Young People’s Stories
“My future is so much brighter and I have made stronger and lifelong friendships”
Moving on successfully
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£25 a week feeds a homeless young person at Amber
Young People's Stories
Just before the Covid-19 pandemic Tasha (18) was street homeless. As part of the ‘Everybody In’ initiative she was housed in a Travelodge during the first lockdown. However, the lifting of restrictions in the summer meant that this accommodation was no longer available. Fortunately, her support worker recommended Amber and Tasha arrived at our Surrey centre in July 2020 after being referred by the local authority.
Tasha had a traumatic childhood and in her early teens she got involved with the wrong crowd and started drinking and taking drugs. Aged 16, she was lured into working for a gang and put to work delivering drugs in Sussex; at this time she became addicted to crack. After a few months, Tasha managed to escape but she became street homeless. The start of Tasha’s stay at Amber was tough as she was still struggling from drug withdrawal. However, the support from everyone in the house and the Team Leaders really helped her, she commented:
“There was always someone to talk to and to make me laugh, I remember one night when I was struggling, I sat out on the field and one of the support workers came and joined me and chatted for ages. He made me feel like I wasn’t alone”.
Whilst at Amber, Tasha volunteered with Volunteer-It-Yourself (VIY), an organisation who challenge young people to renovate community space while teaching them trade skills, and helped to turn some disused garages into workspaces. She also got involved with GASP Motor Project who came on site once a week to teach the young people basic motor mechanics and practical engineering skills. Working on renovating an old go-kart inspired Tasha to re-enrol at college to do a course in Mechanics.
Tasha moved out at the end of October 2020 into a room in a shared house. She is still doing her college course full-time and is also doing some cleaning work part-time. Once she has finished her course, Tasha would like to work in construction or mechanics, but she is proud of how far she has come to date, she said:
“If I hadn’t come to Amber, I think I’d be dead or in prison. I would definitely still be using as I couldn’t see any way out from the situation that I was in. Amber saved me.”
Hayden has recently moved on from Amber in Devon to living independently in his own flat. He is also completing job related training with a local building firm with a plan to start his own construction business in 6 – 12 months. He is happy and positive but things have not always been this way.
Hayden was only 12 when his dad died suddenly following a massive heart attack. He lived with his dad, staying with his mum some weekends and holidays, so he lost everything overnight.
Alongside trying to process his grief Hayden had to move areas to live full time with his mum and had to start again at a new school in a new town. He struggled to settle and his mental health suffered meaning he abused substances to cope. His teenage years were troubled and his substance misuse accelerated. He had a brief period of stability when he held down a job and a relationship and had his daughter but when this relationship fell apart his life quickly spiralled out of control again.
Hayden arrived at Amber directly from prison. “I had nothing – one spare change of clothes, my release papers and that was it – I’d lost contact with all my family too including my little girl who had to go and live with my mum.”
During his time inside Hayden realised that if he had any chance of seeing his daughter again he would have to change everything. But he also knew that to get his life back on track he needed support when he left;
“I actually told my probation officer I’d rather stay inside than be released with nowhere safe to go and no support because I’d done that before and quickly ended up homeless. This led me to relapsing so falling back into my old life of substance misuse and crime to fund it.”
Hayden found out the morning of his court appearance that Amber had a place for him.
“I was relieved but really nervous too – prison wasn’t fun but it was at least stable – I was clean – I knew what each day would be like- I had a job, a routine. I worried that without the rules of jail I would relapse again and go back into my old ways.”
During the last 18 months Hayden has worked incredibly hard and taken advantage of all the opportunities Amber has offered him including taking and passing his driving theory test and completing a wide range of courses and qualifications. One of these courses was an introduction to construction skills with Train 4 All where he obtained a CSCS card enabling him to work on building sites. This course led him to a traineeship with a local construction company where he received glowing feedback. He’s also practiced his skills on site at Amber helping with various maintenance jobs including relaying a floor, refitting toilets, plastering and rebuilding a BBQ.
