Mark Bibbey: Nature a respite from chaotic life

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GETTING the opportunity to spend time experiencing nature can help many young people, writes Mark Bibbey

Venture Trust, the charity that supports disadvantaged young adults – often Scotland’s most vulnerable people – to make positive changes in their lives, is seeing some very inspiring results to its development programmes. Its participants are not only making changes for the better, they are really turning their lives around, and some are going on to do great things.

Many of the young people who come to Venture Trust are from chaotic, destructive backgrounds. There might be homelessness, addiction, abuse, ­isolation and a path that leads to a future in the criminal justice system. Many have not had the start in life that most of us are afforded, and are missing the basic skills to deal with difficult situations. But through Venture Trust, so many of these young people are ­taking back control.

Catherine McGoldrick is a case in point. She came to Venture Trust in 2010 when she found herself homeless and addicted to alcohol. Through the Venture Trust programmes and continued support, she is now a Venture Trust mentor to others facing similar challenges – and a first-class footballer, playing in the Homeless World Cup. Catherine never gave up on her hope to make positive changes in her life, and has now achieved more than she ever thought possible.

Catherine said: “Venture Trust were always there. I always knew that I could rely on Venture Trust. When I did engage it helped me loads with staying sober and moving on with my life, doing lots of positive things.”

Since its inception, Venture Trust has done things differently. With a wealth of expertise in the outdoor sector, its development programmes use the unique wilderness of the Scottish Highlands and the natural environment to take its participants out of their own environment, away from peer pressure and the pull of a digital and often lonely, destructive life.

Time in the outdoors is spent learning teamwork, life skills such as trust, communication, independence and confidence, combined with practical skills such as lighting a fire, kayaking, climbing, and things like responsibility, and being self-sufficient. The participants are often in a new environment doing activities that they have never had the opportunity to do. They are among nature, grounded, with peace and tranquillity affording them time to learn about themselves, what they are capable of, where their passions lie – something that their life to this point may not have allowed.

However, it is not enough to just provide a respite from a chaotic life. All of these young people then have to return to the environment and the catalysts that led to them being referred to Venture Trust in the first place. It is the help that each participant receives that then allows them to build upon what they have learnt and make positive changes in their life. A plan is devised together with the participant, outlining goals they would like to achieve, and with one-to-one support, working out a way to get there. This might be to find a home, kick an addiction, and ultimately to gain independence through education or employment.

Through its partners, Venture Trust helps the individuals to find work experience, prepare a CV, gain volunteering roles and get on the road to achieving qualifications. It is this extensive and lengthy support that enables these young people to really feel they can achieve anything, that opportunities are open to them, often for the first time, and that they have a choice. The chance to see themselves differently, and the hope for a better future comes from having time in the wilderness; the greatness comes from the individual when they are given the tools to shine.

• Mark Bibbey is chief executive of ­Venture Trust