“I’d lost everything I had worked so hard to have in my life in a few short months because of my behaviour and bad choices.”
Shaun suffered from PTSD. His condition was triggered by tragic life events before his time in the military and exacerbated during deployment to Iraq. Eventually the trauma, nightmares and mental scarring “broke” him. Shaun turned to alcohol to numb the anguish and pain he was suffering.
However, instead of helping, alcohol ripped Shaun’s world apart.
“I lost my job, I almost lost my house, my partner at the time left and a lot of people could not handle my unpredictable behaviours,” he says.
When life hit rock bottom Shaun managed to get initial support from veteran charity Combat Stress. Through Combat Stress, he was referred to Venture Trust.
At Venture Trust we have been delivering intensive person-centred personal development in communities and the Scottish wilderness to help people who need more support to realise their potential. By offering intensive learning and development in communities and outdoors, 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.
We use experiential learning with cognitive and therapeutic developmental techniques to build skills and unlock confidence. This offers support and challenge, so individuals make sustained progress towards their goals. This can take time; we help people build the right foundations and protective factors to succeed for the rest of their lives.
The Positive Futures programme is specifically for veterans struggling with the transition to civilian life. It is for anyone who has served or been trained in the Armed Forces, including reservists and Territorial Army who have initially transitioned well or are currently struggling to transition to civilian life.
For Shaun, the programme was the catalyst for him to fight back from the brink and regain control of his life.
“It was amazing to be part of something again. At this stage I literally couldn’t feed my cat.”
There was sustained support and development during the three-phase programme. Firstly, Shaun was assigned an Outreach Worker who worked to stabilise the chaos in his life. Together they set clear and measurable goals to work towards in the build-up to Phase 2 – the wilderness journey.
The Scottish wilderness is at the heart of all our programmes, we give people time, space and intensive support in an outdoor setting.
This setting - far removed from participants' everyday environments - gives people the chance to tackle physical, emotional and social challenges. 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.
Shaun says the space and time away allowed him to focus on what he wanted from life and taking part in intensive personal development began to rediscover strengths he had forgotten and discover new skills he didn't think he had.
One of the most important things Shaun realised was to ask for help.
Back in his community, Shaun had long-term support his Outreach Worker. She helped him to consolidate and apply new and old skills, and to use the tools developed to work towards opportunities such as employment, education, training and voluntary work.
On the shore of the Forth of Firth, the breeze creates small whitecaps and the gulls caw as they glide across the horizon. It’s a peaceful and calm scene.
“I can’t believe the chaos that consumed my life is now gone,” Shaun reflects.
“Through a combination of the skills and development I received from Venture Trust, support from Combat Stress, by taking a more active role in UK SMART Recovery and Forth Valley Recovery Community along with working with a mental health professional I have been able to make changes to my life.
“I began to see my own potential. I realised it was up to me to make different decisions and take different actions. But I also needed support to do that. Without Venture Trust and the other organisations who supported me, would I be in a second year of a counselling degree, would I be a SMART Recovery co-ordinator helping others who are in the same situation I used to be in?
“I’m living my life in the moment now and it’s brilliant.”
Oscar lost his 17-year-old sister to a drug overdose.
The trauma and challenges he faced following this “knocked him off his path”.
He turned to alcohol to cope with the pain and sadness. He almost ended up in the criminal justice system through anti-social behaviour. He also began suffering from isolation and a loss of confidence and motivation.
The chance to turn his life around came when Oscar was referred to Venture Trust and he began a series of programmes for young people offered by the organisation. One of these programmes is the Inspiring Young Futures programme which supports young people facing multiple and complex challenges in their life. The programme offers regular community-based outreach support wrapped around an 8-day Wilderness Journey usually in the highlands of Scotland. Through intensive learning and personal development individuals will consolidate their new skills, boost confidence, motivation and aspirations.
Inspiring Young Futures is designed for young people aged 16-25, struggling with a range of challenging circumstances
Many of the young people who complete the Inspiring Young Futures programme are then signposted to our employability programme – CashBack Change Cycle.
The CashBack Change Cycle programme is funded by the Scottish Government’s Cashback for Communities which takes funds recovered from the proceeds of crime and invests them to deliver activities and opportunities for disadvantaged young people.
