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Transforming lives via the wilderness

The Venture Trust takes young people on expeditions into the Scottish wilderness. Picture: Contributed

The Venture Trust takes young people on expeditions into the Scottish wilderness. Picture: Contributed

  • by AMELIA MORGAN
 

Participation in our programmes takes individuals on an intense emotional and physical journey, says Amelia Morgan

Getting out in the Scottish countryside at this time of year is an opportunity to take in autumn colours, crunch leaves underfoot and enjoy the views on crisp, bright days – to relax with family and friends, get some exercise or seek out adventure.

For Venture Trust, the Scottish wilderness is at the heart of our personal development programmes for people in difficult circumstances. Many people ask “Why the wilderness?” or “What’s so special about Scotland’s Highlands in helping people to develop new skills and change their lives for the better?”

Heading north away from cities and towns, Venture Trust’s wilderness expeditions take in some iconic areas of Scotland – hill-walking in the rich montane landscapes of the Cairngorms or canoeing through Speyside represent demanding territory.

Expeditions are tailored to transfer learning – enabling people to discover strengths within and be part of a group working together to solve problems, where good communication, time-keeping and planning enable everyone to succeed. The sense of achievement, the sheer elation of ascending a ridge to bag a Munro – when the furthest some individuals have been is their local town centre – is profound.

The experience transforms lives – individuals see choices and consequences of the actions before them. Crossing a burn takes on new meaning when it presents the difference between staying dry and warm and a day of walking in damp, wet socks and boots.

The weather and environment do not judge individuals, they treat everyone the same; people on our programmes experience an intense emotional and physical journey. Away from the distractions and often damaging environments of everyday life, people are respected for their contribution, encouraged and inspired by others to try new behaviours, to learn by doing and to gain confidence and resilience.

Important life skills

This is not about being good at camping or doing an activity for fun – it’s about learning important life skills as part of a development journey. It is not a boot camp; everyone takes part voluntarily with one shared commitment to changing their lives for the better.

One recent participant, Kelly, said: “On the journey, I met myself.” To discover, understand and learn enables each of us to think about the impact of behaviours and actions for ourselves and those around us.

Without the transfer of learning, this experience would merely be a holiday – which is why ongoing support back in communities is essential to translate dreams and hopes into action and take “a chance to change”.

Last year, Venture Trust supported 950 people through our wilderness personal and social development programme. Over the past year, 324 of our participants have found work, started college or training or are volunteering.

We’re there to support every step of that journey – to enable people to move on with their lives positively with increased confidence and employability. For people like Jamie, Venture Trust is a lifeline. Regularly in trouble, he wanted to change, to a pathway out of chaos and fear. Over a period of 12 months, with our support, Jamie is rewriting his future – learning new skills, realising the consequences of actions. He is now regularly volunteering and recently secured a place at college to study computer animation.

With some breathtaking areas of Scotland ripe for discovery, we regularly head further north and west towards Torridon, tackling areas of Beinn Eighe, Britain’s first National Nature Reserve. From there, groups head to Applecross, concluding their wilderness expedition with a pier jump at Toscaig before returning to our centre and youth hostel, Hartfield House.

Applecross derives from the Gaelic, A’Chomraich, meaning the sanctuary. Rocky shores and areas of semi-natural woodland are plentiful, as we wild camp amongst oak, birch, rowan and aspen. Chance sightings of otters, pine martens and mountain hares and the sound of the rutting stags are hard to miss at this time of year. Golden eagles are another wildlife delight, along with visiting sea eagles.

Positive steps forward

Reached by the stunning and historic Bealach na Ba mountain pass – rising from sea level to 2,054ft – the group will pause at the summit and, on a sunny day, be rewarded with spectacular views towards the Cuillins, and northwards, towards Loch Torridon and the Minch.

Venture Trust supports people from across Scotland and our goal is to enable them to take positive steps forward with their lives, whether that is dealing with homelessness, rebuilding relationships with their family or addressing issues with drugs or alcohol.

We believe that with the right, tailored support, drawing on the inherent challenge of the wilderness, people can change and contribute positively to their community or get a job. Many of our participants go on to develop a lifelong connection with the wildlife and landscapes of Scotland.

• Amelia Morgan is a member of Venture Trust’s senior management team and leads its social enterprise, Venture Mhòr. www.venturetrust.org.uk/ambition

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