Alongside improving his career prospects Hayden rediscovered his love of playing the guitar at Amber. He participated in a music project run in partnership with Music in Devon Initiative, helping to write original tracks and performing them at Exeter Street Arts Festival last year.
“The courses and qualifications available are great but Amber’s been so helpful in other ways too – getting into a good positive routine helped me maintain abstinence. I can now just appreciate being normal. The staff helped me with achieving short term goals so I had the confidence to set bigger goals. This all helped me learn that being patient pays off in the end.”
While at Amber he’s been able to repair his relationship with his family and is now seeing his daughter again regularly.
“Seeing my daughter again and being part of her life has really helped motivate me. I’m doing all this for her as much as I am for me”
Hayden planned to move on from Amber in the spring but a job offer fell through just before the national lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
“It was disappointing but it ended up being the best thing in the end for me…lockdown at Amber was far better than being stuck in a little flat on my own. The centre has got lots of space indoors and out and facilities like the gym and sports hall. We also had each other for company – even if we did get a bit annoyed with each other sometimes.”
Prior to leaving Amber Hayden accessed bursaries from End Youth Homelessness for driving lessons (which he will need for work) and to help him to move into his flat.
“I’m so thrilled with the flat – it was so worth waiting for and I’m really enjoying making it into a home. To be honest I’m the happiest I’ve been in a very long time and I know I’ve got the staff at Amber to thank for that. I’ll never forget what they have done for me.”
Kian, 19, has recently moved on from Amber’s centre in Devon and is working full time job as a sous chef at a popular North Devon restaurant overlooking the sea.
Last year, however, Kian’s life was in freefall. He left home after relations with his family broke down in September – he was sofa surfing at first but ended up sleeping rough for a number of weeks. His housing officer at North Devon council suggested he apply for a place at Amber.
“I was offered a place quickly and just over a week after I applied I moved in. It was scary at first but I settled in after a few weeks. The staff were really helpful especially my team leader, Tom, he helped me get support for my mental health. He really made time for me and was a really good listener. Being around people who had been through similar things was helpful too – we all help each other out.”
Kian has always been a keen cook having studied catering at college. At each Amber centre there is a rota system in place and residents take turns to cook for the whole house in teams. Kian really enjoyed being in the kitchen at Amber especially when he was able to experiment with puddings and cakes.
“During lock down I made a tray bake from left over Easter egg chocolate and some packet mixes – it ended up working really well – and was demolished in minutes by the other young people staying here.”
During his stay at Amber Kian had a chance to attend a Sleep-out event at the Eden Project. While there he was introduced to someone who worked at the Rick Stein Group. This led to some amazing opportunities for Kian and supported by Amber staff he attended a dessert planning session with all the head chefs from the Rick Stein restaurants and a cook off event where he able to cook up dishes alongside them.
“Being given those opportunities was a great confidence booster – amazing to be listened to by all those top chefs some of whom have been working in the industry for decades”
Over the last few months of his stay at Amber Kian felt ready to get back in touch with his mum and they were able to rebuild their relationship to a point that they felt able to live together again.
“My life is so much better now and I feel like I am progressing again – the restaurant is really busy. The owner of the restaurant has really appreciated my work – he really liked the way I presented the roasts on Sunday and told the other chefs he wanted it done like the way I did it from now on. If it wasn’t for Amber being there when I needed it I know I wouldn’t be where I am now. I was in a bit of a state when I first arrived – I think my stay there saved me really –without it I really think I could have died.”
Aidan, 24, is getting ready to leave our Wiltshire centre and has secured himself a room in a shared house along with a job working in a second hand furniture shop. Aidan has worked incredibly hard during his stay at Amber and feels ready to move on to his next chapter. It’s a long way from the homeless young man that first came to Amber.
In 2019, Aidan found himself homeless and battling with alcohol and drugs. His life had become chaotic and his family were struggling with his lifestyle.
“I moved into Amber on the 10th December 2019. I was really struggling – I had trouble seeing my 2 year old son due to my alcohol dependency and my mental health issues. My mum was trying to get somewhere for me to go and luckily she found Amber. I eventually moved in to Amber with a goal to sort my life out and find stability so I could earn the chance to see my son again.
