How wilderness learning holds lessons in living

Young people struggling to move on with their lives gain valuable new skills through Venture Trust's outdoor learning programme.

Venture Trust

To give young people new skills and confidence

Income in 2013/14 of around £2.3m, mainly from Inspiring Scotland and the Scottish government, together with charitable trusts, local authorities and the Big Lottery Fund's Investing in Communities programme

Venture Trust dates back to the late 1980s, when the Home Office asked youth charity Fairbridge to develop an outdoor personal development programme for young offenders, using its centre in the Scottish Highlands.

In the late 1990s, National Lottery funding helped the charity extend this wilderness learning programme to other young people struggling to move on in their lives.

In 2007, Venture Trust became an independent charity going on to employ more staff to boost work with young participants in their local communities before and after taking part.

This three-phase programme won funding from Inspiring Scotland in 2009. Venture Trust now works with around 800 young people each year, through programmes including Living Wild - Chance for Change, for 16- to 30-year-olds on criminal justice orders; Inspiring Young Futures, for disengaged 16- to 19-year-olds including young carers and those with experience of care; and Transitions to Independent Living, for young people who have been homeless.

Venture Trust's outreach work is split into three geographical "hubs" covering Glasgow and the west, Edinburgh and the east, and the Highlands. Each hub has a manager and four staff, with individual caseloads of 60 clients a year.

After referral by professionals such as prison staff or social workers, the young person is met by a member of the outreach team. Several one-to-one meetings follow, alongside discussion with the referral agency and sometimes family members. "We tell young people we're going to take them forward from this point, to go where they want to go, rather than looking back," says Joe Connelly, the charity's head of programmes.

The outreach worker and young person work out five targets. Once a trusting relationship has been established and the young person's life is stable enough, they then embark on the wilderness phase of the programme. Connelly describes the 10-day camping-based experience as a chance for young people to "tap into their own potential". About 10 young people plan their journey together, incorporating activities such as abseiling, climbing, or canoeing. "It allows them to realise there's an element of choice," says Connelly. "We ask: 'How are we going to get there, how are we going to achieve it? And now that we've done it, how could we have done it differently?'."

Participants are each allocated a support worker and have daily one-to-one and group sessions, helping them understand the control they have over their lives, to manage emotions, make better choices and form positive relationships.

Their support worker helps them translate what they have learned about themselves into a personal action plan. Phase three of the programme involves outreach workers mentoring participants through the delivery of these plans with around 20 hours of one-to-one support in their community for up to 12 months after their return. Every three months, workers contact participants to assess their progress toward positive goals such as getting into education, employment, training, or volunteering.

Between 70 and 75 per cent of participants each year get vital life skills, such as increased confidence, employability skills, stronger relationships and more stable lifestyles.

Of 614 16- to 24-year-olds who started phase two of the programme between 2011 to 2013, 60 per cent made positive progress. Of this group, 63 per cent went into training, 20 per cent into employment and 17 per cent into education. Of the 120 participants completing phase two of Living Wild, the young offenders' programme, in 2012/13, 109 - 91 per cent - made positive progress (32 per cent went into employment, 62 per cent into training, four per cent into education and two per cent into volunteering).

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