My name is Annabelle Mcpherson and I'm a recovering alcoholic.
You may read this and wonder why I say recovering and not recovered. Alcoholism is something I will carry for the rest of my life and it is a daily battle which I deal with one day at a time.
I cannot do it alone but thankfully I have been able to reach out for help and after working with Scottish charity Venture Trust and the continuing support of Alcoholics Anonymous I am able to do this.
In 2014, I crashed my car on the M6 motorway. I was three times over the drink-drive limit. Fortunately, nobody was hurt but there is never a day that goes by when I don’t regret my actions. As a result of this I was given a five-year ban, 200 hours community service, court costs and 12 weeks suspended sentence.
Already at a low point in my life, I was now in the criminal justice system.
Through the community justice pathway, I was offered the chance to attend a women's group to begin my rehabilitation.
It was at one of my group meetings that I met some staff from an organisation that would change my life. The organisation was Venture Trust. Two outreach workers came and spoke to the group about the Next Steps programme for women.
Venture Trust provides evidence led and impact driven criminal justice programmes across Scotland. The three-phase personal and social development programme is offered in communities across Scotland and the Scottish wilderness.
The focus is on development in three aspects of life and society aiming to allow everyone to lead a healthy, happy and fulfilling life irrespective of their past. These aspects are wellbeing, prevention and rehabilitation and skills to be ready for work and future learning.
I had been a practicing alcoholic for many years with countless vain attempts to get sober and beat this disease. It took me to many dark places: attempted suicide, psychiatric care, lost driving licence, hurt family and friends, broken promises, the list is endless and worst of all my two daughters taken away to live with their dad because alcohol had become more important to me and I was unable to look after them.
When you are a practicing alcoholic, life becomes a long, black, endless hole. Venture Trust put edges to that and a light at the end which made it no longer an abyss, but a tunnel I could get out of.
The five-day wilderness journey and residential brought many challenging activities, and a lot of soul bearing. There were tears, laughs and shared moments. But after the five days, it brought hope. Most of all hope and many friends made for life.
Venture Trust is an amazing charity comprised of wonderful caring professional people who truly are there to put broken individuals back together and help them move forward to a brighter future.
The organisation has been an enormous part of me getting to where I am today - teaching me self-worth, positivity, confidence, hope, belief in myself and many more life skills.
I am not going to even pretend that everything was plain sailing because it wasn't. There were slips and trips of sobriety along the way, but it was easier to be sober for longer, and to eventually stay sober. Venture Trust was there every step of the way and I was able to do a mentoring course to help others in a similar position to me.
In 2017 I decided to do a sponsored swim in aid of Venture Trust to try and show my gratitude in a small way for everything they have done for me and so many others. I swam the length of the River Tweed – my local river in my local pool in Duns. In two months, after 6144 lengths I completed the 96 miles. As a “hopeless” alcoholic who would sit in the house for days on end, barely able to walk, no job, or family, my life and health all on a knife edge, I had come or swum a long way. The support and generosity from the staff at the pool, all my friends, family and the community was incredible and helped me raise over £1800.
It’s still one day at a time - but I am grabbing my second chance with both hands. My girls have come back to live with me of their own choice. We have just moved into a lovely three-bedroom house, I have respect from family and friends and a job that I Iove. But most of all I have my own self-respect and today I can look in the mirror and love who is looking back!
Annabelle Mcpherson is a former Venture Trust participant.
First published in The Scotsman - Friday 08 March 2019
For more information about Venture Trust’s programmes visit: www.venturetrust.org.uk
Prevention and rehabilitation are fundamental to creating safer communities in Scotland and tackling the harm caused by crime.
Venture Trust welcomes the Scottish Government's commitment to encouraging the greater use of more effective community sentences to break cycles of reoffending.
On May 17th, the Government published an order to extend presumption against short prison sentences. Subject to the approval of Parliament, the existing presumption will be extended from three to 12 months and come into force this summer.
Venture Trust CEO Amelia Morgan said: “At Venture Trust, we would argue that we need to place far greater emphasis on rehabilitation in addition to unpaid work as part of any community sentence to facilitate behaviour change and assist more individuals to reduce their risk of reoffending and complete their sentence. Independent evaluations show our criminal justice programmes have had positive impacts on individuals. They have gained new skills, improved their confidence and have started working or studying. They are more stable and less likely to reoffend. These positive changes are then transferred to their families and communities.”
Statistics show people released from a custodial sentence of 12 months or less are reconvicted nearly twice as often as those sentenced to serve a Community Payback Order (CPO).
Often it was poverty, inequality and adverse childhood experiences and the trauma resulting from domestic abuse, addiction to drugs and alcohol that underpinned offending behaviour, Amelia said.
“Addressing underlying causes and taking a compassionate approach will reduce the impacts of crime. It means believing people can change and can come back from their mistakes. Someone’s past – where they grew up, their family background or previous negative and damaging experiences – does not have to define them. Diverting more people away from the justice system does create safer communities. It does break the cycle of offending and reduce the social harm and financial costs for individuals, families and communities.”