“Amber has done a lot for me in my time here – having someone to talk to when I needed it helped me a great deal with my depression. The team referred me to Turning Point, a service providing support and advice on drug and alcohol misuse. I’m pleased to say that this was a success; since attending, I have been able to stay away from alcohol and learnt various methods to deal with urges. Turning Point then put me on a ‘Smart Recovery’ course which supported people to continue to stay abstinent. Their support has given me the coping strategies I need to maintain my progress. I feel the same about Amber, they have taught me how to be confident in moving forward and they have been like a lifeline for me, supporting me in my journey to turn my life around. I have learnt so much here and now feel ready to move on with my life. I would most definitely recommend Amber to any young person who is currently homeless and in need of someone to care and support them.
“I am moving out soon and have found a nice room in Trowbridge which I see as is a stepping stone. I am really excited about this next stage in my life and feel confident on starting afresh in a new place. I am going to miss the staff but I plan on paying a visit every now and again to let them know how I am getting on. They have assured me that I can continue to ask for ongoing support from Amber if I feel I need it.
“I set myself a goal when I first arrived at Amber, seeing my son was my main goal, I have worked hard on myself, stayed off drink and drugs and have looked after my mental and physical health.
“Overall, I have 3 main goals for when I leave which I feel are realistic and achievable. Firstly I want to rebuild a relationship with my son and make up for the time I’ve lost. Secondly, I want to remain abstinent from drugs and alcohol. Finally, one of my most important goals is to look after number 1 (myself) as at Amber I have learnt that it is important to concentrate on myself first which has enabled me to become stronger and more confident about my future.
“I really can’t wait to start this new chapter in my life!”
Morgan is fast approaching his 19th birthday and is due to start an access course in Media and Journalism at Greater Brighton College in September. His future is looking bright but 2 years ago things couldn’t have been more different for Morgan.
“I was heavily into drugs and had nowhere to live. I was 17 so had to see a social worker every week – he was the one who advised I tried Amber. Drugs had got me into trouble with a lot of really nasty people so I knew I had to change my ways”
Morgan first came to Amber in Surrey in November 2018. He stayed 3 months and during that time he got clean of drugs and stayed clean. His family moved out of Surrey for a fresh start so Morgan thought it would be safe to move with them as he wouldn’t be with his old crowd. Just after leaving Amber, however his grandfather was diagnosed terminally ill and didn’t have long to live. This hit Morgan very hard – and he turned back to cannabis to escape. He used cannabis heavily through 2019 – he came back to Amber but it didn’t work out and spent some time at the YMCA in Horsham. The wakeup call was his grandfather deteriorating. Morgan was able to spend some time with him before he died.
“I came back to Amber a couple of weeks after his funeral. Because I’d already been there twice I had very clear rules put in place before I arrived – but I welcomed them – I knew I needed those boundaries.”
This time Morgan spent 6 months at Amber – he got clean of drugs and stayed clean. He had the space and the time to process his grandfather’s death and began to grieve properly.
“The staff were amazing, always supporting me and motivating me. The social aspect of Amber is really important – we all support each other and learn to be sociable and have fun without using drugs or getting drunk. I liked to help other residents- chat to them about their problems – people knew my door was always open”
One of the workshops Morgan attended was a creative writing workshop which inspired him to start writing for his mental health
“I really enjoy writing – mainly poetry and short stories but then thought I could take it further and making it a career”
In February Morgan had really rough experience when visiting friends off site. It potentially could have set him back again but the support he received at Amber helped him stay on track
“I don’t think I would have got through it without the Amber staff to be honest. The staff were incredible.”
Despite this traumatic experience Morgan persisted with his recovery and with the help and encouragement of Amber staff applied for and was accepted onto the access course.
“My goal is to be a journalist – to write about important issues – so people learn how hard some people have it. I’d also like to come back one day and be a support worker at Amber so I can help people in the same situation as I was in.”
