Young People’s Stories
“My future is so much brighter and I have made stronger and lifelong friendships”
Moving on successfully
- IT sales
- Probation officer
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Just £25 a week feeds a homeless young person at Amber
Young People's Stories
Keith was 23 when he first came to Amber’s Devon centre Ashley Court. His life had spiralled out of control;
My first day there I had a bit of a break down but, with the support and encouragement of the staff, and that of the friends I made there, I slowly put myself back together again.
I learned to make friends for the sake of friendship, I rediscovered myself really. I did a Personal Development (PD) Course which involved lots of time in the gym and learning survival skills. It ended with a final exercise consisting of a 40 mile point to point on Exmoor. I was also on the team that published a collection of poetry called New Dawn.”
While Keith was at Ashley Court, Amber staff helped him get the medical help he needed, “they supported me on the road that led me to discover that I have fibromyalgia, which explained a lot”
15 years later Keith is settled down with his partner and three children.
“Life is good… kids keep us busy (they are 12, 7 and 4). We’re finally planning our wedding and I help my partner run an increasingly successful business making bridesmaid and flower girl dresses to order. I’ve also recently started an online support group for people living with chronic illness and invisible disabilities like me.”
Keith will never forget being at Amber “I was proud of what I achieved there with the PD course and the poetry book. I think my stay there and the people I met saved me really. This is summed up in the lines of one of the poems I wrote while I was there…”
“Brothers and Sisters
There’s a piece of you all
Under my skin
For the rest of my days
I will recall
The bond of friendship
Between us all
We saved each other
From trouble and strife
My respect for you
Will last my whole life
You saved me from despair
My life is now in repair”
Keith doesn’t know where he’d be without Amber
“To be perfectly honest, the way I was going, living in the streets begging and stealing to survive, I would probably be dead by now if I hadn’t gone to Amber when I did”
“My mum died when I was in my early teens. I never knew my Dad and have no other family to speak of. My life was going downhill fast before I came to Amber. Someone I thought was my friend turned on me and started beating me up. My mental health was not in a good place. I now know I was severely depressed but I kept it to myself and didn’t get any help with it.
“I was living in Barnstaple to get away from my so called friend. But I didn’t have anywhere permanent to live. I initially was going to go to a hostel in Exeter but then someone suggested Amber.
“Being at Amber has really boosted my confidence. Staff have helped me get qualifications I never thought I’d get. The structure and support has helped me loads.
“My team leader, Vicki, has gone over and above to be supportive and help me get through everything.”
Amber staff have supported Rob to secure on going help from social services to support him and has found a semi- independent shared home to live in.
“I’m going to get support but the level of support will be up to me. I’m going to continue my studies at college, doing an access course so I can study computing and IT and eventually go to university.
“If it wasn’t for Amber I think I’d be dead. I tried to OD before coming here because things got so dark. I now feel really excited that I’m moving on and driven to achieve. My dream job is becoming a video games developer and one day I’d like to visit America.”
We’d like to say well done Rob – you’ve done us proud!
We’ve recently said goodbye and good luck to Jamie, 23, who lived at Amber in Devon for 13 months.
“My mum kicked me out when I was 20 so I had to live with my Dad. There wasn’t enough space for me so I had to sleep on the sofa which isn’t great with a bad back. I had no job, no money so no way out.
“Being at Amber has really improved my confidence. I’ve gained qualifications in Maths, English and a CSCS card (for working in construction). All in all I’ve achieved 10 qualifications which I am proud of. I’ve also been able to complete a volunteering role at Refurnish Crediton which has really improved my customer service skills.
“My team leader, James, has done a lot to help me out and been a real support. All the courses I’ve done have really helped me feel more ready for work.”
Jamie is now living at YMCA in Exeter and will continue his training with Elite Education.
“My goal is to be in full time work and have my own place. Amber has helped me get closer to that goal. If it wasn’t for coming to Amber I’d probably still be sleeping on a sofa, have no qualifications and struggling hugely with my confidence.”
Amber is 25 and had issues with alcohol since her early teens. She lived between her Mum and Dad before going into care at 15 because they couldn’t cope. She didn’t have a settled place to live, staying in short term foster families and hostels.
At 20 Amber had become a mum to a little girl who she called Molly. They lived in a flat with a friend and Amber’s sister and Nan were close by. “I had people around me but I was still struggling to control my drinking so I moved to a mother and baby unit. This was a tough time because I went from having a personal support network to not having those people around me.”
