At Venture Trust, our outreach team are an integral part of the support we offer. Outreach workers connect with people in need and support them to overcome difficulties they may be facing and to identify and achieve their personal development goals. They are extremely skilled, knowledgeable and tend to love working in communities and the outdoors across Scotland. Outreach workers find ways to use a participant’s local area including natural spaces to enhance learning and reflective opportunities for our participants.
Hazel Fraser joined our outreach team in the East of Scotland in 2017 and gets a lot of enjoyment from her job. One year on since we were asked to stay indoors and work from home, Hazel reflects on the difficulties outreach workers and the people they work with have faced since the pandemic.
“There’s no denying the last year has been really difficult. The winter months made it hard for us to get outdoors and fears of new virus strains made many of us feel unsafe leaving home. After a year of zoom calls, distanced working and uncertainty about the future, at times has been a struggle to keep the people we work with motivated as we too have lockdown fatigue and are tired of the phrase ‘the new normal’. In most of my calls with participants now I empathise and say, “I feel the same, it’s really hard”.
In March last year the job of an outreach worker changed so quickly – overnight – from prepping participants for journeys to the Scottish wilderness to staying indoors and making sure they had right support to cope with the initial impact of the pandemic. We had weekly check in chats which often involved advice on home schooling kids, foodbank referrals, benefits, and debt advice– lots of things which are out-with our normal remit. I am not an expert in all these areas, but we do have a wealth of experience within the team, and I think we’ve been good at enlisting the help of the right support services to assist our participants.
Many of our participants experience additional barriers in one way or another. Many have felt unsure about their prospects, struggle with their mental health and particularly the young people we work with have fears about getting back out in society and socialising again. Fortunately, we have managed to reach most of our participants throughout the pandemic through our virtual hubs. People said they really enjoyed it and that at times it was a lifeline for them. We would do things like bush craft, hill skills, navigation and crafting groups which were very popular; it has been so important for us to stay creative and have fun during such a difficult time.
Some people didn’t initially have access to the tech to take part, but we worked alongside charities like People Know How helped us and they delivered equipment to over 50 of the people we work with. We managed to attract funding to provide data top ups to participants who were struggling to access services. There were people unable to participate digitally for a wide range of reason and although we and our partners worked hard to identify and mitigate the issues there remains a proportion of our participants who have been more isolated who will need intensive personal development support once we can meet safely again.
One impact of the pandemic on the people we work with is feeling unsafe outdoors as some feel more anxious about going out for walks, going to the shops, or going to get coffee as they feel unsure about what the restrictions allow. Some have cut themselves off from friends so I’ve been reminding people that they are allowed out for exercise and encouraging them to get out to quiet places as much as they can. Now that the cold, wet weather is starting to ease and cafés will reopen soon, I hope that the people we work with will start to socialise again.
For many young people that experience mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, the thought of going out and socialising again at college, in the workplace, or even with old friends is very daunting. Our interim CEO Mike Strang recently wrote about social skill fade which is something a lot of the people I work with have experienced. It’s a real shame as there were some people who were making great progress socialising in groups and building their confidence, but after over a year of rarely leaving the house, some participants have developed fears about coming out of isolation and it may take longer to get back to where they were before.
The recent Government roadmap out of lockdown as well as the days getting lighter, brings many of us hope. At Venture Trust, the announcement of a new outdoor therapy service as well as returning to deliver a blended model of support in communities, the outdoors and online mean our organisation and our staff will continue to support our participants. Our work will enable them to build the skills, confidence and motivation to overcome their anxiety about their futures, to get back outside, and develop positive routines.
All the staff here at Venture Trust including my colleagues in the Outreach teams are very excited about seeing our participants face-to-face again, going on adventures and being back where we belong – the outdoors!”