Morgan is hopeful about his future but he’ll never forget the support he had while at Amber
“Before coming to Amber I didn’t feel worthy of being here or hopeful about the future. I really don’t think I’d be here without Amber – I know that sounds dark but it’s true- I really think I’d be dead”
Adam is now in his 30s, a proud father to two daughters and works as a chef on the seafront in Exmouth. 12 years ago, his life was rather different.
“I had a problem with drugs which I managed to kick but then I just replaced them with drinking excessively. I was on and off the streets in Exeter for a couple of years. I used Nightstop a bit and the staff there referred me to Amber.”
Adam spent 8 months living at Amber’s residential centre in Devon. “I was able to take a step back and re- evaluate my life. I broke down all my problems into manageable chunks then worked to make gradual changes in my life. “It really helped me get back to basics and learn to be a functioning person in society like apply for and keep a flat and how to look after myself.”
“When I arrived at Amber I had no qualifications at all but I was able to do a literacy and numeracy course while I was there and take courses in communication skills, leadership and team work. I’ve always really liked cooking and spent a lot of time in the kitchen at Amber.”
After leaving Amber Adam had a relapse and ended up in rehab again. “I was able to draw on what I learnt at Amber to support my recovery again- breaking my problems down and dealing with them one by one.”
Adam has had various jobs in the last 10 years until 2 years ago he got a job waiting tables at the marine camp. This led to a full time apprenticeship as a chef and he is now fully qualified. Last year he started a new job as a commis chef, within 4 months he was promoted to sous chef. Adam doesn’t know where he’d be now if it wasn’t for Amber
“I would probably still be doing drugs or drinking heavily. I may have even drunk myself to death.”
“I was in a pretty bad way – my relationship collapsed, I lost my home and my job – it hit my mental health hard. I was depressed, had really bad anxiety and had even started self-harming. I sometimes found myself losing control. I remember one time I was staying with a lifelong friend, (she’s like my adopted mum) chopping up wood with an axe – I just started smashing stuff with it- I couldn’t stop. I never hurt anyone but my friend found it really scary (unsurprisingly) and she called the police who turned up with Tasers.”
The police saw that Gordon needed help and recommended Amber as they thought the programme of support would be just what he needed.
“Coming to Amber was a bit of a wake-up call – I struggled with being told what to do. Before my relationship fell apart I was doing really well. Earning good money as a drainage engineer, I lived in a nice flat in a manor house and drove a flash car. I used to be someone who would give a homeless person on the street a fiver – never thinking I’d ever be even close to that situation. The fall from grace was a punch in the face.”
Gordon spent 9 months at Bythesea Lodge and benefited hugely from the structured development programme.
“It was a reality check and I had a few slip ups but slowly I was able to accept my situation and feel less frustrated about it. Amber taught me that if you’re given lemons you make lemonade. By the end of my stay I was helping with the ‘dreams and desires’ sessions, helping other residents work out what they wanted to do with their life and start to plan how to achieve it.”
After he left Amber Gordon wanted to give back somehow so got a job as a support worker, a role he stayed in for four years. He then decided he wanted to go back to engineering which is what he was doing before coming to Amber and he currently works, at a local company, as a senior drainage engineer. He’s lives in a comfortable flat in Warminster with his wife but he’ll always remember the help he received at Amber when he needed it most.
“I’m in a good place now – happy and stable – but I was a liability before. My stay at Amber gave me the tools I needed to make a success of my life. If it wasn’t for the help I had at that time I think I’d be in prison. If I win the lottery Amber’s getting a million pounds.”
“It was just after she’d taken me to the summer solstice at Stonehenge, she died of a brain tumour straight after and I also found out she’d had Leukaemia and hadn’t told anyone. It was bad – my Dad died when I was 5 so had no one to turn to.”
Amber didn’t work out for Charli in 2012 – she was still too angry about the death of her mother and wasn’t ready to commit to the programme and to take advantage of the opportunities on offer.
Two years later Charli was still struggling- she’d been unemployed for 2 years, she had issues with drink and drugs and her mental health was poor. Facing homelessness she decided to give Amber another go.
