Words by: Brigid Mander
Photos by: Venture Trust
In 2019, Arc’teryx donated $24,540.10 CAD to Venture Trust through its grant program to support the organization’s continued efforts in helping people achieve more positive futures. Learn more about Venture Trust here.
“Court orders; I had nothing else to do.”
“(My case) worker said I had to go.”
“It was a condition of my bail.”
Such foot-dragging comments are not what those of us who allocate hard-earned money and time to play outside associate with the opportunity to immerse oneself in the elements. Yet, people who’ve never had exposure to outdoor pastimes, and who’ve led lives entirely disconnected from natural surroundings see wilderness as at best a mystery and at worst, something to actively stay away from. Most of all, they don’t experience the lessons and rewards nature has to offer.
Yet this is what Venture Trust, a Scottish charity organization, seeks to provide to at-risk adolescents and adults over a months-long program of intense personal development, centered on ten days in the famously rugged, beautiful, natural surroundings of the Scottish wilderness.
Those who are referred to Venture Trust come from disadvantaged circumstances, like substance abuse, trauma, the criminal justice system, poverty and homelessness, unemployment, and other challenges to a healthy life. Venture Trust’s goal in each program, along with intense one on one mentoring before and after, is to inspire people to break away from dark and difficult life situations with this educational reset in nature far from the frenzied pace and pressures of society.
Founded in 1982 originally for inner city London youth, Venture Trust now operates only in Scotland, and has five main programs for both men and women; the Inspiring Young Futures, for 16-25 year olds, Living Wild, for 16-40 years old, Next Steps (women only) and Positive Futures (for ex-service members), and the Cashback Change Cycle, a post-program initiative to build on the lessons of Venture Trust’s youth programs.
Applicants to the program pay nothing, but must be stable enough to benefit from the therapy for acceptance. Mentorship in the community is the first step, and eventually, when their Venture Trust coordinator deems the participant ready to benefit from the time outdoors, they embark on the ten-day journey in the wilds, camping, trekking, climbing and rapelling and other mountain pursuits, learning teamwork and self sufficiency.
The Edinburgh-based charity has scores of success stories in its quest to break cycles of inequality in Scotland. Over the past five years, an average of 335 people per year have been brought into and graduated from their programs. Some of these, like a teenage program participant named Oscar, have turned their lives completely around through Venture Trust’s work. Oscar’s older sister died of heroin overdose at 17, and the tragedy sent him spiraling down his own dark path, drinking, partying, skipping school, until he was referred to Venture Trust. He was accepted, and grabbed this second chance. “I decided to change everything, I was on a seriously slippery path, I didn’t want to go down the same one as my sister,” he said.
Oscar found the wilderness time profoundly affecting. “Being away up in the [Scottish] Highlands, I found peace within myself. Being out there, I was able to reevaluate everything I was doing. [The wilderness] teaches you you have to wake up early, seize the day, and sort out what you’re doing in an ordered fashion.”
After the program, the support and mentorship continues for approximately a year. According to Rachael McCrea, the fundraising manager of Venture Trust, people aren’t simply dropped back into the chaos of their former lives. “On return they are reconnected with their Outreach Worker who supports them to maintain progress and use lessons learned in daily lives,” she said. “Themes they draw upon from the wilderness trip and apply to daily life are creating a safe space, solving problems, relationships, behavior, dealing with stress, self reflection, transfer/action planning, how to make an ending, every activity used as a learning opportunity, among others.”
Kim, a Next Steps participant, now shares the outdoors with her family. “It’s helped me a lot as a mum” she says. “I learnt that when I was away that being in the outdoors gave me a clear mind, it cleared my mind a lot so now I tend to take my children on little adventures in the outdoors, just give them an idea of what I was doing when I was away.”
According to McCrea, 85% of participants reported long term increase in self confidence, and 21% went on to an education, training, volunteering or employment opportunity directly, which given the difficulties facing the demographic they seek to help is considered a great outcome.
With the lesson of the wild and the ongoing mentorship of VT, Oscar is in college, works as a bike mechanic through the Cashback Change Cycle, and mentors others with what he learned on his journey. But even for those who aren’t in the top results, the value of Venture Trusts lessons are clear, according to another young male participant. “It creates a positive family, it’s not a group of friends, but a family.”