Today, we’re bringing you the first in a series of Q&A’s with our Venture Scotland Ambassadors. VS Ambassador, Jo, reflects on some of the highs and lows of her Journey, and has some pearls of wisdom to share with our current and future Young People!
How did you find out about the Venture Scotland programme and when did you join?
I found out about Venture Scotland through the community psychiatric nurse I had at the time. I started the Journey programme back in the spring out 2018 when I was very socially isolated, unable to cope and hold down a job after a long hospital admission for my mental health, the previous year, which I was still struggling to bounce back from.
Did you have any fears before joining the programme?
Before starting the programme, my biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to relate to and bond with any of the other participants. I was quickly proven very wrong – at VS you’re surrounded by others who also want to change and often have similar experiences to you. I met some of my closest friends through Venture Scotland.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting the programme?
Be gentle with yourself and recognise that things aren’t going to change overnight. At times the programme will bring up some difficult emotions but trust the process and make the most of the support VS staff and Volunteers offer you, especially in 1-to-1s – they are there to listen and only want the best for you.
Which part of the programme did you find the most challenging and why?
I found the Glen Etive bothy trip at the end of Discover the most challenging. My mental health was in a pretty bad place at the time and I found it difficult being somewhere that was very much outside of my comfort zone. I was away from normal life and therefore unable to engage in some of the unhealthy coping mechanisms I relied on at the time. Whilst it felt hard, I was learning to use new, healthy coping mechanisms and had the support of the VS staff and of the other young people I was on the course with.
What is your favourite memory of your time on the programme?
It is hard to pick just one favourite memory but it has to be the canoe trip on the journey up Loch Etive at the end of Explore. We had wild camped on the banks the night before and, as we were approaching the bothy in our canoes, we held up sails and used the wind to our advantage. As we allowed the wind to carry us along, I felt so alive. I was fully present and my usual struggles felt so distant. It was at times like this that I was reminded of just how good life can be and that there is always something to live for, however big or small. It was a truly beautiful experience.
What advice would you give to someone who was worried about the programme being based outdoors?
It’s completely normal to feel apprehensive if you aren’t used to spending a lot of time in the outdoors, but it’s very much worth pushing through that discomfort and learning to appreciate what nature can offer. VS staff are very skilled and experienced in keeping young people safe in the outdoors so as long as you follow their guidance, you’ll be perfectly safe to try and make the most of all the new experiences being offered to you.
What are the staff & volunteers like at VS?
In the (nearly) 4 years that I’ve been engaged with VS, I’ve never found the staff to be anything but supportive, empathetic and so clearly passionate about ensuring young people get the most of out the programme. They are so capable at what they do and when I started the course, I had never been surrounded by just so many genuinely kind people. I met many wonderful volunteers when on the course who were very committed to helping young people and felt strongly about all the amazing work that VS do. Every volunteer brought something different to the table and they were all very willing to lend an empathic ear.
Since finishing the course, where have the skills and experience you learnt at VS taken you?
The skills and experiences I learned at VS have turned me into a much more confident person. I have a lot more self-belief, I recognise my worth and have more self-compassion. I have the confidence to make new friends, start new relationships and keep positive people in my life. I feel more able to pursue new, exciting experiences and can hold down a job, both things I didn’t feel I was capable of prior to VS.
Although the nature of my mental health conditions mean that I will always have reoccurring episodes of poor mental health, I have been able to maintain periods of good mental health for so much longer than I was before VS came into my life. I am much more able to prevent things from spiralling when I am struggling and am so much better at asking for help and communicating my needs. I am also a lot more confident in my identity as a queer person, something I struggled with prior to VS. All in all, I’m just so much happier on the whole and so grateful that I was able to get the right support from VS at the right time.
What is one thing you learnt at VS that will stick with you forever?
I learned just how important it is to surround yourself with positive and supportive people who you can trust and to put more effort into nurturing those relationships.