This International Women’s Day, we will be celebrating the achievements and inspiring journeys of the women we support on our programmes and our female staff working in our offices, Scottish communities and wild places of Scotland.
This year on March 8 the theme is “An equal world is an enabled world”.
We are proud to be led by a female CEO, we have women in leadership and management positions across our departments including outdoor training, community outreach, administration and board.
Through our programmes of personal development supporting women of all ages struggling with issues such as long-term unemployment, recovery from addiction, homelessness, isolation, involvement in the criminal justice system in Scotland, and a history of trauma or harm, we are challenging inequality for individuals and their communities.
As an organisation we are also challenging stereotypes, fighting bias, broadening perceptions, improving situations and celebrating women's achievements.
Here are some of the stories from the amazing women we have supported to realise or rediscover their unshakable strength, a voice that deserves to be heard, and power.
Lucy spent ten years addicted to heroin. during this time, she was also convicted of theft and lost her son to care. Her life had hit rock bottom.
Today Lucy is completing a college course and looking to go to university. She is drug free and out of the criminal justice system. And she has access to her son.
Read More: Lucy’s story
Annabelle’s alcohol addiction took her to many dark places: attempted suicide, psychiatric care, hurt family and friends, and her two daughters taken away.
Today Annabelle has her girls back, they have moved into a beautiful home. She has the respect of family and friends, a job that she loves and she is happy and healthy.
Read more: Annabelle’s story
The Scottish Government has released the Criminal Justice Social Work statistics in Scotland: 2018-19
Here is our response to the report.
Commitment to community justice
Venture Trust welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to community justice and believes that it has a big role to play in making Scotland’s communities safer. To make it work effectively the third sector, the courts, and local and national governments need to work together to create a system that is robust, reliable and provides the right level of supervision and support to those on orders. That is partly about making sure there are enough places on community justice programmes to meet demand; it is also about making community sentencing an integral part of our justice system in the same way that prison sentencing is.
It’s About Smart Justice. Not Soft Justice
Community justice does work better than short sentences at preventing re-offending, but it needs to be treated as an equal partner: not just in terms of getting the resources it needs but as an integral part of the system that the courts can rely on when passing sentence. Particularly when dealing with people with more severe problems, getting the right expertise in place is crucial to making the system work. This means investing in specialist providers, but also in ensuring that the system is set up to allow the collaboration and integration between services that will ensure people get the right level of supervision and intervention.
Problem: Short prison sentences don’t rehabilitate
Short prison sentences are enough to disrupt employment, medical care, housing and family relationships, but not long enough to tackle the underlying causes of offending behaviour. People jailed for a few months come back out even further from finding a route out of crime than they were when they went in.
We know that many of the people we work with through the criminal justice system have lived through deprivation: poor education, poverty, substance misuse, poor family relationships and mental health issues are all too frequent among our clients. Growing up in poverty, in care, or in traumatic circumstances doesn’t directly equate to ending up in court but these experiences do influence people’s lives negatively, often leaving them isolated from their communities, surrounded by negative influences and feeling unable to take part in society.
Solution: Rehabilitation through personal responsibility, self-confidence and chance of positive role in society
Our work challenges people on criminal justice orders to confront the attitudes and behaviours that have got them here and gives them the capability and motivation to leave that behind and take responsibility for building a better future for themselves and their families.
Through a combination of work in the community and an intense wilderness expedition, we help clients reflect on the choices they make and how these will affect both themselves and others. This is not the easy option and it does not let people off lightly. But unlike a short sentence in prison, we show people new ways to cope with stress and confrontation that help them avoid re-offending.
The best way to steer someone away from crime is to empower them with the tools and skills to make better decisions and to show them that they do have a positive part to play in their community. Building positive relationships, getting away from negative influences, getting ready to get and hold on to a job, and just believing in themselves have a huge impact on people’s desire to build a better life.
Community justice does create safer communities, does break the cycle of offending and does reduce the social harm and financial costs of crime for individuals, families and communities.
“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
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.