Amber cared for her daughter until she was 3. “I got to the point I just broke down and I couldn’t cope. Molly went to live with my Dad and I went into a hostel. I missed my daughter and just drank even more. This is when I found out about the Amber Foundation”
In the last two years Amber has stayed with us 4 times spending time at both our Surrey and Devon centres. During her recent stay Amber has recognised how damaging her patterns of behaviour are. “I just seem to be in this continual cycle of relapse and recovery. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve given up drinking and gone back to it. The detox is so painful but I keep going back. It’s been so damaging to my life. I’ve ended up in abusive relationships, lost my home on several occasions and I haven’t seen my daughter in a year. It’s made me realise I have got to change. While being here I’ve found out about a residential alcohol recovery centre which follows a 3 month 12 step programme. I applied and got accepted.”
The 12 step programme Amber is now following includes specialist alcohol recovery support, psychotherapy sessions and AA meetings.
Amber has had a lot of support from staff and fellow residents to make her decision.
“My team leader has been amazing, so helpful and motivating. All the staff go out of their way to help us.”
Other residents have also been really supportive – it’s great to have people around me that have faith in me and want me to succeed. I know this recovery programme is going to be tough and I’m really nervous but I’m determined to do this. I want to live a proper life, have a career as a care worker and to be able to go out to the cinema or to see friends without being tempted to drink. I want to be able to see my daughter again and make my family proud of me.”
Jack's sailing adventure with the Ocean Youth Trust
At the end of April a group of residents from across Amber’s three residential centres set sail from Southampton Ocean Village Marina on board the 30 metre vessel “Prolific”. They completed a five night voyage accompanied by a trained and qualified crew who are all volunteers from the Ocean Youth Trust.
Jack, 20, who is a resident at Amber’s Devon centre Ashley Court was excited when he first found out he could go on the trip “I’ve never sailed before so was really happy to hear I could go. I was nervous though – especially about being on a boat with 20 other people and living in such close quarters because if it gets too much you can’t exactly get off.”
Jack went with another resident from Ashley Court Harry “we were friends before we went but we really got to know each other better on the boat – that was really nice. The volunteers from the Ocean Youth Trust were all great”
A sailing experience with the Ocean Youth Trust is a once in a lifetime experience for our residents however it is also a huge challenge. Jack felt he learnt some valuable life lessons “despite the rain and seasickness we all had to pitch in and keep going but there were rewards, there was one evening where the rain had stopped and it was just so cool watching the sun go down. It really taught me that rewards are there for people if you work hard.”
Every participant this year earned a Competent Crew certificate awarded by the Royal Yachting Association, second level qualification. Caroline White, Business Manager at the Ocean Youth Trust said, “more commonly, we award the more basic RYA Start Yachting certificate. It is a genuine achievement to earn the more advanced qualification on a first voyage and only occurs when people are prepared to put in the effort to get through a more demanding syllabus.
We always like to stress that these are proper recognised qualifications which young people can keep in their Record of Achievement. It shows that they mastered some basic sailing skills; but perhaps even more importantly, earning the certificate also provides evidence of transferable skills. To complete it, they had to be able to listen, concentrate, work in a team, practise things when they initially struggled, until they were able to get them right, take part in routine tasks such as cooking and cleaning as well as the more exciting jobs, cope with living in an entirely unfamiliar situation, cope with being away from home, undertake tasks which some will have found really challenging, take responsibility when asked, and much more. They should all be proud of themselves for doing so well.”
Jack felt very proud of himself when we received his certificate “I’ve not got many qualifications so receiving it felt great – part of me didn’t think I could do it but I worked hard and achieved something. Before I came to Amber life was just drink and drugs. Being here and having these amazing opportunities and challenges is showing me that there is more to life than getting wrecked. I thought sailing was amazing and I’m hoping to be able to go again in the summer”
Joe is 22 and left our Devon centre Ashley Court after a 5 month stay.
Being here has helped me see that committing crime is not the way forward. I’ve learnt new life skills, and how to look after myself. My team leader has been so good. She always tries her best to motivate me and always willing to help me out.
I completed the Train to Succeed course with Exeter City Community Trust which really helped me with writing my CV and interview skills.”
