A PROJECT to help Scots women battling substance misuse and offending has received a major boost after being handed nearly £100,000 by Comic Relief.

Almost 100 women – 32 for each of the next three years – will be able to participate in the Next Steps programme run by Edinburgh-based Venture Trust thanks to the grant of £95,423.

The three-phase initiative works in partnership with a number of criminal justice teams and voluntary groups to select and prepare women for the course. The charity then takes them to its residential centre in Applecross in the Highlands, where they are faced with a series of rigorous outdoor and personal challenges.

In the final phase, the charity links up again with its external partners to help the women transfer what they have learned to their home lives, supporting them while they look for work or training opportunities or end violent relationships.

This type of initiative is likely to become more common as its approach reflects many of the key recommendations in Dame Elish Angiolini's Commission on Women Offenders, published in April, in particular the need to address the underlying problems such as addiction, domestic abuse and poor mental health that lead some women to turn to petty crime.

Sixty women aged between 16 and 57 have completed Next Steps, which was launched by Venture Trust in 2010 and given financial support by Comic Relief for a pilot. The charity said 83% of the women who completed the programme turned their lives around.

Mark Bibbey, Venture Trust chief executive, said: "We are extremely grateful to Comic Relief for this generous grant. Their support for our Next Steps programme is a fantastic endorsement of the timely and effective nature of our work with women involved in offending."

Joe Connelly, head of programmes at the Venture Trust, said the physical challenges from being outdoors in a wilderness setting were key to the project's success.

"People get the opportunity to take off their usual masks by being in a totally different environment," he told The Herald in an interview for Society earlier this year. "We're able to tap into the potential of who they can be rather than who they think they are – especially if they've been labelled as offenders or drug addicts or alcoholics.

"There's an immediacy about the wilderness and about the activities the women do."

The funding came from the Scottish Sport Relief Home and Away Fund. A spokesman for Comic Relief said: "The Scottish Government have jointly matched Sport Relief's contribution, with the Home and Away Programme funding forming an important part of its commitment to delivering a lasting legacy from the 2014 Commonwealth Games."