Ian had been on heroin, had deteriorated mentally, and was under a criminal justice order when he came to Venture Trust.

On his wilderness journey, he was shy and withdrawn to start with, and wouldn’t even accept help putting his tent up. The weather was wet and windy, and he considered giving up more than once. But he persevered despite the challenges and started to become aware of his strengths. He was learning that it’s worth it to keep going and push through tough and challenging situations.

He completed his journey and moved forward – shortly after his journey Ian landed a new job, set himself work and fitness goals, and began walking in and around his home village.

The SMT has made a £20,000 grant to the Venture Trust charity so that many more “Ians” can benefit from a wilderness journey. These journeys on foot through highland Scotland are the centre of VT’s three-phase intensive personal development programme for Scotland’s most vulnerable people – those who face the barriers caused by addiction, poverty, unemployment, a convictions history, or mental health troubles. The whole programme typically stretches over 6–9 months.

In 2021-22 more than 200 people went on one of 37 wilderness journeys, many of them in and around the Cairngorms on journeys lasting up to 10 days.

They are serious undertakings. A Deeside journey in February went first to a roadside camp near Glen Tanar, then to a wild camp further up the glen – then by vehicle to the Linn of Dee, followed by camping near Derry Lodge, an ascent of Carn Crom 890m, and a wild camp in the Quoich Punchbowl beyond Clais Fhearnaig. But the last two nights of 10 were in the comfort of a bunkhouse, with plenty of time for reflections and plans.

Summer journeys are more likely to cross more remote wildernesses, such as Fisherfield and the country between Dundonnel and Poolewe. What with heat and midges, the summer will probably also include river journeys, like a descent of the Spey, and visits to areas like Loch Shiel and Eilean Shona.

There are all the outdoor-trip challenges you’d expect – load-carrying, cooking, keeping warm (or cool!), and making group decisions. These things demand a focus on actions and their consequences, encouraging the discovery of new skills and coping mechanisms, and helping journeyers to become more self-reliant.

And there are other challenges too: intensive one-to-one sessions, and group-wide work, that encourage people to think about the skills they are developing, and how they can be applied to their lives back at home. To run these sessions, the experienced field team provides a high level of personal support, innovative development and learning theories and practices.

In the current economic climate, with soaring living costs and a social and healthcare sector stretched to capacity, Venture Trust is itself facing new challenges, to ensure it can keep providing lifeline services: in particular the wilderness journeys, which can cost tens of thousands each. That’s why the SMT is glad to help the Trust, and to encourage others to do likewise.

For more information visit https://www.venturetrust.org.uk.

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