This is Stefan Durkacz. In May 2014 he's going to take on an epic challenge - to walk around the watershed of the River Tay - some 290 miles - to raise money for to raise money for Venture Trust and the Scottish Wild Land Group, supported by the British boot manufacturer Alt-Berg.
This is a huge challenge, estimated to take around 5 weeks to complete. We wanted to find out a bit more about Stefan, and his challenge:
What exactly is the 'River Tay Catchment'?
A catchment is the area drained by a river system. The River Tay is Scotland's most extensive river system, draining an area of nearly 2,000 square miles, mostly in the southern and central Highlands. It's also the largest river in Britain in terms of the amount of water it discharges into the sea.
I'll be walking the entire boundary of the River Tay catchment, starting from Monifieth Sands east of Dundee. The route will follow the watersheds between the River Tay and other river systems, through the eastern Mounth, the central and southern Highlands, and finally along the Ochil Hills from Gleneagles to the North Sea at Tentsmuir Point in north-east Fife.
Why have you chosen to take on such a challenge?
I've always loved the outdoors, especially the hills and mountains of Scotland, and have long wanted to take on the challenge of an extended backpacking expedition. I've been guilty of being a Munro bagger in the past, climbing hills and ticking them off the list. More recently I've moved away from this and become more focused on backpacking and long-distance walks, which I think offer greater satisfaction. Most of the areas this walk will take me through I've visited before on day trips. Journeying over the land under my own steam, being self-sufficient, sleeping out in the hills and linking all these places together on foot, is a thrilling prospect, and I expect I'll get to know them much more deeply.
Turning 40 in 2013 has pushed me to make it happen as well. I felt it was now or never.
So why this walk in particular? It will take me about a month or so to complete - as I'm married with two children, this is already pushing it! Any more would be asking too much. There's also the fact, as I mentioned, that the walk covers mostly familiar territory. I'm hoping this will increase my chances of success, as my backpacking experience is fairly limited. To paraphrase something I read from veteran backpacker Chris Townsend, the only way to find out if you can get through a long backpacking trip is to get out there and start walking.
Finally, as I far as I can tell, it's an original route that hasn't been walked in its entirety before. This gives it a bit of an exciting and exploratory feel.
How challenging is it?
Because the route follows the high ground between river systems, it's essentially a mountain walk, so will be physically demanding especially if the weather is poor. There are 31 Munros along the Tay catchment boundary, and many other hills, ridges and moors. Most of the route is trackless and tends to stay away from towns and villages. In fact, between the Cairnwell Pass and Drumochter Pass, it crosses some of the remotest hills and moors in Britain. I'll be wild camping mostly, and am hoping for some good early summer weather, rather than the wintry May we had this year. However, this is Scotland, so anything could happen, and I'm prepared for the worst!
I expect it to be mentally demanding as well. I've never walked this distance before in a single trip, or spent so much time camping in the outdoors. Continuous bad weather can sap morale, and the concentration needed to navigate properly, make sound judgements, and stay safe in poor conditions can be draining.
Also, although friends and family will walk parts of the route with me, most of the time I'll be on my own. I often enjoy walking and camping solo on short trips, but how I'll cope with extended periods of solitude remains to be seen. Most of all I'll miss my wife and children. I've planned in a few rest days in villages near to the route so we can meet up.
If success was 100% guaranteed, it wouldn't be much of an adventure. However, with good planning and preparation, there's no reason I can't succeed. Reading the blogs of experienced long-distance backpackers and how they go about it has been especially useful.
Why have you chosen to support Venture Trust and the Scottish Wild Land Group?
I was lucky enough to have regular access to the outdoors from a very young age, as my family used to own a house in the Highlands.
It wasn't until I was a lot older that I began to realise how much I had taken it all for granted. I also began to understand more about issues such as conservation and land ownership, and how threatened our few remaining wild places are by exploitation and development. Sadly, people – especially children – are becoming increasingly detached from nature, and many in positions of power don't seem to understand what's being lost. It's hard to measure the value of wild land in terms of money, but Venture Trust's work proves the value is nevertheless real. Access to the wilderness can help turn even the most difficult lives around.
So, whilst I initially wanted to do the walk just as a personal challenge, I decided to use it as an opportunity to support Venture Trust, and also Scottish Wild Land Group, a volunteer-run charity that campaigns for the protection and promotion of Scotland's wild land, and publishes a very informative magazine called Wild Land News which everyone who enjoys the outdoors should read.
How can we keep up to date with the challenge?
Check out my blog, at http://ansgarsoch.blogspot.co.uk/, where you can sign up for updates.
How can we get involved?
Support Stefan's challenge by sponsoring his two chosen charities:
Venture Trust: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/taycatchmentwalkvt
and the Scottish Wild Land Group: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/taycatchmentwalkswlg
Please, if you can, split your donation between both Venture Trust and Scottish Wild Land Group.
Scotland is waking up to the fact that society's response to women's offending needs to change, says Venture Trust's Malcolm Jack.
Scotland (and, to a lesser extent, England and Wales) is slowly waking up to the fact that society’s response to women’s offending needs to change. The female prison population in Scotland has doubled in the past ten years, many women in the system are frequent reoffenders, and short-term prison sentences have little or no impact on reoffending (70 per cent of women who received a sentence of three months or less are reconvicted within two years). Last month, the first public statement by Scotland’s new inspector of prisons (and former Police Chief Constable) David Strang was quite clear: “We send too many people to prison, particularly for short sentences.”
