Scottish Veterans Commissioner Charlie Wallace recently met with a group of former Armed Service members at Venture Trust’s base in Stirling after they returned from seven days in the wilds of Scotland.
The group of participants had just completed their wilderness journey as part of a three-phase personal development programme with Venture Trust.
The Positive Futures programme is specifically for ex-Service men and women; individuals who may have a wealth of experience and skills, but who are finding it difficult to either transition fully into civilian life or are struggling with maintaining a civilian focussed identity.
It helps participants work towards achieving their personal goals. These could be re-deploying skills learnt within the military, finding a home, rebuilding broken relationships, working towards living a healthy, safe and stable life, retraining or applying for a job or utilising their skills through volunteering. All of these are highlighted as significant issues encountered when transitioning to civilian life.
We use Scotland's spectacular wild places to deliver intense personal development. The outdoors is inherently challenging. These environments challenge individuals to focus on actions and their consequences - encouraging the discovery of new skills and talents and helping participants to become more self reliant. The sense of space and the distance from everyday life gives individuals time to reflect on their lives and plan the changes they'd like to make.
Sunburnt, windswept, midge bitten but smiling and on top of the world, the ex-service personnel shared their experiences with the Veterans Commissioner.
“It’s brilliant to have someone working to improve the lives and opportunities of veterans sit down and listen to what we are going through,” one of the participants said.
“Hopefully we can help show that programmes like this do make a difference,” another said.
Veterans Commissioner Charlie Wallace said:
“I was delighted to be able to visit and talk to the group of veterans who recently completed the Venture Trust’s ‘Positive Futures’ programme – designed specifically for veterans struggling with transition and integration into their civilian lives.
“It was heartening to hear first-hand from the group and staff how valuable the veterans found the programme. Initiatives like this play a valuable part in helping our veterans improve their confidence to deal with aspects of their civilian lives which they find challenging. Successful integration from the military into the civilian world is not always easy and the Venture Trust should be applauded for recognising this and developing ‘Positive Futures’ alongside their other programmes.”
Venture Trust CEO Amelia Morgan said:
“It was fantastic to have Charlie Wallace meet participants of our Positive Futures programme at our National Participant Centre. It sends a really positive message of support to our participants – for those past, and those about to head out on the next Positive Futures journey.
“For all of those leaving the military, it marks a complete change. Most ex-service personnel thrive, going on to have successful careers and balanced lives. But for a small minority the transition to civilian life can be overwhelming and confusing which can lead to a multitude of negative circumstances.
"Research is showing the Positive Futures programme is offering veterans the support and space to begin to see themselves differently – that they can have a different life. Many are going on to further education, training, volunteering or employment, and this is a key catalyst for positive life changes.”
For more information about Positive Futures click here.
Positive Futures is funded by the Chancellor using LIBOR funds. It was also previously funded by The Forces in Mind Trust with a three-year pilot.
At Venture Trust we are working to close the attainment gap.
We support those struggling with many and complex issues, outside mainstream support and unemployed, or who may have never been in employment. This hinders their life chances and future potential. Our approach is preventative and long-term. We focus on an individual’s strengths, equipping them with essential life-skills and building confidence. Together, we can tackle a cycle of harm and inequality which leaves some people in the margins of society.
Watch our film with some of the young people we have supported.
(Click Play for Video)
“You’re looking a bit cocky.” The steward remarked.
“Do you want to climb over the railing and go straight over the side?” (The other abseil participants were edging themselves down gently through a gap).
“Sure, I’ll go over the side,” Judie told him.
“I’ve done this before”
Judie tried abseiling when she attended a Next Steps course in Spring 2018, she immediately wanted to go back up and do it again, so completing The Forth Bridge Abseil Challenge for Venture Trust was a natural progression.
“Venture Trust took me away on Personal Development courses to help me to prepare better for the future and to help me manage situations better. I really enjoyed my experience and saw parts of Scotland I had never seen before. I would like to do my bit to put something back to give others the opportunity.”
