Coming back from the edge
your brief is to engage with "the most chaotic youths". It's not a description that youth worker Paul Little likes, though it's one of common currency in the kind of work he does; and it does pinpoint the existential challenge he faces every day: changing lives.
Mr Little is project leader for Window of Time, a Scottish Borders youth programme which offers "the most socially excluded young people" a year-long self-development programme, combining outdoor pursuits and leadership training, group work and youth work skills.
"WOT is not just about getting the young people 'sorted', giving them more confidence and getting them involved," says Mr Little. "It's about encouraging them to want to help other young people change, and when you see that desire in them, you know that together you've passed the litmus test."
For three days a week, 10 young people gather at the WOT base in Newcastleton, where they can explore the wilds of Liddesdale and aim for a Basic Experience Leaders Award and coaching qualifications in pursuits such as climbing, kayaking, archery, caving, mountain bike maintenance and first aid. But what kind of barriers do these young people have to overcome at WOT?
"I'm claustrophobic and asthmatic," says 23-year-old Chris, who is on a drugs testing order from court and has recently come off his methadone and diazepam script. "There I am, on this caving expedition, having to stand up to my face in running water to let another group squeeze past. Panicking? Aye. But I held it. When I got out, I was proud. Talk about conquering fear!"
Chris says the programme gives him targets to aim for and he's determined to get his course qualifications and get a job as an outdoor instructor.
"If I hadn't changed my life, I'd be in jail because of the drugs and that.
The course has really helped me develop. If the course stopped tomorrow, I'd be all right as far as the drugs go. I'm clean. But the course makes me want to go on to other positive things. To help others."
Like Chris, 23 year old Logan started the WOT programme last March, and he too is aiming to get a job as an instructor. "When I started, I was on heroin. Now I'm on methadone and stable. I come off in January. It'll no'
be easy but no' too big either. My behaviour has changed since I started.
I've more to live for and I can help other people with problems like mine.
"I was aggressive, depressed, suicidal. I was on heroin for seven years.
I'd be dead or in jail. I'm getting my life sorted physically and mentally.
I want to help other people."
Mr Little is quietly confident that WOT is proving successful for every participant in different ways: "We've seen changed lives."