This time Charli was ready to engage with the staff and take part in the programme.
“We did loads – my cooking improved, I learnt how to manage my money. Getting into a routine was really hard, as I’m not a morning person, but in the end it was really helpful. We had days out too – I loved going to the beach. My team leader, Janine, was really good to me -she helped me get things into perspective. I started to believe I was worthy of being here and there was a point to life.”
Charli made a lot of friends at Amber – some of whom she is still in touch with.
“I was the oldest girl there so became a bit of a role model.”
Charli stayed over 6 months – at the end of her stay she went with the charity to Bulgaria for two weeks to help renovate an orphanage. “It really opened my eyes to see how some people lived and how little they survived on.”
Charli left Amber soon after returning from Bulgaria, found accommodation and a job. Things were going well until 2017 when her
relationship fell apart and had nowhere to live. She turned to Amber again – this time it only took a couple of months before Charli was ready to move on again. She moved on to shared accommodation and a job in a pub.
Charli has had various jobs since leaving Amber- she currently works for a medical supplies company starting her shift at 6am every morning.
“I wouldn’t be where I am now without Amber – I’m hopeful about life – I plan to get my driving license soon. If it wasn’t for Amber being there when I needed it I’d probably be on the streets or even dead. It helped me find myself again because I was really lost.”
He first came to Amber in 2010 when he lived at Farm Place, our Surrey Centre, from the Isle of Wight where he grew up.
“It didn’t work out for me at all then… I don’t think I was ready to be honest. I left and ended up going back to my old ways. I was in and out of work and on and off drugs. I got into a lot of trouble with debt too. It came to a point that I realised I needed to get away and start afresh somewhere completely new. That was when I applied to the Amber in Devon”
Gavin spent around a year at Amber’s Devon site, Ashley Court;
“The time I spent there helped me turn my life around 100%. I improved my social skills, did courses in English and Maths and learnt how to look after myself. I also started to learn how to control my addiction and my anger. I used the gym a lot – which I have kept up since leaving. I’ve got involved with maintaining the site and made new friends. Being at Amber also helped me get into a routine-it was really hard at first but along with using the gym, getting into a routine has been the most useful things I did at Amber.”
Gavin has had some ups and downs since leaving Amber- things haven’t always been straight forward but the strategies he learnt at Amber have helped him through.
“My life is really good now – I’ve got an amazing supportive partner, my son, my dogs and really good mates. We have a nice place to live and are saving up to buy our own house. Watching my son grow is amazing – he’s sitting up and rolling over – can’t wait for when he is running around. I’m currently not working because of Coronavirus but I had lots of work before and I know I will again once it is all over. Amber really helped me to achieve all this and get to where I am now. If it wasn’t for Amber being there for me when I needed it I’m pretty sure I’d be in a pit, homeless, still on drugs or maybe even dead.”
Doug is a successful DJ based in Chamonix in the French Alps. Before becoming a DJ he was a drummer, guitarist and vocalist and has worked with and formed a number of bands performing all over Europe over the last 20 years.
Go back to the mid-1990s however and Doug’s life was a completely different story.
“My Dad was in the British Army so I had grown up on military bases in Europe, mainly in Germany. I turned 18 in Cyprus and I couldn’t get a job as all the work at that point was reserved for Cypriots. I decided to move to the UK – I knew someone in Swindon so decided to move there. I signed on and started looking for a job.”
Things weren’t as straight forward as Doug hoped though and he was unemployed for a long time. He lived in various flat shares – “they were all dumps – it was pretty depressing. I ended up falling into the wrong crowd and started dabbling in drugs. At first I could handle it but I was then taking them more and more regularly. I remember the come downs just got worse and worse.”
Doug was enrolled on a government scheme for long term unemployed young people. It was then he went to a presentation about Amber.
“I still remember the video and that they used the Blur song, Country House, as a backing. It was a turning point in my life I suppose because after that I moved into Amber”
Doug was resident at our first site, based at Tottenham House, near Marlborough.