The big day came earlier this month.
“I wasn’t scared at all,” Judie recalled.
“All I could think was I’m gonna do this, let’s do this. Once off the ledge my first thought was let’s take it slow so I can take in the views and so my friend could get some decent pictures. You feed the rope through your hands at your own pace, so you can go down in less than a minute or take three or four. It was towards the end of the day and I noticed the clouds were gathering. It was going to rain soon and there was a wee breeze and I was turning gently around. I remember the music playing was Sweet Home Alabama and that felt great. As soon as my feet hit the ground I wanted to do it all again. It was a great day out and I really enjoyed spending time in Queensferry which had a brilliant atmosphere”
Judie found the sponsorship aspects of the challenge a little more daunting as she felt unsure about approaching people to support her. Did she succeed as a fundraiser? Totally, Judie smashed this target out of the park too and her total currently stands at over £250 and still rising.
What was Judie’s fundraising strategy?
“I told everyone I knew that I was abseiling for Venture Trust. A lot of people I asked do not have much money but they gave what they could with many people giving £1 or £2. An old man apologised because he could only afford to give me £1. I told him it doesn’t matter if its £1 it’s all gonna help. I went round all the people I know at Access to Industry, Willow, Street Fit and I asked in my local pub. The Landlord told people about the abseil and collected sponsorship for me and that meant I was raising money even though I wasn’t there myself. “
And does Judie have the challenge event bug now? Next Sunday she is running on behalf of Street Fit at Portobello. Go Judie.
If you’d like to complete a challenge for Venture Trust we’d love to hear from you and we are especially delighted to hear from our participants and their friend and families.
Take part in Pedal for Scotland or join Team Venture Trust at The Edinburgh Kiltwalk in September.
Find out more at: Rise to the Challenge for Venture Trust
Or contact Alison at: email@example.com or 0131 228 7711.
Aaron is working on repairing a bicycle. He volunteers at The Bike Station in Edinburgh – a charity that works with community and youth groups to develop skills and self-worth through working on donated bikes.
He has recently completed Venture Trust's CashBack Change Cycle employability programme for disadvantged young people in Scotland.
Bikes are a big part of Aaron’s life. So is finding a job. Building his own bike and improving his employability skills were the perfect combination.
The programme - funded by CashBack for Communities from the proceeds of crime - is harnessing the benefits of cycling to give young people the skills to get into employment, training or volunteering. It is delivered in partnership with The Bike Station and Bike for Good in Glasgow.
For many, the bike they build also gets them to work, college or place of volunteering.
“The CashBack Change Cycle programme was fantastic because it combined my love of bicycles with some really valuable and essential skills to help me get a job. CV writing, computer skills and qualifications like manual handling, fire safety and first aid are all important to have on any job application,” Aaron said.
“The skills I developed and now the work experience I’m getting by volunteering will make me more qualified to get a full-time job.”
Aiden, 16, has recently started his first job. He often cycles to work.
The bike he rides is one he built himself as part of an innovative employability programme for vulnerable young people run by Scottish charity Venture Trust.
“Having the bike let me get this job. I can get to work on time and don’t have to spend a lot of money on transport,” Aiden said.
“Through building the bike in the workshop and doing the qualifications on the Change Cycle programme my confidence improved and I learnt lots of important skills to help with getting a job.”
June 8-16 is Bike Week and Venture Trust employability worker Zoe Grove said it was great to celebrate the event by highlighting the role a bicycle can play in changing the lives of young people facing challenging life circumstances.
“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,” he said.
“There also the added benefits of improving physical fitness, helping mental welllbeing by giving young people the opportunity to get away from things. They can head out to a trail, to a park or green space and escape for a while.”