The elements of the programme include employability sessions, bike construction and maintenance including workshop experience and a short wilderness residential that has work-related tasks, and biking. Participants learn about responsibility and getting up to be at a job Monday to Friday. They get to keep the bike they have built and use it for job hunting, accessing services, training, getting to work, and leisure.
Oscar excelled on the course. He is now in college and the skills he developed on the CashBack Change Cycle programme has allowed him to get a job in a bicycle workshop.
“I am doing something I love, and my life is back on the right path”.
Riding to success with Cashback for Communities:
In the first two years of the CashBack Change Cycle programme Venture Trust has:
• Worked across 17 Scottish local authorities
• Engaged 116 young people facing complex life challenges
Of the participants who completed the programme over the two years:
• 91% of participants have reported an increase in their confidence
• 94% of participants have reported an increase in skills
• 98% participants have achieved accredited learning
• 81% of participants across the programme’s two years have reported an increase in wellbeing
• 65% of participants have moved into positive destinations including employment, education and training
Scotland is a country that is renowned for innovation and expertise.
At Venture Trust that spirit of innovation has been channelled to successfully support disadvantaged people into work, education and training using the outdoors and wilderness areas of Scotland.
We combine expeditions in Scotland’s wilderness with personal social development theory and community outreach to help people turn their lives around.
Now Venture Trust’s expertise in outdoor learning has resulted in the organisation being selected as the expert partner for a European consortium that will use the outdoors to get young people into the EU labour market.
The FOLM "From Outdoors to Labour Market" project is being led by the CIE Center for Innovative Education and includes partners from Poland, Spain, Ireland and Scotland. FOLM is funded from a £3,000,000 (€3,400,000) grant from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA and Norway Grants Fund for Youth Employment.
The successful model we have used for supporting long-term unemployed young people into work will be showcased at the European Parliament in Brussels in December at the New Education Forum (NEF).
The forum is a platform for exchanging knowledge, experiences and contacts in the fields of social innovations. NEF acts at a European level and has representatives from more than 190 institutions. These include authorities from European regions and cities, higher education and research institutions, Vocational Education and Training (VET) providers and industry representatives from 17 EU countries.
This year, leading Scottish employability charity Venture Trust and The University of Edinburgh will take centre stage at the NEF forum. Scotland, like the rest of Europe, faces the challenges of finding new and innovative ways to reach disenfranchised youth: those young people furthest away from the labour market.
By supporting the FOLM project Venture Trust can share learning and extend the reach of our work by enabling partners to work in a meaningful way with hundreds of young people not in education, training or employment in wider Europe.
Our programmes continue to contribute to a progressive society here in Scotland and now we are delighted to be able to extend that approach to European partner countries.
Dean was homeless at 16. He faced the high risk of social isolation and long-term unemployment. Jonathan got caught up in the criminal justice system after he turned to alcohol and drugs to deal with trauma and challenges in his young life. Aiden found himself couch surfing and without permanent accommodation aged 16. This instability made it very hard for him to focus on finding a job.
Today, Dean is an apprentice vehicle technician with one of the UK’s largest independently owned car retailers and he is living in his own flat. Jonathan has completed a personal development and employability programme with Venture Trust. He is now confident he can work towards getting a job and he has overcome his struggles with substance misuse. Aiden has been supported to find stable accommodation, he has completed Venture Trust’s employability programme – CashBack for Communities Change Cycle – and is working for a large cleaning company.
Watch their stories here: Venture Trust Inspiring Young Futures
Minister for Children and Young People Maree Todd met with a group of young people who returned from eight-days in the Scottish outdoors as part of their journey of personal development with Venture Trust.
Inspiring Young Futures is designed for disadvantaged and often vulnerable young people. It supports them to work on skills such as establishing trust, personal boundaries, consequential thinking, problem-solving, dealing with challenging situations, and responsibility and accountability.
This is achieved through sustained support in the young person’s community and with learning and development in the Scottish wilderness. The outdoors offers inherent challenge for individuals to reflect on beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. With time and space away from influences at home, individuals can unlock skills and learn new, more positive, ways of approaching situations.
Ms Todd said:
“The inspiring effort from the staff at the Venture Trust supports disadvantaged young people, helps them to reach their potential and helps make Scotland the best place to grow up.
