My name is Ewan Paterson. I am 24 years old and I am a Kickstart Young Leader at Ethos VO living in Scotland. This is my personal story:

I grew up in a place called Kirkintilloch with my Mum, Dad and brother. We moved from there to Cumbernauld where in the 1st year of secondary school I met a girl who I became infatuated with. She did not feel the same way but would pretend to pick me up then drop me at the click of a finger. I would self harm and had no idea how to handle my emotions. I thought I was depressed but this was nothing compared with the self – implosion that was to come.

Around this time my friend had started smoking cigs and suggested trying it as an alternative to self harm. He took me to the school gates on lunch break and introduced me to Scott a 6th form student who sold individual fags. I quickly became close with him and he invited me out to hang around with his group outside of school. Naively, I accepted and began to hang around the area within Cumbernauld known as Greenfaulds. They introduced me to another way of life which was gang culture (I now question whether I was a victim of grooming into the gang).

I began to withdraw from school – getting involved in gang fighting with rival areas and petty crimes such as stealing from Tescos for alcohol. My parents didn’t know how to handle me and I was spiralling out of control. Over a 4 year period it escalated into worse activities such as drug dealing and I was constantly in and out of the police station, had social work involvement and lots of agencies involved to try to steer me back on course  – all to no avail.

When I turned 16 I broke up with my girlfriend. She was a few months younger so at the time she was 15. She had sent me nude pictures during our relationship and when we broke up she reported this to the police to try and get back at me for the break up. I was dawn-raided by police, had all electronics removed and arrested and charged with indecent images of children. I was taken to court the next day after being kept in cells, I was then remanded in HMP Polmont young offenders institute. At the time my solicitor told me this was because my parents didn’t want to supply a bail address. I was kept there for a week while social services worked to get me a flat before my parents eventually consented to give their address. I was bailed under the harshest conditions inflicted on anyone of my age at the time. I was banned from the entire area of Greenfaulds – I was not allowed near anyone under the age of 18 (I was 16 so included 99% of my peer group) and I was not allowed internet access or anything with internet capabilities. I was curfewed from 6pm until 6am. Upon my release my name was printed in a local magazine known as “The Digger” under the headline “Accused sex offender is bailed”.  Without access to the internet and unable to speak to anyone I was unable to counter the rumours or put across my side of the story,  I was on bail for 13 months and my mental health hit an all time low. I felt my life was over.

Finally, after 13 months on bail, the case went to trial. The charges were thrown out and the judge couldn’t believe I had been subjected to this torture. My case was so bad, it prompted a rewrite in UK law to protect young people from being forced to wait for trial in such cases.

I worked damn hard to rebuild my life from that point on. Sadly, the horrendous experience took a lot out of me but the positive thing is it got me out of a cycle of crime.

Going into applying for Young Leaders was a leap of faith. I was very fed up with the meaningless work I had been doing in call centres and offices for little pay. I had just become redundant from the NHS track and trace position I’d worked for the last 7 months when  Young Leaders was recommended to me by my JobCentre work coach. I was welcomed to Ethos with open arms and told I had permission to gate crash as many meetings that week as I could, which I did and very quickly I was hooked.

My first month was generally about finding my feet and trying to figure out which projects/work packages I could get involved in where I could actually be of value. I took over the Scrum Master position within the social media team which allowed me to play a key role.

Once I was fully settled within Ethos and had a good handle on how things worked I got into business development within the Somerset area where we are doing incredibly meaningful work for 16-18 year olds who have been failed by the system (NEETS – not in education, employment or training) The Young Leaders programme continues to be a source of motivation and inspiration and is changing my perception of myself. My life has been incredibly hard, and it previously felt like no matter how hard I worked to move on in life there was always something holding me back.  Now I know it’s life experiences that can make a person valuable.

Sharing my story with supporting colleagues in Ethos made me reflect on my experiences. I realise that I was a part of that dawn of social media where nobody knew what the effects were going to be on young people. The only issue when I was a child was that more people were on social media than were engaging with school. Now, there’s a lot more understanding of social media, the harms around it and there are studies around how far reaching these harms can be. I think that working with agencies that support young people could be something really good for me personally. This could help me a lot because it’s something I’ve never quite been able to shift from my own psyche about how much these things impacted my life.

I would like to reach out and pitch my story to them. I could definitely see myself being of value to these organisations as someone who understands these experiences. Sometimes social work actively worked against me (such as the forensic psychologists who submitted reports which damaged my case and a charity whose advice led me into debt)  and I built up a lot of distrust for services. Now I realise that these agencies need real honest feedback from cases where it hasn’t gone the way they hoped and accept the criticism given to them rather than hide behind regulations and the council they work for.

Generally,  when applying for work we go for what we have prior experience in. This for me left me in a constant loop of low paid work without prospects for 8 years of my life. Having enough experience to get jobs but not enough to get out of the industry I was in and into “meaningful” work. Through Ethos I’ve been able to work on projects and work packages I would have needed fancy qualifications for with 30 years demonstrable experience. I know that I am capable of so much more and Ethos puts that same belief into every young person that comes through its doors. The only requirement was that you want to see real social change in the world of work – and you will be welcomed with open arms.

It’s truly a place you get what you put in. For some,  Ethos is about the work experience, for others it’s about the community it provides and builds while for some it simply comes down to having that basic level of income each month. To me personally this is the first time I’ve felt “fulfilled” by work that I’m doing, I feel like I’m working to make real positive change in people’s lives either through supporting them through the YL programme or in the work we’re doing to provide opportunities outside of Ethos in the local communities.

With the Ethos approach you cannot “fail”. I’ve seen myself working in areas I wouldn’t necessarily have thought I’d be of benefit. It helps flip the mindset of “I don’t have experience in this field, I’ll provide no value,”  to one of, “Well, why wouldn’t I be able to add value?” so freed from the mindset that you can’t do something because you haven’t done it before.

More about Young Leaders

Young Leaders is a basic income project that gives young people the opportunity to explore work opportunities and to discover their passions through engagement in meaningful work.