There is hope for those on the wilder side

The Living Wild scheme helps participants make positive choices
The Living Wild scheme helps participants make positive choices
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Our Living Wild programme can change people, says Joe Connelly

Venture Trust’s “Living Wild” programme offers “a chance for change” to young men and women caught up in offending.

Over the past 12 years, I have had the opportunity to work with many young people and it is one of our programmes which continues to inspire me.

The programme provides individuals involved in the criminal justice system an opportunity to consider positive changes that they need to make that will help them become more responsible citizens who can contribute productively to their communities and society as a whole. In fact, nearly 700 individuals have progressed through the programme in the last five years.

Working closely with individuals, we provide support, encouragement and inspiration.

Each phase of the programme is crucial to enabling individuals to make positive progress. Phase 1 outreach work is geared towards getting an individual to a place where they can think about the negative aspects of how their behaviour impacts on their families and communities and to ensure a level of stability that would allow them to progress to Phase 2.

Issues such as homelessness, alcohol and or drug misuse and continued offending are but a few of the destablisers that would hinder an individual’s progression onto the next phase. Achieving this stability, for many, can take anything from three to six months.

Phase 2 is about taking individuals out of their own normal environment, and presenting them with a number of challenges that provide them the opportunity to solve them in positive ways.

It also affords them a real break to see themselves and their world differently, to tap into their true potential in a positive sense. This phase, out journeying through Scotland’s mountains, rivers and coasts coupled with intensive personal development, is the crux of what Venture Trust does and where an individual’s cognitive position can and does shift.

Over the years I have heard reference made to the need for behaviour change but, in truth, for behaviour to change there must first be a change in the thinking of the individual for their behaviour to change.

Phase 3 is where an individual is supported to transfer this learning to their own home environment and to provide them real opportunities to seek training, education and employment. Again, this can take time and an individual learns how to be patient, but more importantly how to persevere in their quest for positive changes in their lives.

No one phase is more important than the other; as each is integral to the other and throughout the three phases an individual will commit to anything from 220 to 260 hours face-to-face contact with Venture Trust staff whilst on the programme over the course of nine months to a year.

Despite the barriers they face, we’ve helped almost 400 young people to take up jobs, training, education or volunteering since 2009.

Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to have witnessed this change in people’s lives – to be there when you see that desire and aspiration in the eyes of individuals as they seek to take responsibility for their lives and the choices they make. Just the other day I was speaking to a criminal justice social worker who had referred a number of young men to the programme and she described their return after completion as being akin to “someone having put the light on in their mind” and that the “determination exhibited by these individuals to make better choices in their lives” reminded her why her job matters. She also cited that “it was the doors that opened on their return from Phase 2 that really made the difference to the individual and how important this was in effecting long term sustainable change in their lives”. It is this kind of feedback that has kept me working with Venture Trust, that and the fact I know it makes a difference to the lives of those who have complex issues such as addiction, poor role models and poverty to deal with on a daily basis.

We all know there is a need for our prisons and certain individuals need to be in custody, but experience and research would suggest that it doesn’t necessarily change people in the way we would hope – and it is very costly.

A custodial sentence was estimated at £44,447 for one year based on the assumption that half the time would be served (Scottish Prison Service Annual Report 2008-9). Here at the Venture Trust, a place on our programme typically costs around £4,500.

We will continue to offer those in need “a chance to change” and an opportunity to channel their talents towards a positive future.

• Joe Connelly is head of programmes, Venture Trust


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