“When children and young people have been exposed to adverse childhood experiences and trauma, a holistic approach taking account of their needs has the best chance of keeping them safe.
“The Inspiring Young Futures and the Cashback for Communities Change Cycle programmes are a great example of how a preventative approach is essential to improving life chances of children and young people and helping them move on to positive futures.”
Venture Trust chief executive Amelia Morgan said:
“It was fantastic to have the Minister visit our base in Stirling and meet with the young people who are working towards reaching their potential. Many young people referred to Venture Trust have come from life circumstances where they are not given the best start. They are often dealing with one or more of the following: poverty, alcohol and drug addiction, poor family relationships, mental health issues, learning and housing issues. The majority also have had little or no work experience.
“Our personal development programmes help young people facing challenges in their lives to set out and achieve their goals, grow in confidence and stability. By offering intensive learning and development in communities and the Scottish wilderness, we help 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.”
Where someone grew up, their family background or previous negative and damaging experiences - do not have to define them. We can put this right. Everyone deserves compassion, access to opportunity and justice. By empowering the young people we support to share their experiences coupled with evidence of what works, we can make the case for change. We can tackle disadvantage and inequality that is restricting their potential.
Historic Perthshire was the setting for an innovative new partnership between Venture Trust and Historic Environment Scotland (HES) that saw a group of vulnerable women exploring and understanding the past in order to move towards a better future.
Photo Credit: Historic Environment Scotland
Understanding Our Place in Time – funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund - combines historic and heritage themes with Venture Trust’s Next Steps programme which supports women involved in offending or at high risk of offending, suffering from trauma or abusive relationships, facing homelessness, misuse of drugs or alcohol or other challenging life circumstances.
The personal development programme is made up of three-phases one of which involves getting women into the outdoors. This is preceded by one-to-one support followed with ongoing skills development in the community. HES and Venture Trust staff will work together to weave heritage and the historic environment throughout the programme.
For many Next Steps participants life has been filled with chaos, fear and anxiety. Engaging in history and getting outdoors is often the furthest thing from their minds or is not possible in their current situation.
During the five-day outdoor residential phase in Perthshire, while hiking, abseiling, and canoeing the group of women learnt history isn’t just about their past, it is a vital part of all their lives, right now. It tells about the past, the present – and even points the way to the future. The historic environment makes a real difference to people’s lives. A difference to health, economy, culture and environment.
Reaching out to touch the ancient stone wall of Dunkeld’s ruined cathedral, drifting on Loch Faskally to learn about an old hydro-electric power station and hearing and creating their own tales and myths the women saw the historic environment, connected with it, created it, understood it and explored it. Something they will be able to continue to do in everyday life.
Venture Trust head of operations Mike Strang said:
“A connection to our heritage is important, as it brings us closer to our land, brings an insight into what has been there before and our roots. It teaches us what we need to do to safeguard for future generations. Understanding our heritage also builds connection with our communities and society creating bonds and contributors.
“We are delighted to be able to work with HES to build heritage into our Next Steps programme.”
HES senior casework officer James Turner said:
“Using Venture Trust’s outdoor learning approach, and Historic Environment Scotland’s mission to widen opportunities for everyone to understand, enjoy, and connect with the historic environment, we greatly welcomed the opportunity to work with the participants of this project.
“We visited Dunkeld Cathedral to consider how the historic environment can offer a valuable resource and breathing space from day to day life, took a canoe trip on Loch Faskally to chat about the B-listed 1950 Clunie hydro-electric power station and its place in the landscape, and rounded up our involvement with a session discussing local folklore, ballads and storytelling.
“We hope we have been able to show that the past can make a better future, change lives for the better, make us feel happier, more informed, better connected, and to encourage all of us to get outdoors and active.”
Head of The National Lottery Heritage Fund Scotland Caroline Clark said:
“The National Lottery Heritage Fund encourages organisations working in heritage to approach and engage with others who have broader health and wellbeing aims. Understanding Our Place in Time: Women at risk of offending discovering their place in heritage is a fine example of organisations working together, helping individuals to be more active and have a positive impact on their wellbeing.”
The Next Steps programme in partnership with Historic Environment Scotland is funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.