“My team leader was a woman called Georgie, she was amazing but it was certainly tough love, I owe a lot to her. Amber was the first place where I was encouraged to think about a career not just getting any work. The staff asked me what I enjoyed doing and urged me to build a career from it. I always enjoyed music but up to that point I never thought I could make a living out of it”
While at Amber Doug was told about a residential music course run by the Prince’s Trust. The staff at Amber helped him enrol and supported him to make the journey to Wales to attend.
“The course was pretty life changing to be honest. One of the tutors was a session drummer who worked with Take That. He said I had real talent and could make a career in the business”
After returning to Amber Doug looked around for college courses to do and chose a course at a college in London.
“The staff really encouraged me and helped me get to my interview. I got a place and really landed on my feet finding a job and a flat quickly.”
After completing his year- long course Doug went back to Swindon. He got back in touch with Amber and started running music workshops for residents applying for grants for everything he needed.
In the year 2000 Doug saw an advert in NME from an agent for musicians to go to the French Alps.
“I just decided to go for it. I had to hustle around to get stuff sorted but a month later I was doing my first winter season in Meribel– snowboarding and skiing during the day and gigging at night. I was blown away – earning good money and having a great time.”
Since then Doug has worked in various places around Europe, spent a couple of years in Lanzarote and a summer in the Bahamas. 9 years ago he returned to France settling in Chamonix where he has been living and working ever since. He’s moved on from drumming and is now a DJ and runs his own company providing bespoke music and sound systems for weddings, corporate events and private parties. He’ll never forget about his time at Amber though;
“Before I went to Amber I felt like I was going round and round in circles. Amber was the first place where I was really encouraged to do something I loved and not just settle for any job. Amber taught me to believe in myself and to follow my dreams”
So when Doug heard that Amber was getting involved in the 2.6 Challenge he thought he’d like to get involved and do something with his music. After chatting with the fundraising team Doug decided to do a 2.6 hour live stream which is going ahead on 2nd May at 8pm GMT – we’d love you join us – (virtually of course) via his twitch stream here. You can support his fundraising page here.
N, 23, arrived at Amber at the end of July 2019. She didn’t have the easiest childhood as her mother had severe mental health issues so struggled to look after her. Her mum’s issues ultimately meant that she moved areas to live with her aunt and then, when her mum moved in with her aunt as well, she was unfortunately placed into care. This had a huge impact on N’s mental health and led to her becoming addicted to cannabis throughout her teenage years. However, N didn’t let this hold her back and she went on to get 8 good GCSEs.
Once N left school she started work and was settled in Carlisle, living in a shared house and working hard to pay the rent. N’s dream was to run her own pub, and as well as working in a bar, she also worked as a secretary and in a takeaway as she was keen to earn enough money to be ‘comfortable’. Unfortunately, after 6 months her housemate left and N struggled to pay the full rent by herself. After another 6 months it became too much so N decided to move back in with her mum. This did not work out; her mother’s issues were worse than before and after an incident where her mother tried to kill her, N left for her own safety.
Following a 3-month stay at Crawley Open House, N was referred to Amber. N was keen to get her life back on track and was initially attracted to the space and structure at Amber, but since arriving has been impressed by all the opportunities that are on offer. Towards the end of last year, N took part in a 3-week Aspire Training Course that gave her 5 additional qualifications to add to her GCSEs. Her confidence in her own abilities has improved and her impressive baking skills have been well appreciated, not only by the other residents, but also by members of the local community who received a baking treat as a thank you in the run up to Christmas!
Amber staff have helped N with her mental health, giving her the support that was needed to deal with the recent incident with her mother, but also with the trauma through her childhood. N struggles with insomnia and has found the night staff particularly helpful and ready to talk when she needed it.
N had this to say about her stay at Amber –
“By the time I leave Amber, I will have been clean for 25 weeks which I’m really proud of, especially as I have been offered drugs when I’ve been off-site, but using the techniques I learnt in Smart Recovery sessions here I’ve been able to say no. Being here you have to focus on yourself and this place has taught me so much about myself and given me the confidence to believe in myself again.”