By volunteering at The Bike Station, Aaron continues to develop his employability skills. As he fixes and services bikes for other people to use - bikes that will hopefully be used by more people to hit the road and tracks this Bike Week and in the future - Aaron reflects on what a bike means to him.
“A bicycle allows me to be active but and puts me in a good headspace. Studies have shown cycling has a massive benefit for mental health. It allows me to travel to more places, it’s independence, an extra leg of freedom, it’s great for the environment and for me it’s happiness.”
My name is Annabelle Mcpherson and I'm a recovering alcoholic.
You may read this and wonder why I say recovering and not recovered. Alcoholism is something I will carry for the rest of my life and it is a daily battle which I deal with one day at a time.
I cannot do it alone but thankfully I have been able to reach out for help and after working with Scottish charity Venture Trust and the continuing support of Alcoholics Anonymous I am able to do this.
In 2014, I crashed my car on the M6 motorway. I was three times over the drink-drive limit. Fortunately, nobody was hurt but there is never a day that goes by when I don’t regret my actions. As a result of this I was given a five-year ban, 200 hours community service, court costs and 12 weeks suspended sentence.
Already at a low point in my life, I was now in the criminal justice system.
Through the community justice pathway, I was offered the chance to attend a women's group to begin my rehabilitation.
It was at one of my group meetings that I met some staff from an organisation that would change my life. The organisation was Venture Trust. Two outreach workers came and spoke to the group about the Next Steps programme for women.
Venture Trust provides evidence led and impact driven criminal justice programmes across Scotland. The three-phase personal and social development programme is offered in communities across Scotland and the Scottish wilderness.
The focus is on development in three aspects of life and society aiming to allow everyone to lead a healthy, happy and fulfilling life irrespective of their past. These aspects are wellbeing, prevention and rehabilitation and skills to be ready for work and future learning.
I had been a practicing alcoholic for many years with countless vain attempts to get sober and beat this disease. It took me to many dark places: attempted suicide, psychiatric care, lost driving licence, hurt family and friends, broken promises, the list is endless and worst of all my two daughters taken away to live with their dad because alcohol had become more important to me and I was unable to look after them.
When you are a practicing alcoholic, life becomes a long, black, endless hole. Venture Trust put edges to that and a light at the end which made it no longer an abyss, but a tunnel I could get out of.
The five-day wilderness journey and residential brought many challenging activities, and a lot of soul bearing. There were tears, laughs and shared moments. But after the five days, it brought hope. Most of all hope and many friends made for life.
Venture Trust is an amazing charity comprised of wonderful caring professional people who truly are there to put broken individuals back together and help them move forward to a brighter future.
The organisation has been an enormous part of me getting to where I am today - teaching me self-worth, positivity, confidence, hope, belief in myself and many more life skills.
I am not going to even pretend that everything was plain sailing because it wasn't. There were slips and trips of sobriety along the way, but it was easier to be sober for longer, and to eventually stay sober. Venture Trust was there every step of the way and I was able to do a mentoring course to help others in a similar position to me.
In 2017 I decided to do a sponsored swim in aid of Venture Trust to try and show my gratitude in a small way for everything they have done for me and so many others. I swam the length of the River Tweed – my local river in my local pool in Duns. In two months, after 6144 lengths I completed the 96 miles. As a “hopeless” alcoholic who would sit in the house for days on end, barely able to walk, no job, or family, my life and health all on a knife edge, I had come or swum a long way. The support and generosity from the staff at the pool, all my friends, family and the community was incredible and helped me raise over £1800.
It’s still one day at a time - but I am grabbing my second chance with both hands. My girls have come back to live with me of their own choice. We have just moved into a lovely three-bedroom house, I have respect from family and friends and a job that I Iove. But most of all I have my own self-respect and today I can look in the mirror and love who is looking back!
Annabelle Mcpherson is a former Venture Trust participant.
First published in The Scotsman - Friday 08 March 2019
For more information about Venture Trust’s programmes visit: www.venturetrust.org.uk