“While I’ve been here I’ve taken part in the Amber Music Project and learnt how to play the drums which I’ve really enjoyed and found really therapeutic. I’d really like to carry this on.”
Joe is going back to the Isle of Wight where he grew up and has secured a room in shared accommodation.
“I don’t know anyone I’m going to live with. I want to start a new chapter. I feel happy and motivated about moving on – my first priority is to secure a job as a fork lift driver, I’ve got all the licenses I need. My goal is to keep moving forward, save money to get my own place and to stay sober.
If it wasn’t for Amber I’d probably be drinking again, going down my old path, taking drugs and getting into trouble.”
In March 2019 we said goodbye to Connor, 23, after a 14 month stay at our Devon centre. “Before I came to Amber I was homeless and using drink and drugs heavily. My lowest point was when I was sleeping under a bridge. It was so depressing and I often felt pretty hopeless.”
“Amber has helped me turn my life around in every way possible. Having a safe, secure roof over my head has made all the difference. My team leader has been amazing, so helpful and enthusiastic (even when I’m not). My mental health was a mess when I got here. I feel so much more stable and in control of things now.”
Connor has trained with Elite Training to secure his SIA badge and is now a fully qualified security officer. He has secured a job with TSS Security and is now working full time as a security guard.
“Being at Amber has helped me see a future, find what to do and achieve it.”
Connor has secured a flat in the private sector in a nearby town. “It took a lot of hard work to find it – been looking for three months. I’ve saved hard but also accessed Amber’s Homestart scheme which is a grant towards moving in costs”
“I feel ready to move on and I’m excited and a bit nervous. Planning on going to join a pool league and I’m saving up to buy an electric drum kit so I can carry on with my music. I’m proud of myself and my goal is to enjoy my life, stay clean and sober, hold down my job and keep a roof over my head.
“I’m really grateful for the support I’ve had from Amber because without it I really think I’d be dead.”
Through his recovery Connor has had the support of his family who live nearby. His mum recently got in touch to thank us. She said
“The Amber Foundation has given me back my son. He was in a situation where even I, as his mum, couldn’t fix it. Having the security of a place to stay and the amazing resources to tackle addiction and life after addiction has given Connor a future. As his mum, I have been able to learn how to support and encourage him in a way which gives him independence. Places like Amber and the other organisations who work with them are so valuable for those young people who lose their way… they make their future possible.”
Matt is 19 and has been at Ashley Court, Amber’s Devon centre, for around 8 months. Matt was diagnosed with a range of issues as a child including ADHD, PTSD and Dyslexia. “I really struggled at school and was kicked out of every school I went to.”
He had a troubled childhood, spending much of it in care, living with a foster family in Exeter, but at 18 he had to leave and moved on to a home in Taunton for care leavers. “There wasn’t really enough support for me and I went through some tough times. My life just spiralled and drugs became a daily habit leading me getting into trouble.”
“I wasn’t sure about Amber when I first got here. I really struggled at first and I didn’t think it was going to work out. But being here has given me the support, structure and routine that I needed. Vikki, my team leader, has been a massive help – she’s always seen the best in me and helped me through. The staff are always around to talk to. No one writes you off and there’s no judgement for past mistakes.”
While at Amber Matt has completed Exeter City Community Trust’s programme “Train to Succeed” which helped him with his Maths and English. “It helped me improve my skills and I feel much more work ready now.”
Matt also took part in the Airborne Initiative which is a 5 day residential course on Dartmoor, for young offenders, ex-offenders and young people not in education employment or training. It is run with support from the Parachute Regiment and designed to test participants’ mental and physical strength, develop leadership and team working skills. “it really got things in perspective and showed me where my life could have gone”
Matt is moving on to the YMCA in Exeter and is considering his options including enrolling on a course to do an SIA license enabling him to work in security. “Moving on will be a shock to the system but I feel ready – I’m excited about moving to Exeter and starting a new life. My goal is get my own place and a decent job. I want to be part of and contribute to society. If it wasn’t for Amber I’d probably be still taking drugs and be living on the streets or I would have ended up in prison by now”
J first came to our Wiltshire centre aged 24 in 2018.
“After 8 years of drug use my life was out of control, it started off just on weekends but then escalated to a regular habit and resulted in me becoming homeless.”
