A Highland fling – A Venture Trust and British Exploring Society partnership
Scotland's spectacular wild places are inherently challenging. This setting - far removed from young peoples' everyday environments – will give a group of “Young Explorers” the chance to tackle physical, emotional and social challenges this week.
These challenges are carefully designed to encourage learning and development, to help participants increase their aspirations, confidence and motivation, and to develop a range of skills for life, learning and work.
The wilderness is at the heart of Venture Trust’s programmes of intensive personal development. This ethos and belief in the power of the outdoors is shared with British Exploring Society and has led to the historic charity teaming up with Venture Trust to deliver its first ever Scottish expedition with ‘UK Explorers’, after delivering expeditions across the globe for 87 years.
Both organisations deliver programmes which allow young people to begin to discover that there are strengths that they didn't think they had, aspects of their background and personality that they can draw on to solve problems whether traversing a high ropes course with Venture Trust, or practiced on a canoeing expedition with British Exploring Society. Other key skills include communication, time management, accountability, establishing trust, dealing with challenging situations, and giving and receiving feedback. Every aspect of the wilderness journey is designed with the introduction and development of these concepts in mind.
The Venture Trust approach aligns itself with British Exploring Society – an organisation that prepares and takes young people (between the ages of 14 and 25) on expeditions to remote locations where they face challenges, gain skills and learn about themselves. The transformative programmes have always included a strong focus on adventure, acquiring knowledge and personal development and impart a new-found confidence and self-belief which is carried forward in life.
Venture Trust operations manager Simon White said the partnership aims to help support British Exploring Society and its leaders in delivering great personal development journeys – as Venture Trust has been doing for more than 20 years.
“They have huge experience in delivering wilderness expeditions all around the world and many of them of five-week duration in remote and inhospitable places. We’re delighted that they want to add the knowledge and enthusiasm of Venture Trust to their expeditions,” Simon said.
“Ahead of British Exploring Society’s first Scottish expedition, Venture Trust delivered training to their leadership team for the UK Explorers programme. In addition, we have supported them with the logistics and planning. Collaboration between third sector partners can make a difference to the lives of young people. And it is a testament to Venture Trust that a respected charity like British Exploring Society – running since 1932 – recognises the value and skills we share.”
In keeping with all British Exploring Society programmes, whether in the Himalaya or the Amazon, 40 Young Explorers – working with 12 Leaders – have planned their own expedition and are completely self-sufficient in the remote and rugged Scottish Highlands. They will only have the equipment and supplies they carry on their backs and will need to plan their routes, their trekking objectives and their science projects to ensure they can collect water from streams for drinking and cooking and be able to locate remote campsites.
The collaboration between two organisations – both harnessing the transformative powers of the outdoors – means even more young people will benefit from acquiring and developing the skills to face life’s challenges head on.
Venture Trust has taken its expert knowledge and evidence-led approach to helping young people struggling with multiple and complex issues, including long term unemployment, to the European stage.
Chief executive officer Amelia Morgan was a keynote speaker at a Working Group in Brussels on Improving the Performance of Labour Markets and Social Systems : “Young people in Europe: how to reduce the number of NEETs?”
Her presentation to a group of European social partners highlighted the context in Scotland regarding youth employment, the skills agenda and the issues we see for young people.
The focus of the working group will be on how to reduce the number of young people who are neither in employment nor in education or training (NEETs) in Europe. This may result in a joint or co-ordinated social partners’ proposals or actions, which will take into consideration national practices and will be related to the European process.
“Venture Trust is sharing our outdoor learning approach to helping young people acquire the life skills to be ready for work and to then transition well and keep a job,” Amelia said.
“Our organisation has been working in the outdoors with vulnerable groups for more than 20 years. We have a distinctive and unique approach. Venture Trust supports individuals to develop the skills to become more employable and enjoy more stable lives. The outdoor element is a key part of our programme, but it produces great results because we weave community engagement and ongoing support into our offer, and that is what produces sustainable outcomes.”
Through Inspiring Young Futures – a programme for young people – Venture Trust has supported 2,200 disadvantaged young people to overcome multiple and complex life circumstances during the past 10 years. This has resulted in 1,150 individuals achieving positive destinations – jobs, training or volunteering.
How did we achieve this? Over 2,000 individuals received 1-to-1 outreach support in local communities. One thousand young people were supported to take part in personal development courses, using experiential learning with cognitive and therapeutic developmental techniques in Scotland’s challenging wilderness environments. We have also helped 120 individuals gain recognised qualifications.
Other impacts included 84% improved confidence, 89% were more employable, 74% improved community bonds and 70% increased use of community services.
