The Amber Foundation – a quarter of a century in operation

The Amber Foundation – a quarter of a century in operation

This year marks 25 years since Amber first opened our doors to young people facing hard times.

Amber begun at Tottenham House near Marlborough in Wiltshire, in 1995 and we now run three supported housing centres in the south and south – west of England. Over the last 25 years Amber has helped over 4000 people aged 17-30 with the majority leaving their troubled pasts behind them and moving on to bright independent futures.

Barty Smith OBE, Amber’s founder and current chair, first became aware of the need for Amber after working in his business with several young people from the ‘Youth Opportunities Programme’ that gave unemployed school leavers the opportunity to engage in on the job training. Barty was struck by the lack of support for young people, their lack of aspiration and low self-esteem. He decided he wanted to do something that would help them rebuild their self-belief and help them to find a positive direction and focus for their future.

Barty was able to secure a lease of Tottenham House near Marlborough where he personally welcomed the first Amber residents. Barty remembers the years the charity spent at Tottenham house fondly; “it was such a special time – the house helped enormously – it made such an impression on new residents, funders and visitors alike. I still remember the opening day and the start of what I call the Amber magic. It’s still with us today.”

Amber continued to operate at Tottenham House until 2005 and in their first ten years opened a further centre in Devon at Ashley Court, Chawleigh near Crediton in July 2002 and Bythesea Lodge in Trowbridge a year later.

The charity then successfully fundraised in order to open a third site, Farm Place in Surrey in 2010, and now helps around 200 young people in crisis a year.

Barty, who was awarded the OBE in 2018 in recognition for the work he has done setting up Amber and continuing to support the charity, said

“Young people who have fallen on hard times, been out of work, or have just lost their way need space and time to focus on their future, free from the added pressures of unemployment or how they will afford their next meal.”

Barty helped develop the charity’s unique development programme which focuses on employment readiness and skills for independent living alongside confidence building and personal development.

“I have always felt that by having fun and building self-esteem and confidence, people see the world and their future differently.  They begin to see opportunities for themselves, which may have always been there, but they couldn’t see them. This is usually because they were too bogged down with trying to survive or were being dragged into a life of drugs and crime, often through mixing with the wrong crowd or just because life had dealt them a pretty rotten hand.”

Our offer to young people is supported housing with a difference as the support extends well beyond a bed and three meals a day. Every young person welcomed to an Amber centre receives a bespoke package of support and takes part in an abstinence based structured development programme. The young residents are encouraged to really think about what they want to do and explore new hobbies and interests. During their stay they gain accredited training in the skills they need to live independently and in the workplace – some also attend college and complete work experience, additional programmes or vocational courses.

A significant number of the young people who turn to Amber have offending backgrounds and in 2018 the charity’s work with this group was recognised by a report from the Ministry of Justice’s DataLab. The report concluded that there is ‘significant evidence that the Amber intervention decreases the number of people who re-offend’. The figures show that on average 46% of people with a similar profile to those that come to Amber will re-offend compared to 24% of those that have benefited from Amber’s programme of support.

Last year the team at Amber was thrilled to be nominated for a Wiltshire Life award in recognition of the difference the charity makes to the lives of the county’s most vulnerable young people.

The coronavirus pandemic currently threatening the whole country has forced some charities to close but Amber has continued to provide residents a safe supportive place to be throughout lockdown. The preventative procedures and safeguards put in place at the beginning of this crisis has meant that the charity has kept residents and staff at all 3 centres safe from the virus.

Paul Rosam, Amber’s CEO, said “it is an extremely strange time to be reflecting on 25 years in operation but I am immensely proud of what we have achieved since we first opened our doors. More recently the way the residents and our staff have risen to the threat of Coronavirus and the challenges of lockdown has been inspiring. Those at the Wiltshire centre even organised a mini Olympics event of 26 different events over 5 days for the 2.6 Challenge to raise awareness and funds for our work locally. I’m so proud of the way we have coped as an organisation and feel it is a testament to Amber’s unique ethos and overall resilience.”

For more information about us, how you can access help for yourself or a loved one or how you can support us in a variety of ways please take a look around our website or contact [email protected]