Since arriving, J has gone from strength to strength. “The counselling was absolutely brilliant and it really helped me take control of my life, I really concentrated on taking as much out of the experience as I could. My team leader was great and gave me the push that I needed.”
Whilst at Amber, J was offered the chance to do a number of qualifications and gain experience in a wide range of areas. One qualification that was particularly exciting was a Practical Sailing Course with The Royal Yachting Association.
After gaining more confidence J went on to complete a Level 2 in Principles of Customer Service. This hard work paid off and he obtained a full time, permanent contract with one of the UK’s leading electrical retailers. Not only that, he was then able to secure a tenancy close to where he now works.
“Since being at Amber I have gained in confidence and feel far more stable. In the future I hope to get a place of my own and continue to work hard. I feel that I could always pop back into Amber to say hello and to let them know how I am doing.”
Josh has secured his own accommodation and has started a job with a general builder.
10 months ago things were very different for Josh.
“My life was massively chaotic. I spent years living at 1000 miles an hour – taking drugs, drinking and getting into trouble. I had nowhere to live so sofa surfed, living day by day. I was on a path of self-destruction. Underneath my wild ways was a huge struggle with mental health. I was in a very dark place – at times I was even suicidal.
“I was stabbed in the back with a screwdriver and taken into police custody. It pretty much saved me as I was sober for 3 days. It was a wakeup call as I realised it was the first time I’d been clean of drugs since I was 13. I realised that unless I changed I’d have no chance to see my 2 year old son again. I’d already not seen him for a year so missed out on half his life.”
Josh found out about Amber through his mum. He wasn’t sure at first but decided to give it a go.
“Amber has given me stability and a chance to sort out my mental health issues. I’ve had time to learn more about myself and developed more empathy and understanding of others. Having Vicki (my team leader) to support me to access mental health services has been so important. Because of my years of drug use services kept fobbing me off despite the fact I am now clean. Having Vicki to support me and fight my corner has made a huge difference. Without her I probably would have disengaged with services.”
While at Amber Josh has got involved with a range of activities including opportunity football club, competing in the local mental health league. He was able to take part in a sailing trip with the Ocean Youth Trust earning a Royal Yachting Association Start Yachting certificate. He also participated in the Airborne Initiative, a 5 day residential course on Dartmoor, for young offenders, ex-offenders and young people not in education employment or training. It is run with support from the Parachute Regiment and designed to test participants’ mental and physical strength, develop leadership and team working skills.
“Airborne was a huge eye opener. Meeting lads who were serving sentences made me see where my life could have gone”
“Amber has also helped me build bridges with my sons mum and now have regular contact with my son. My old boss had been really supportive but because of my behaviour he stopped seeing me. When he found out I was living at Amber he contacted me and we’re back in touch again.”
After 9 months at Amber Josh now feels more in control of his life, “I feel ready to move on now. I’ve linked with Narcotics Anonymous and mental health services. Amber has saved me I’d probably be dead if it wasn’t for this place”
Jordan was in a bad way when he first came to Amber. At the age of 19, he was abusing drugs and alcohol, had spent time in prison and been diagnosed with mental health problems. At first, he wasn’t ready for Amber, so it took a few attempts, but once Jordan was ready to move forward with his life, everything changed.
“It was Barry, my Team Leader, who made the biggest impact. Having someone who cared for you like family was amazing, and he helped me deal with some of the things I was struggling with in my past so that I could make the changes I needed to.”
“Being in Ashley Court, away from the town, away from substances and the bad influence of so-called ‘friends’ really helped. I thought these were the things I really needed, but I soon realised that wasn’t true and replaced them with more positive things, like using the gym. I learnt life skills and ways to cope when life gets difficult. Even recently, I’ve been through some really difficult times – my father died last year and I’ve lost a few friends to suicide – but despite this I’ve stayed away from the drink and drugs and used other ways to get through the challenges. I know now that drugs aren’t the answer to my problems – instead, I rely on my family and I have a wonderful partner, and we support each other in the difficult times.”
Jordan is now working at a recycling centre as a Team Leader, managing staff and taking on new responsibilities in his job. He lives with his partner and has just had twin girls!
“If it wasn’t for Amber, I don’t know where I would be now – perhaps back in prison, or maybe dead. Amber made me who I am today, I will never forget it. I literally love life now and have never been so much happier.”