Youth unemployment figures in Scotland have dropped significantly over the past few years and a target to cut youth unemployment in Scotland has been met four years ahead of schedule. This is encouraging. However, thousands of young people still remain long-term unemployed because they lack the very basic life skills needed to begin working towards securing and sustaining a job.
Evidence shows being unemployed when young leads to a higher likelihood in later life of being impacted in terms of pay, high unemployment, fewer opportunities, and poorer health.
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.
Our impact driven results will contribute to supporting a group of young people throughout Europe who continue to struggle and need support. Venture Trust and our partners will help them tap into their potential by giving them the skills to change their lives.
Cabinet Secretary for Justice Humza Yousaf was “moved” today after meeting with participants of Venture Trust’s criminal justice programmes to hear first-hand how keeping people out of prison benefits individuals, society and creates safer Scottish communities.
Mounting evidence shows that community sentences are more effective at reducing reoffending than short prison sentences. Venture Trust runs specific development programmes aimed at supporting people to take charge of their own life, acquiring the necessary resilience and skills to take responsibility, be ready to look towards employment, training or education and nurture positive relationships. These outcomes are reducing rates of reoffending and providing paths to rehabilitation.
The Scottish Government’s Justice Vision and Priorities and the subsequent proposal to end jail terms of less than 12 months will set challenges to address reoffending in communities. However, Venture Trust with support from the Scottish Government and other funders is delivering collaborative and effective community-based interventions.
Venture Trust chief executive officer Amelia Morgan said: “We believe there should be a far greater emphasis on rehabilitation alongside unpaid work and other measures of support in community sentences. We are committed to investing in our community-based provision and working collaboratively with Scottish Government, local authorities and third sector partners to help people get their lives back on track and away from potential involvement in crime.
“Independent evaluations show our criminal justice programmes have 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.”
Venture Trust has supported hundreds of people caught up in the criminal justice system into positive destinations of education, training, volunteering or employment. Monitoring data from the last five years shows that for our criminal justice programmes: two thirds of participants showed behaviours and circumstances likely to reduce risks of reconviction; 60% improved their relationships with those around them and were making increased use of services and opportunities in their community; and 80% improved their employability skills.
Venture Trust’s Living Wild and Next Steps (women) programmes comprise three phases. These include one-to-one and group work, and an intensive multi-day (5-10 days) journey in Scotland’s wilderness, where outdoor activity and experiential learning techniques are used as a mechanism for unlocking and redeploying skills, building confidence and raising aspiration. Following this journey, the participants are given support to achieve their individual goals.
Through a preventative and long-term approach, the focus is on an individual’s strengths and equips them with essential life-skills while building confidence. This evidence-led method tackles a cycle of harm and inequality which leaves some people in the margins of society.
“Where someone grew up, their family background or previous negative and damaging experiences - do not have to define them. Everyone deserves compassion, access to opportunity and justice. In turn this will allow for a safe, just and resilient Scotland,” Morgan said.
Participants from Venture Trust’s Next Steps programme Annabelle and Angela shared their inspiring journeys with Mr Yousaf.
Read Annabelle's inspiring account of her time with Venture Trust:
Justice secretary Humza Yousaf said: “I was deeply moved hearing the impact the work of Venture Trust can have on helping individuals who have offended to turn their lives around. We know from evidence that community-based interventions are more effective than short-custodial sentences and programmes such as Living Wild and Next Steps can help individuals to address the issues they are battling with which helps prevent re-offending and make positive changes that benefit them, their families and their communities.”
For further details of the Venture Trust’s programmes, visit: http://www.venturetrust.org.uk/programmes/
On a crisp cold morning Timo Condie wakes up and heads out into the dark. Despite the bracing temperatures of the pre-dawn he is in good spirits.
The working day is starting on the horse racing yard in the south of England where Timo is a work rider. His job is to muck out the stables and then ride the horses in order to exercise them and ensure they are in top physical condition before they race. Timo has also been training as a jockey and is due to make his racing debut in coming months.
Astoundingly, two years ago Timo had never even patted a horse let alone sat on one.
“I can’t believe this is actually my life. I have to sometimes tell myself ‘this has actually happened,’” Timo says.
It’s been an incredible turnaround for the 21-year-old.
Just a few years ago, Timo also found himself out in the cold and darkness of the early mornings. But back then there were no reasons to be happy. He was lost. Depressed and homeless.
A dream of becoming a soldier in the Black Watch had been shattered through injury and without the direction of the Armed Forces, Timo’s life had become rudderless. His relationship with his family broke down, he began drifting across the UK.
He ended up living rough. Amidst the despair and frustration, substance misuse also became part of the teenager’s life.
Timo’s experience trying to cope after leaving the army highlights the risks that can face early service leavers. He says he still had the military mentality ‘shut up and soldier on’. “It makes you feel there’s a stigma in asking for help, even if you’re desperate.”
