose to the challenges on the wilderness phase of the IYF programme. His development trainer was extremely positive describing the progress David made. “As the course went on he seemed to come out of his shell and open up in what was a safe space for him where peers and friends were encouraging and supporting him. He built some good friendships and will hopefully continue to talk with these people about the positive experience shared.”
David excelled during the tasks and demonstrated his ability to learn new skills quickly, and showed his willingness to support others in the group who were struggling. He challenged and broke one of his own rules that he had previously set for himself - ‘not to trust anyone’.
On the journey David began placing faith in his peers and his confidence grew. He also worked with his development trainer to accept praise and positive feedback. These were things he’d previously struggled to do.
After returning from his journey David was looking ahead. “I feel highly motivated and in good spirts - I feel the wilderness gave me time away to think about my future”.
The main focus was to move into his own accommodation. However, with very few belongings - an inflatable mattress (without a pump), a pillow and a single quilt it was not straight forward. Continued support from Venture Trust and the housing association led to an offer of a home starter pack, which included bedding, pots, pans and cutlery. Following a meeting with Job Centre Plus, David was also supported to apply for a community care grant for white goods and carpets.
To avoid slipping back into a life of isolation after the wilderness journey David and his outreach worker considered his options. Focusing on his love of the outdoors, David was offered a one day per week placement for one year with Venture Scotland.
This was the stepping stone to take on the challenge of employability courses to help David progress into employment in the future. He gained a place on the Venture Together four week employability course which covered IT sessions, CV writing, budgeting skills, interview skills, self-presentation skill and mock interviews. He was also introduced to our CashBack Change Cycle programme.
The hard work has paid off. Venture Scotland have offered to train David to become a volunteer on their courses.
David said he could see the difference in his confidence now.
“I speak more openly about problems and don’t let them build up anymore. I can’t believe how much my life has change since the beginning of the year. I can’t thank Venture Trust enough for the support they have given me. I now find it easier to trust people and build positive relationships.”
* Name changed
More information about the programme can be found here: Inspiring Young Futures.
Positive Futures is Venture Trust's three phase programme for ex-service men and women struggling with the transition to civilian life.
The programme’s effectiveness for veterans who are struggling is being independently evaluated over three years.
A strategic survey has been launched to obtain the wider views of those who are driving support for veterans at a strategic level. People like heads of social work and employability; Scottish Government; senior armed forces personnel; people with special responsibility for veterans in Scotland and the UK, charities in the wider Veterans’ Scotland Network including armed forces charities; funders and the NHS.
Amelia Morgan, CEO of Venture Trust said, “The Interim Report showed that Positive Futures was making a difference in the wider landscape of support. It gives referral agencies an option for veterans who might not normally engage in a personal development programme. It gives veterans a chance for change and an opportunity to re-connect through time spent in the wilderness.”
“Now the research team are moving to study the strategic level impacts and this is where this survey comes in. Information from strategic level colleagues, partners and supporters will help present a rounded picture of the impacts of Positive Futures on the wider veterans support landscape.”
Jo Lloyd, who is the Lead Researcher, said, “If you work, at a senior or strategic level, for an organisation that has the welfare of veterans at its heart or comes across veterans in need in its daily work, then we would like to hear your views on Positive Futures and its place in veterans' support.”
Amelia added, “The more people we reach, the better the research outcomes for veterans so, if you have colleagues who might like to give their views, or who might be interested in the Positive Futures programme, please feel free to copy the survey link and viral it on.”
Have your say to help achieve better outcomes for UK veterans
If you are a senior or strategic stakeholder in an organisation which supports or has an interest in the welfare of veterans in the transition to civilian life, please take part in the survey below and forward to all other relevant stakeholders.
Positive Futures is Venture Trust's three phase programme for ex-service men and women struggling with the transition to civilian life. Working in partnership with other agencies and services, it aims to help participants make positive changes to their life through negotiating barriers, gaining control of their life situation, and working towards achieving personal goals. These could be re-deploying skills learnt within the military; living independently; rebuilding broken relationships; moving towards jobs, training or volunteering; and generally working towards living a healthy, safe and stable life.
The programme’s effectiveness for veterans is being independently evaluated over 3 years, and the research is also intended to identify and share insights into the veterans’ community and approaches to supporting veterans effectively. When the evaluation is complete, we will be sharing the outcomes widely.
As part of this evaluation work, the research team are seeking the views of senior and strategic stakeholders with an interest in the support available to veterans. The researchers are already engaging with veterans themselves, their families/households and direct service delivery staff referring or supporting veterans on the ground, but we would like the views of managers, senior staff, Directors and CEOs to gain yours strategic insights.
You are part of an organisation that has the welfare of veterans at its heart or comes across veterans in need in its daily work. That means the research team would like to hear your views on Positive Futures and its place in veterans' support.
To that end, would you complete a short survey? It’s been tested, depending on your answers, it takes about 7-10 minutes to complete. The survey link is:
If you have colleagues who might like to give their views, or who might be interested in the Positive Futures programme and its outcomes, we would be extremely grateful if you could send the survey link on to them and encourage relevant staff to take part.