Grant is now living in a stable and loving home with his partner and 9 year old son. It’s a long way from the homeless teenager that first came to Amber, 16 years ago.
At the age of 19, Grant found himself sleeping in a shed, drinking excessively, taking drugs and his life was becoming out of control.
“I was lucky enough to be made aware of the Amber Foundation via the local job centre. My work coach put me forward to get involved with the scheme. At first, I was put into a community of young adults all struggling for different reasons. Whilst at Amber I was encouraged and supported to take part in activities that helped me rebuild my life. Confidence building, independence activities, budgeting, employability skills, life skills and much, much more. We all supported each other and I found it nice to be amongst other people who were struggling like myself. The whole scheme gave my life a purpose and structure again.
When I was approaching the stage where I was ready to take the next step of independence, I was offered an amazing opportunity. I took part in a 3 month voluntary placement in Africa! It was partly funded but I also had to raise funds to contribute. I can honestly say it was the best thing I’ve ever done. To see and experience a developing country and what they have to deal with daily really helped to open my eyes.
On my return I moved in with my girlfriend and set up a successful animal care business. Although we are no longer together, the business continues to be very successful.
The Amber Foundation helped me to realise what I was truly capable of. I knew what I wanted from life, a stable home, a job, stability and direction. I just lacked the support and guidance to get there. They gave me all of that and so much more. I look back on my time with Amber fondly and still to this day, I’m thankful for the opportunity. I will forever be grateful that someone believed in me.”
Correy spent 16 months at Amber. This summer he moved on to student housing in Bristol and has started his BA in Drama and Performance at the University of West of England.
“18 month ago I found myself with nowhere secure to live. I moved around quite a lot staying occasionally at Night Stop in Devon. I also made contact with CHAT (Churches Housing Action Team) who made the referral to Amber.”
“I never thought I’d get the chance to go to university but being at Amber has helped me set this goal and achieve it. Amber has also inspired me to try new things. I’ve worked with professional musicians through their music project, completed various courses and volunteered on the telephone help lines at Living Options Devon.”
“Drama has interested me ever since I was in primary school. With my team leader I worked out that is the direction I want to go in. She helped me with my application and how to access funding and support when I get there.”
Alongside his course Correy is planning on linking with the Amber in Trowbridge and helping out there from time to time “I’ll miss being here and plan to visit every now and then but I feel ready to move on now.”
Chloe moved on to independent supported housing after spending 8 months at Ashley Court in Devon. She is now volunteering, with a view to a paid role coaching football, which is a long way from when Chloe arrived at Amber.
“My life was just chaotic and my mental health went downhill. I was working as a chef in Plymouth, playing, and coaching football during the day. I ended up leaving my job and completely stopped my football because I could not cope.
I was a mess and in a vicious cycle of self-destruction. The mental health team didn’t know how to deal with me and my GP couldn’t do a lot to help. I felt like I was being passed around and I got really frustrated.
“I was like a volcano at first. I had so many emotions, which I couldn’t cope with. I had no confidence and my self-esteem was shot. Things changed when I got to Amber. Coming here has given me the stability and routine I’ve never had and no one has given up on me. My team leader has helped me find new coping strategies and work out what direction to go in. I’ve been able to see a counsellor regularly, and wouldn’t have achieved half as much without his help.”
I started playing football again and I am volunteering as a coach with Exeter City Community Trust assisting with the power chair football sessions and their summer holiday kids clubs. This led to getting involved with Roc Active, who works with people with learning disabilities and autism, encouraging them to take part in various sports regularly. I really get a buzz from coaching and seeing people improve so working in a role encouraging people with learning disabilities to enjoy sport has become my aim.”
Robin had a promising start and left school with good qualifications and studied hospitality at college. He had a series of jobs before securing a live in role at a 4-star hotel. This is where things started to go wrong for Robin.
“I really got on with the Head Chef even though I was still learning the trade. I found the culture very difficult though; the other staff were unwelcoming and some of them picked on me. I ended up arguing with people a lot and became isolated and quite depressed. This meant I had to leave the job, which came with accommodation and only had 24 hours to pack up.
“I have never been good at saving and suddenly found myself with no job, no money and nowhere to go. I stayed with friends to begin with, sofa surfing.” He turned to St Petroc’s, a local homeless charity, for help and stayed with them for a couple of months. The staff there recognised Robin’s potential and understood his aspirations so referred him on to Amber.