He eventually returned to his home town of Inverkeithing but not to his family. Instead he survived on the streets and in the woods.
“I had a sleeping bag and a travelling shelter I’d put up. It was for about nine months and it got pretty bad with taking drugs to try to find the happiness I was missing,” Timo says.
“I was so depressed, anxious and was having suicidal thoughts.”
At rock bottom, Timo came into contact with Venture Trust referral partner Scottish Veterans Residences (SVR) which works with homeless ex-service men and women. With support, security and a roof over his head, Timo began his journey from homelessness to horseback.
He was referred to Venture Trust and engaged with his outreach worker Clare. She explained that he met the criteria for a programme specifically for ex-servicemen and women struggling with civilian life – Positive Futures. The programme has been 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, with UK Government LIBOR funding and the European Social Fund.
Timo was initially hesitant to commit to the programme. However, through regular meetings Clare discussed what the programme could offer. How it could provide him with the means to a better future. It was also during this time Timo encountered a horse for the first time in his life.
An SVR support officer asked if he wanted to spend the day at the Saddle Up Ranch in Angus. The ranch is a charity that uses horses for therapy. Timo remembers it was a Friday and the suggestion did not immediately appeal to the young resident.
“Why would I want to give up my Friday going to look at horses? I’d never wanted to be around a horse before in my life. I thought it’d be a waste really as I didn’t even like horses.”
This was a similar attitude Timo had been showing towards taking part in the second stage of the Positive Futures programme – a wilderness journey in the Scottish Highlands. Participants learn key skills include problem solving, communication, time management, accountability, establishing trust, dealing with challenging situations, and giving and receiving feedback.
But after taking the bit between his teeth, Timo committed to both visiting the ranch and taking on the wilderness journey.
Being around the horses “worked” for Timo. As he spent more time with them his anxiety and stress levels decreased and before long was offered a chance to ride. The lightweight lad was a natural.
When the train pulled in to Dundee station after Timo’s wilderness journey, Clare was there to meet him. It was a different person who alighted onto the platform she remembers. When she asked how it was he replied: "I’m now ready to take on the world. Before I was very much stuck”.
"I thought I was the only one going crazy but it was nice to talk to people going through the same things," Timo says.
Timo says the best part of being supported by Venture Trust was that there was never any pressure and I felt comfortable working towards the journey at my own pace.
“It felt like it was all up to me to make the decision that I was ready for change.”
And there were changes.
“I came back with new ways of thinking and doors were opened in my mind. After having been so depressed and anxious there felt like there was a way out. After the wilderness journey I was more motivated. Before I had ideas but didn't do anything about this, now I am more focused and determined. My relationship with my family also improved.”
The “way out” was horses. With restored confidence, a lot of hard work and support from all of the charities involved, Timo landed a jockey traineeship before getting a job with one of the UK’s leading racing stables.
The frost sits on the grass and the mist hangs in the early dawn. The thunder of hooves reverberates across the fields. On the back of one of the thoroughbreds blowing hot clouds of air sits Timo Condie riding into his future and hopefully a future winner.
Icy paths, heavy rain, roaring winds and freezing toes.
These are some of challenges thrown at Venture Trust's participants on a wilderness journey.
Our programmes act as a catalyst for change. The demanding nature of the wilderness, combined with one-to-one support and group activities, presents participants with emotional, social and physical challenges. These challenges are all designed to enable individuals to develop more positive and productive attitudes and behaviours. The wilderness journey is often the most intensive phase of our programmes, but one which generates a huge sense of achievement for our participants.
Here one of Venture Trust's Development Trainers - Sasha - shares what happens in the outdoors on one of our programmes and how the forces of nature can be a catalyst for change.
"Stripping life away and enduring the raw power of the Scottish wilderness provides an opportunity to test yourself physically. Removing the chaos of busy city life gives clarity as to what you want in life and what you need. Having the time around a fire, sharing and reflecting, allows you to recognise your achievements and realise your strengths.
This was the story of the latest Living Wild programme.
Through grit and determination the group overcame challenges they had not faced before. They supported each other and were surprised at their new found and rediscovered strengths.
Travelling 21km across Cairngorm forests, making camps and warming fires along route, they were inspired by snowy mountains and supportive words.
The group played out what triggers a negative reaction in them in their home life. Through sharing similar experiences and feelings they built awareness of their triggers, how they initially respond to them and how this will help them manage their emotions when triggered in the future.
The group also thought about how changing from a fixed to a growth mindset can help them embrace opportunities.
To finish their 10 day wilderness journey the group wanted to challenge themselves even more and requested climbing a mountain! The final days they summited Ben Varckie and learnt the ropes of rock climbing!
An amazing effort from a very determined team, well done to all those who took part!"