A change for the best can offer new hope to some of our most disadvantaged youngsters, says Joe Connelly
Last New Year, like many others, I promised myself I would make some changes in my life. I was determined to take up swimming more regularly, finally quit smoking for good, and make more time in my hectic schedule to spend quality time with my family. I’ve done well with the first and third of these goals, but have failed miserably with the second. This week, wondering whether I should just “give up and give in”, I turned to an unconventional source for advice and inspiration.
Let me explain. Over the past year, I have been privileged to meet literally hundreds of young people who vowed to change their lives and who have triumphantly, resoundingly, emphatically achieved their goals.
Last year, Sharon told me this: “I’ve had very dark thoughts, times when I’ve considered it might be better if I’m not here”. This year, she’s a prize-winning student at an Outdoor Education College, where she’s learning to share her skills to teach and inspire other young people.
Last Christmas, David was out of work, becoming increasingly despondent as he struggled to find an employer who would take him on. This Christmas, things look quite different: “I am no longer unemployed. After so long without a job, I’m really delighted to have been given a chance.”
A competitive environment
Fiona was living in a homeless hostel this time last year, but has now found training and work in Jamie Oliver’s Glasgow restaurant. She’s working hard through long shifts, determined to prove her worth in a competitive environment.
For all of these young people – none of them older than 26 – the future now has purpose and promise. It’s a far cry from when they first came to Venture Trust, when they were caught up in chaos and misery, struggling to see what the world had to offer them or, indeed, what they could offer the world.
Over the year, they’ve worked hard. Each of them has committed to changing their futures, and agreed to give their all to an intensive personal development programme. Using the wilderness landscapes of the Scottish Highlands as their classroom, each of them has learnt to work together, set goals and overcome problems. Through the snow and the midges, they have pushed themselves to their limits. It’s been hard, emotional, exhausting, but it’s worked – and these young people are all looking ahead to futures that now look more promising than they would ever have believed possible 12 months ago.
“Venture Trust helped me a lot. It gave me more confidence, more independence. I done a lot of new things I hadn’t done before and it was really challenging and was a big achievement for me. If it wasn’t for Venture Trust I wouldn’t be where I am today”.
Change is possible
For every Sharon, David and Fiona, I’ve witnessed hundreds more inspiring stories of young people committed to changing their lives. January always marks one of our busiest times for young people joining our programmes, and we’re gearing up to help even more young people change their lives next year. And these young people inspire me not to give up or give in, for they are living proof that change is possible.
What our participants don’t always realise, though, is the work that goes on behind the scenes to make sure we’re able to continue offering this support. This year, as local authority funding cuts kick in, traditional sources of funding come under pressure and there’s more competition for every pound, it’s to you – readers of The Scotsman – that we turn.
It costs us £15 per hour to support young people in Scotland – people who otherwise have very little in the way of encouragement, inspiration, role models or champions, £15 that – very directly – can support someone to turn their life around. These are our young people – from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fife, Dundee, Inverness – and young people that have had a very tough start in life indeed.
I see young people taking “a change for change” every single day. If they’ve got a desire to change and the courage to ask for help, if they want to achieve their potential and change their future, then Venture Trust will be there to support them.
And they need your support as well. One young person told me about one of our programmes: “It had a profound effect on me – it gave me belief in myself that I could beat my problems. Since then I have stopped all drugs, don’t drink and go to the gym five days a week. You could say I’m bit of a boring bugger these days! But im living clean and healthy, the future’s looking bright and I’m very happy.”
• Joe Connelly is head of programmes, Venture Trust. Please help young people in Scotland achieve their ambitions in 2014. See www.venturetrust.org.uk/scotsman to donate £15 to support our work in Scotland.