Each year about 17,000 people leave the UK Armed Forces and most transition successfully into the civilian world.
However, some ex-servicemen and women do struggle to build meaningful, productive lives and end up unemployed, homeless, abusing drugs and alcohol or in the criminal justice system. The costs of poor transitions to civilian life are high; both to the individual and to communities and are estimated at £105 million in 2017 by the latest Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT) transitioning report. The report states family breakdown, mental health, harmful drinking and unemployment as the greatest costs.
There are a large number of charities and organisations helping in the transition from military to civilian life but research from FiMT has shown there are gaps in service provisions. A small – but significant –number of vulnerable ex-service personnel fall through the cracks. They lose confidence, motivation and hope.
It is these people that Venture Trust, together with FiMT and the Armed Forces Covenant, is working to help through its Positive Futures and Living Wild programmes.
The Venture Trust programmes help participants work towards achieving their personal goals. These could be re-deploying skills learnt within the military, finding a home, rebuilding broken relationships, working towards living a healthy, safe and stable life, retraining or applying for a job or utilising their skills through volunteering. All of these are highlighted by FiMT research as significant issues encountered when transitioning to civilian life.
There is initial support from a community-based outreach worker who prepares the participant to make the most of the programme. Participants identify their goals for the programme before embarking on phase two, an extended journey in Scotland’s wilderness areas. The “wilderness journey” is designed to provide time and space away from existing surroundings, to unlock latent potential, develop new skills through experiential learning, and gain confidence and independence. After returning from the wilderness, there is ongoing one-to-one support in phase three, all focused on overcoming barriers and moving forward positively.
Interim findings from an independent evaluation suggest the Positive Futures programme is unique: “No other organisation is offering a three-phase programme for veterans, combining key ingredients delivered across three sequential phases.” Participants are improving their confidence, motivation and developing new skills to better deal with stressful, unfamiliar or negative situations. This is leading to better health, stability, education, training, employment or volunteering opportunities with Venture Trust and the organisation’s many partners.
As of April 2017, 115 ex-servicemen and women have benefited from the programme. The interim research for the Positive Futures programme has found a marked improvement in confidence (81 per cent), employability (80 per cent), stability (67 per cent), relationships (49 per cent) and access to local services (56 per cent) for participants. Former Royal Marine commando Brian Moran is one of the Positive Futures success stories. Plagued with ongoing mental health and domestic issues, Brian took up the opportunity to enrol in the programme.
“I was given a tremendous amount of help and empathy, distinctive and unique to a veteran’s background and encouraged to go onto the wilderness journey,” Brian said. The former marine is engaged in a paid traineeship at Venture Trust. “In essence, Venture Trust has given me a platform to enhance my life quality and the ability to help my fellow veterans.”
The findings also indicate agencies working with ex-service personnel see the Venture Trust programmes as a route to refer those who would “refuse point blank” to attend traditional personal development sessions but who would happily attend a course with an outdoor component.
Some referrers say the programmes benefit from being run by civilians. This takes ex-service personnel outside the “veterans’ support bubble” and helps with the move away from military structure and the transition to civilian life.
Early results are encouraging and ensure a sustained commitment from Venture Trust to use evidence-based outcomes to inform and influence policy and best practice for ex-servicemen and women across the UK.
Many former service personnel with shorter service histories or who have spent little time in combat zones are reluctant to approach military charities.
However, both groupings may be more vulnerable and susceptible to difficulties finding their place back in civilian life. Venture Trust works with referrers to encourage these ex-servicemen and women, irrespective of length of service, to access the Positive Futures and Living Wild programmes.
The final word should come from the agencies and organisations with whom Venture Trust partners: “There have been dramatic and lasting life-changing outcomes. Clients are moving into employment, volunteering, education and training.”
Venture Trust is a Scottish Charity delivering valuable support for veterans. Amelia Morgan, Venture Trust chief executive