N is leaving to take up a job at a bar nearby and is moving into shared accommodation. She is excited about what the future holds, as her new employer is keen to provide a training programme with the aim of her managing her own place within the next 2 years.
We have recently said goodbye to Ed who has been at Amber in Wiltshire for the last 4 months. He has secured himself a full-time job as a chef and is looking forward to settling in to his own accommodation.
At a very young age, Ed found himself struggling at school and getting bullied. He started drinking excessively and eventually found himself sleeping rough on the streets.
“I started to make really bad decisions after a relationship breakdown and in 2017 I ended up in prison. My life was out of control and I knew I had to make changes. I had a visit from one of Amber’s team leaders back in 2017 but at the time I didn’t feel ready to come to Amber. In hindsight, I should have. After another couple of chaotic years I finally made a self-referral to the Wiltshire centre.
When I arrived I quickly settled in and I loved the routine that Amber’s programme provided. I was encouraged and supported to take part in activities that helped build my confidence. The staff have been great and I know I can always come back to talk to the team if I have any worries.
I am now a chef at a large restaurant chain. The hours are long but I really enjoy what I do. I am hoping to gain more experience there and learn new skills.
I feel both nervous and excited about moving on from Amber, but I know it’s the right thing. If it wasn’t for Amber I really don’t know where I would be.”
Jonny left Amber in Devon after securing a flat in Exeter.
“I was referred by Young Devon and I was pretty nervous about coming but being at Amber has worked really well for me. Getting in a routine and having people around me. The staff have been really great. I wouldn’t be where I am now with my mental health without their help.”
Jonny spent 7 months at Amber and in that time completed various qualifications and courses including a pre-employment course with Aspire Education.
“I am optimistic about my next step which is to find work. I feel ready to move on but I really feel if I didn’t have the chance to come to Amber I’d still be homeless or maybe even dead to be honest”
Cameron (24) arrived at Amber, grappling with a number of significant challenges in his life.
Unfortunately, he had a stroke at birth which left him with limited mobility down one side, which held him back during his childhood years. From the age of 18, Cam started drinking heavily every day and although he held down a job doing voluntary work at a cafe for 2 years, he admits that he was a functioning alcoholic. It was only when he phoned his aunt when he was extremely drunk in May 2018 that she intervened and took him away from his local area to enforce a 3-week alcohol detox. She also got in touch with Amber to see if there was any space for Cam so that he could remove himself from the bad influences around him.
If it wasn’t for Amber, Cam is convinced he would still be drinking heavily every day, he commented “My mum was a functioning alcoholic, it was part of life, I didn’t know any different. Linsay, my team leader at Amber, helped me realise that I didn’t need to drink every day. Now if I have a drink, I know I can stop, it doesn’t take over my whole life.”
Cam also feels that he owes a lot to his aunt who ensured that he got the help he needed before he did more damage to himself.
Cam is now living in a flat in West Sussex with his cousin and, is determined to take all that he has learnt from his time at Amber to find employment in the local area.
Chris is now living in a loving, supportive home with his 2 children, a world away from how things were when he arrived at Amber. At 16 Chris became homeless and his life started to become chaotic, taking every substance that was available to him.
“When I first arrived at Amber, I was rotten. I had become homeless at 16 and my life was a mess. I did some pretty horrible things when I first arrived. The staff supported me so much, they could see past all of my problems and supported me through some really tough times.
Whilst at Amber, my niece was born and this really pushed me to make my life better. With everyone’s support I secured a 1 bed flat and paid for the first 6 months’ rent. Shortly after leaving Amber my first son was born, I now look after both of my children full time, life is hectic but I love having them.”
Since Chris’ time at Amber, he has had time to reflect upon his journey. He absolutely believes that without the support of The Amber Foundation he would not be where he is today. To cement this he has a tattoo which reads “Strength comes from within and the people that surround you” Chris says that this was his way of remembering his time at Amber and the importance of having the right people around you.
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.”
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.”
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.