Investing in reliable and effective community provision and a collaborative public and third sector response will help people get their lives back on track and away from potential involvement in crime.
Our intensive personal development and the powerful catalyst of the outdoors helps people gain greater understanding with confidence in themselves and how they connect with others and the wider world leading to lasting positive change. Importantly individuals are more able to overcome setbacks and navigate ‘systems’, such as accessing benefits, securing and sustaining a suitable home and staying out of prison.
A former Venture Trust participant highlights the benefits of trying to divert individuals – where it is possible – away from prison. “Before Venture Trust I was on a one-way ticket to prison. I’m now a fully qualified plumber. My life’s changed for the better, I’m healthier, happier, thriving. I’ve got a career now, I can see a future.”
Lucy has also benefitted from Venture Trust’s community justice programmes. “Without that second chance and the support from Venture Trust and other organisations I wouldn’t be where I am today. That second chance allowed me to become part of society and my community again. It allowed me to repair broken relationships, get healthy, get an education and have hope. We’ve all made mistakes and if more people are given the support and opportunity to change, Scotland will be a better and safer place.”
Watch Lucy's Story by clicking on the image below:
Venture Trust is looking forward to continuing to work with the Scottish Government and our current partners along with building future partnerships to reduce the harm of crime by supporting people who have offended or are at risk of offending.
Read All About It.
It’s that time again! In this May edition of the Supporter Newsletter you will see just how busy everyone at Venture Trust has been over the last month.
From news articles, presentations to The Scottish Government and miles under the feet training for the Edinburgh Marathon Festival catch up on the latest happenings.
If want to be kept up to date about Venture Trust's activities sign up for our supporter newsletter on our website.
A new partnership between Venture Trust and The Wheatley Group (a leading social property management company), will support young Scottish people struggling to find and secure safe, stable and supported tenancies because of multiple complex barriers.
These can include unemployment, involvement in the criminal justice system, substance misuse, low self-belief, relationship breakdowns and mental health issues.
This partnership is made possible with funding from Comic Relief and will help support 120 young people who have previously, or are currently at risk of, experiencing homelessness.
Read Venture Trust CEO Amelia Morgan's article in The Scotsman about how the project will tackle homelessness by equipping individuals with core skills, building longer term stability and averting repeat or potential episodes of homelessness.
Individuals experiencing multiple, complex barriers in their lives, and struggling with chaotic lifestyles, are frequently the heaviest users of acute health and social care services. These barriers mean thousands of Scots are unable to reach their potential for healthy, happy and fulfilling lives.
In Scotland and the UK there is growing interest in a more holistic and integrated way of supporting individuals facing mental health issues, addiction, involvement with the criminal justice system, long term unemployment and other barriers. This support includes social prescription - helping people to access and use ‘non-medical’ sources of support within their community; harnessing the untapped potential of Scotland’s great outdoors; and integrating, non-clinical services and new partnerships to address these issues.
Venture Trust in partnership with our funders and other organisations is working to tackle the cycle of harm and inequality which drives individuals to become dependent on health and social services and leaves some people in the margins of society.
By offering intensive learning and development in communities and the Scottish wilderness, we support people to gain life skills, stability and confidence. Our work aims to end cycles of disadvantage and adversity for individuals, their families and in communities.
Our approach is unique with the wilderness being used as a catalyst for change. It has also proven to be preventative and long-term through independent evaluations. We focus on an individual’s strengths, equipping them with essential life-skills and building confidence.
Scotland's spectacular wild places are inherently challenging. These environments challenge individuals to focus on actions and their consequences - encouraging the discovery of new skills and talents and helping participants to become more self-reliant. The sense of space and the distance from everyday life gives individuals time to reflect on their lives and plan the changes they'd like to make. The therapeutic environment of the outdoors heightens the power of learning through the development work participants undertake.
Watch Jim's Story below
This week Venture Trust senior staff – head of business development Malcolm Jack and head of operations Mike Strang – met with Scottish Government staff in relevant Directorates to share our innovative approach which focuses on developing the life skills, stability and resilience individuals often need to overcome cycles of disadvantage and adversity.
Malcolm said: “In the context of heightened concern around mental health and wellbeing, particularly affecting those considered most vulnerable and disengaged from mainstream services, the presentation highlighted how Venture Trust’s work resonates the house of care principles in a practical way and contributes to cross-policy outcomes through person-centred support and partnership.”
It was also an opportunity to gain the perspectives of Government staff to inform Venture Trust’s aspirations to make a greater contribution to Scotland’s health & wellbeing outcomes, he said.
With an integrated and aligned approach that is person-centred, individuals can find stability and be self-reliant. They can prioritise their health, specifically their mental wellbeing and tackle alcohol or substance misuse. This will contribute to meeting Scottish Government policy objectives across departments including improving health and wellbeing, making Scotland a safer place through innovative justice, tackling homelessness, giving everyone access to public services and improving people's job prospects.