“Being at Amber has helped me a lot.” Robin said, “I’ve always wanted to go to University to study Dance and Amber has helped me focus on this. My team leader helped me fill in the
UCAS forms and Buckinghamshire University has offered me a place to study on their BA Hons in Dance course. Going to university can feel like an impossible dream. Amber really helped remove the barriers.”
How my love for my son helped me turn my life around.
“I came to Amber because I had to change my life, I was taking drugs, Heroin, Crack and Speed…you name it I was taking it. The fear of losing my son pushed me to making life changing decisions. I made myself homeless due to inappropriate supported housing that I was offered at that time. I was lucky enough to be offered the chance to go to Amber, which had strict guidelines and boundaries with drugs and alcohol.
It offered structure, routine, support which would help me to start to live a life and not just exist. I was able to keep up with my appointments with my drug rehabilitation, and keep contact visits with my son. I had nothing but positive support from all at Amber which stopped my feeling like a failure. The programme gave me projects to keep me focused on my goal which was my son. I am proud to say that I have been clean of drugs for 6 months, I have been signed off by the CGL drug clinic and have proved to the services involved with my son that I am a capable father. I have been offered employment and will soon be starting my new job, my self-esteem has risen so much as I now know I can and will be living the life I dreamed of with my son.”
I had to do something
Jodie is currently the top student on her course – a Level 3 extended diploma in Dental Nursing – and she is rightly proud. It’s a long way from the street homeless young teenager who first came to Amber aged 17 but quickly riled against the structure and expectations, only staying a very short while.
In hindsight she says she wasn’t ready, that she was still angry about her violent family upbringing and wasn’t prepared to trust anyone. So there followed a further two years in which she moved about 30 times – sofa surfing, a hostel, the streets – occasionally getting work but never holding on to it. Taking more and more drugs and alcohol, until she ended up in a hospital bed.
“I lay there in hospital and knew I had to do something and I knew Amber would be the right place. The first 24 hours were scary but I also felt safe for the first time in ages and the staff were really supportive, they helped me realise my life isn’t over and I’ve got the chance to correct it. I’m so grateful to them because they had faith in me and sparked me to believe in myself.
I really wouldn’t be where I am today without Amber. It builds your confidence and belief in what you can achieve and teaches you how to deal with other people. And it gets you into a structure, which is something that really helped me – I was pretty much nocturnal before that. I’ve always liked learning and I’m now doing a full-time apprenticeship and hoping to complete my diploma in the minimum 12 months. I love my job and I’m planning to stay there but one day I’d like to study to be a dentist, if I can ever afford it.”
I’m 23 and have just qualified in the RAF as a Logistics Mover. However it has been one hell of a journey and without Amber I’m sure I would not be where I am today. I was 18, homeless, had a terrible relationship with my family and everything was a general mess when I went to Amber. The decisions I’d made up until then were the wrong ones, only pushing people further away, until I finally reached rock bottom. A lot of people tell me now that without hitting rock bottom, I wouldn’t have been able to get everything back on track, and whether or not that is true, it was with Amber’s help that I finally managed to start turning things around. While at Amber they provided me with counselling and helped me learn skills that have helped me to finally grow up and live a life I can be proud of. Amber also had us participate in the Princes Trust sailing expedition which was brilliant, and they also helped us to take part in various volunteering work with the Princes Trust and at the local village hall in Chawleigh. Amber helped me to rebuild my confidence and team work skills and also helped me with understanding others personal space as we lived with one another on site. It also supported me to rebuild my relationship with my family.
I’m now raising money for Amber, the reason I’m doing this is because I’m now living my dream in my dream job and it would mean the world to me to help other residents to pursue their dreams and make a future of their lives, no matter what’s happened in their past.
I know that any donation to Amber will help not only residents there, but will also help the staff to keep the charity running as they try to provide all the essential day to day costs of toiletries and food etc.
I want to give back to the charity that has done so much for me, and will try to support them in various different events and fundraising to come, starting with my Disney half marathon.
From Death to Success – My Amber Journey
I moved to Amber in 2015. But arguably my journey began on Monday 1 August 2011, 10:30am when I received a call from my brother-in-law informing me of my mum’s suicide and consequently, the start of the breakdown of my life.