Having launched specific programmes for women in the criminal justice system in 2009, Venture Trust was one of few agencies ahead of the game. Based upon a belief that all individuals have the capacity to change, Venture Trust’s Next Steps programme offers women time, space and intensive support away from their day-to-day circumstances, where they can unlock the skills and motivation they need to make positive changes in their lives. And the quotes below, from a number of women who have taken part in our provision, show that – actually – there is rather a lot of hope around:
“My life’s changed for the better, I’m healthier, happier, thriving. I’ve got a career now, I can see a future.”
“[If I hadn’t come on the Venture Trust course] I’d be in jail, I’d be sitting in Cornton Vale. There’s no two ways about it.”
“It’s made me a better person. It’s made me more determined to help other people. That’s a determination that I’ve got now, to help other people, to help other people to achieve their goals.”
“My relationships with other people have changed, because people are seeing a change in me. And they’re willing to spend time with me now, whereas before, they just didnae want to know, cos they thought you were trouble. It’s been a total change of attitude, I’m nicer to people now, treat people with more respect.”
At Venture Trust, we’re aiming to support 48 women this year, each of whom has access to over 100 hours of intensive, personalised support. It costs us around £12 per hour to offer this support; relatively little compared to the long-term costs of offending, imprisonment, children in care and unemployment.
Venture Trust are delighted (and more than a little excited!) to be the chosen charity for the forthcoming 'Divas Reunited' concert by GLITS ladies choir in Edinburgh.
Come and join us in November at the St. Brides Centre, Edinburgh, for an celebration of 60s pop divas, with all profits being donated to Venture Trust. Fancy dress welcome!
Venture Trust attended the Scottish Community Safety Network Awards last night after being nominated for its Next Steps programme.
Everyone at Venture Trust was on a high after being shortlisted for the SCVO Charity of the Year Awards back in June, so to be nominated for the Scottish Community Safety Network Awards most definitely took us by surprise and we were delighted! However, to actually win the National Initiatives Award for our Next Steps programme means everything to us.
The essence of our Next Steps programme is to support women involved in substance misuse and offending - especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds - to make sustainable changes to the stability of their lifestyle. To use wilderness-based personal development opportunities to enable women to develop the skills and motivation to move away from offending and contribute positively to their community.
The hosts of the awards ceremony, The Scottish Community Safety Network (SCSN), brings together people who are involved in community safety in Scotland to work towards its vision that: People are safe from crime, disorder, danger and free from injury and harm; and communities are socially cohesive and tolerant; are resilient; and able to support individuals to take responsibility for their wellbeing.
The awards ceremony itself was a fantastic evening, with much fun had by all. This has been another great platform for increasing awareness of our Next Steps programme and its positive outcomes and we are thrilled to have won this award and to have received such recognition.
Our Chief Executive Mark Bibbey said, “ I am delighted that we have won the National Initiatives Award for our Next Steps programme. This award not only recognises and endorses the hard work and dedication of staff involved in delivering the highly successful Next Steps programme, but also those involved across all of Venture Trust's provision for the vulnerable and disadvantaged in society."
Venture Trust has achieved so much so far this year and it has been a big enough highlight to be shortlisted for two awards this year, but to win one of them really has made 2013 an incredible year for us. A huge thank you to the Scottish Community Safety Network (SCSN) and to all the women, partners, referrers and funders who've helped make this programme such a success, we couldn’t have done it without you.
Today saw young people about to leave school in Glasgow introduced to charity Venture Trust at a prestigious City Chambers event. At the ‘Secure Your Future’ event, Venture Trust offered inspiration and opportunity to this year’s school leavers, and challenged those who are struggling with the transition from school to take ‘a chance for change’.
As Glasgow celebrates its best ever exam results this year, the future holds uncertainty and doubt for many of those who did not get the results they hoped for this week. For those who remain unclear about their futures, the ‘Secure Your Future’ event at the City Chambers today offered young people the support they need to get their futures on-track. Whilst interview training, careers advice and jobcentre vacancies offered the right option to many, Venture Trust’s provision – offered from an eye catching mobile vehicle parked right outside the City Chambers – was a little different.
Venture Trust gives young people in Glasgow the opportunity to engage with a challenging, intensive personal development programme. Specialising in supporting those who’ve disengaged from education, experienced care, have caring responsibilities or who are at risk of involvement in the criminal justice system, Venture Trust offers Glasgow school-leavers the chance to reassess the path their life is taking. Combining one-to-one local support with an intensive ten day expedition in the Scottish Highlands, Venture Trust challenges participants to develop new skills and capabilities for the future. The mix of learning activities and discussion sessions offered by Venture Trust inspire, encourage and support participants to develop the motivation, self confidence and life-skills necessary to make their ambitions reality. Outcomes show that more than three quarters of those who engage with Venture Trust are measurably more employable after participation.
The opportunity to join one of Venture Trust’s programmes proved popular with young people today, with almost two hundred stopping by to find out more. With the opportunity to talk to staff, tour the flagship mobile vehicle, and see work produced by previous participants, this year promises to see more Glasgow young people than ever take advantage of Venture Trust’s provision.
Venture Trust has seen over 560 Glasgow young people referred to its programmes over the past three years, and has supported almost 100 Glasgow young people into employment, education, training or voluntary work. In doing so, it is supporting the Council’s Employability Pipeline and complementing an Employability Programme which aims to “take a 'whole needs' approach to the issues and barriers encountered by workless and disadvantaged clients”. Glasgow, with its Community Planning Partnership that brings together key public, private, community and voluntary representatives to deliver more effective services in the city, is taking a genuinely proactive approach to supporting those young people who didn’t get the results they hoped for this week – those who need extra support to achieve their future potential.
For a significant few, Venture Trust will be the chance they need to turn this week’s disappointment into the opportunity of a lifetime.