I lost my mum, my long term partner, and mother to my then 2 year old son, within 3 months of each other. I moved house many times within the following 3-4 years, and became homeless twice. Furthermore, my cannabis use grew and I lost my job through behavioural issues on 19 March 2015. A culmination of failed counselling and psychiatry sessions meant that I was a mess by the time of my third and last spell of being homeless.
Six months later, September 2015, I was desperately searching for a room. Then, around the 7 September 2015, I got news that Amber were willing to house and support me and on the 21 September I moved into Amber, Ashley Court.
As expected the first few months were hard, the effects of drug detoxing, horrendous mood changes, physical changes, horrible sleep patterns, waking up after 10 minutes dripping with sweat. Nightmare. But slowly I began to come out of that period of change, growing more focused, confident and dedicated to rebuilding myself.
The change came for me in the form of fitness workouts, as my physical shape was battered from the effects of grief and 13 years of drug use. I started using the gym with a former Amberteer, and now good friend. I enjoyed it, but more significantly I was developing my motivation and discipline to progress.
After a certain period of time I suddenly became an informal personal trainer. Several Amberteers had become drawn towards my dedication towards my personal fitness and were asking to join me and since they had little knowledge I agreed. I became a role model for them, which I am still proud of today.
Over the last year I have worked really hard and I am now a qualified Level 2 Fitness Instructor and I am in the process of awaiting confirmation of my application to do a Level 3 in Personal Training at Exeter College. At the time of writing this I am a lecture away from being a qualified Level 1 Football Coach, and upon completion I am hoping to work with Exeter City to gain further work experience.
So I will be moving on from Amber, after 17 months here, as a very successful Amberteer. I have worked hard and followed the programme at Amber, have never got into trouble and saved money to help me move on. I have also saved for and paid for my level 1 Football Coaching and Level 2 Fitness Instructing Course.
Take it from me, get your head down, save money and rebuild your life at Amber, it can be done with your hard work and dedication towards your future.
The chance to start afresh – V came to Amber to escape a violent relationship. More than anything she was looking for a safe place and the chance to start afresh:
‘I needed support to get a job and find somewhere else to live so that I could start my life again. My self-confidence had been knocked out of me severely but it grew a lot at Amber and I needed that before I could start to look for work. Everyone was really accommodating and not judgemental in any way. I really enjoyed the team-building activities, going out on the narrow boat, and I got into fitness at Amber as well and started doing gym work. Now I swim 2-3 times a week and still go to the gym.
Amber gave V the support and encouragement she needed to get a job in retail and she is now a customer service supervisor. However, she’s also a big family person so it was just as important for her that the staff at Amber helped her reconcile with her family:
‘Amber gave me the confidence to go back to my family and say ‘’I’m here; this is who I am; this is me’’. If it wasn’t for Amber I really don’t know where I’d be now.’
I was in a very dark place – K spent six months at Amber. His past was ‘a life of crime, drugs, alcohol and being homeless – I was in a very dark place…….Amber helped me grow up and supported me all they possibly could – staff and residents – it kept me safe. It helped me develop new skills, learn new things and discover my passion for working with food. It’s an amazing feeling. I have a bank account, a provisional driving licence, all the things I never had. It really does give you the chance to change your life if you want to.’
Life is what you make of it – K was a Londoner who had got into the wrong company after the death of his Dad and ended up in prison for armed robbery. His mum was very worried about him coming out of prison and going back to the same crowd and same habits so when he heard about Amber he felt it offered him the chance to make a fresh start somewhere new, without any distractions. He had never lived independently so he benefitted from the routine of cooking and shopping on a budget and learning the basic skills of finding a home and job-hunting. Even more important perhaps, Amber provided a safe environment in which to ‘find yourself a little bit’, to realise that ‘it’s down to me to start to take the small steps that will eventually lead to my goal…’ K had a friend from prison who had also been at Amber and got a job painting and decorating so he got the qualifications he needed and moved out to share a flat with his mate. Since then he has slowly worked his way into sales and customer service, discovering ability with computers and e-commerce that his led him to a good job in sales with an IT company: ‘I’m in a good place; working and taking things day by day. Bad things happen but life is what you make of it and I believe in making every day count for something.’
This is where my life turned upside down. I got expelled from every school I went to and smoked weed all the time, so at 12 yrs old my parents signed me into care. I suppose they did that to try and help me out but it was the start of a downward spiral into drug addiction, burglaries, stealing, homelessness and ultimately prison where I heard about Amber.
When I first arrived at Amber I was very unsettled and ended up getting suspended for two weeks, which made me realise that if I wanted to sort out my life I was going to have to work very hard. I quickly realised that the more I helped myself, the more Amber would help me achieve what I wanted in life, which they have. Not only do I have a great relationship with my kids and family because of the progress I have made, I also have my own flat and a great job in customer service. I am very lucky to have what I have and so grateful to Amber.
So what was it that actually changed me? Well my team leader for one! he wasn’t just a worker, he was my inspiration. He helped me deal with my debt’s, open a bank account, build family bonds back up, pushed me to follow my ‘dreams and desires’ and above all he believed in me, and that’s something I had never had. Amber staff put 110% into the Amberteers.
It was cooking for 30 people that first made me believe, yeah! I am good at something, then becoming team rep gave me the confidence to speak up and help, and now the ongoing commitment by staff who continue to ensure I am behaving myself and doing well. I must admit since leaving Amber I have found it hard – not living with 30+ people, not having someone to talk to when you desperately need it and not having that controlled environment – but after a few little bumps I am now very much independent!! I have a full time job, I have my driving theory soon, I can control my money and savings! I can go out for just ONE drink and I have learnt and said the word No more times than I can remember.
I would just like you to know that my time at Amber was one of the most memorable moments of my life. I will never forget the hard work, time and commitment that I put into becoming who I am now. I cried, screamed, threw tantrums and refused to clear up my plate! At times I even locked myself away in my room because I was so scared of living life sober as it meant facing my mistakes and dealing with my thoughts, something I have always been scared of. But once again Amber was there to pick me up, brush me off and point me back to the path I had missed before.
I really don’t know where I would be without Amber.
I lost my job shortly after leaving home which really knocked my confidence and I had to move back home. But with no job I became bored and de-motivated and I started to drink quite a lot. Soon I’d moved from just drinking at weekends to not being able to go a day without getting drunk. Being dependent on alcohol just worsened my anxiety problems, and I found it difficult to leave the house, but of course I didn’t realise that, so I drank more to give me confidence to go out .
I did then get help from a therapist and eventually I got another job which I really enjoyed, and a room in a house share, but the anxiety returned and I became unreliable. Once again I turned to drink to help me through the day. I would go to work hung-over, even drunk, and find I was missing portions of memory because I was drinking so much. After a while I lost this job and was facing homelessness because I couldn’t pay the rent.
I’d caused so much heartache to my Mum and family that I just couldn’t go back home, so I went to the Council and they told me about Amber.
Amber pushed me out of my comfort zone because I couldn’t use drink as a prop, and when I felt so ill because I wasn’t drinking the staff were brilliant and helped me through it. The routine at Amber was just what I needed to give me a reason to get up every day and soon I was feeling more confident, learning a lot of new things, meeting new people and making good friends. When I began to apply for jobs the staff gave me help and advice with how to go about it and the very first interview I had I got the job!
A year later I am still in the same job, working as a chef in Café Rouge. The job was a new start for me in a new area of the country and I am so glad I didn’t go back home because I am sure the temptation to go back to living the way I was would have been too strong. I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved and I could never have done that without Amber.
I was hanging around with the wrong crowd – I see that now – getting more and more into drugs and with every pay packet I’d put buying drugs before paying for my rent and food. I would stay in all day and get stoned, which wasn’t fair on Mum. My life was going nowhere.
Mum told me I had to sort myself out or I’d end up in prison or dead and looking on the internet I found Amber. I wasn’t sure at first and felt nervous at leaving my family and friends, although they were not good friends, but I gave Amber a go and haven’t looked back since.
I was quiet at first and didn’t talk much but the staff always recognised when I was struggling and they helped me get through it. Then the more involved I got with the activities and opportunities Amber offers, such as going to Bulgaria for two weeks to help refurbish an orphanage and going on the Rona II sailing yacht in Dublin to deliver her back to Southampton where the Rona Sailing Project is based, the more confident I became.
I left Amber a year ago having got work experience in a garage. I’m now employed there full time helping with MOTs and working towards being fully qualified to do them myself. A while ago my lung collapsed and I was off work for a few months but the garage was brilliant and held the job open for me, so I feel they must be pleased with my work, which is a great feeling.