Young People’s Stories
“My future is so much brighter and I have made stronger and lifelong friendships”
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Young People's Stories
Jake's Story - One Year On
Jake moved on from Amber in Devon in November 2021 into a room in a shared house and a job in a warehouse. He’d spent 7 months at Amber after ending up street homeless following a break up.
A year on he came back for a visit and gave us an update on how he has been doing.
Life hasn’t gone completely smoothly for Jake since he moved on. The warehouse job wasn’t for him and he had to leave his accommodation because his live in landlord needed the room back for an ill relative.
Despite these challenges Jake has remained sober and clean and is now working at his local YMCA as an Accommodation & Support Enabler.
“I saw that the YMCA were going to be at a local job fair. I was really interested in working for them so I went along to speak to them. After a chat at the fair they offered me an interview. They initially had some doubts because I am only 22 and I’d be supporting people who were a few years older than me. But I did some extra training and trial shifts to show them I could do the job.
It is a really rewarding job (most of the time). I definitely use my experiences at Amber in my approach with the clients I work with now. I will never forget how much the staff at Amber helped me and I’ll forever be grateful. I always remember how I was treated and talked to and now do the same with the people I work with.”
Jake wanted to share his story because he thinks it could help other young people.
“My story shows that anything can happen – this time last year I was at Amber and now I am a support worker myself and I am the happiest I have ever been.
“I can’t actually thank the Amber team enough. If they hadn’t been there for me I wouldn’t be here. I’m still drug free, in a flat of my own and working full time… Sorry for getting soppy but I won’t ever forget the amazing people at Amber who helped me… they are the reason I wanted to do this job!”
“My perspective on life and everything about who I am has changed for the better”
We said goodbye to Mike at Farm Place, our centre in Surrey, in June 2022. Before coming to Amber Mike was street homeless on the south coast after his long-term relationship broke down. He then became deeply depressed and not wanting to be a burden to others, he didn’t look for help. Mike found himself drinking more and more to cope.
While at Farm Place Mike achieved two GCSEs, something he never thought possible. Mike found the combination of mental health workshops, confidence building and having the support of Amber staff who were on his side invaluable. He then worked on a route into a career in care with specialist support from a 1:1 job coach. This has led to him successfully applying for a job as a carer at a local nursing home.
Eventually Mike would like to train to be a social worker. Having had social work intervention in his life, he knows what a positive influence it can make on someone else’s life.
“I want to give back so another person doesn’t have to go through what I went through. If I can help just one young person, I’ll be happy”
Holly, 23, moved on from Farm Place, our centre in Surrey, over two years ago, in May 2020. She recently got in touch to let us know she is starting a degree in Criminology with American Studies at the University of Essex after spending the summer travelling. It is amazing to think that only a few years ago Holly was sleeping rough on the streets of Reading drinking heavily and abusing substances every day.
“I can’t believe it really to be honest. I think back to when I was sleeping on the streets. If someone told me I’d be in this position- about to go to university after spending the summer backpacking around Europe- I’d have said they had got the wrong Holly.”
Holly found being at Amber enormously helpful and took full advantage of the opportunities on offer. Our staff supported her to take part in the NHS recovery college and she completed Amber’s in house workshops and training units. She also completed a range of online courses and did some voluntary work with a wildlife sanctuary. Holly engaged well with the staff and for the first time in many years she started to trust people again and accept their help.
“I can’t praise the staff enough. They see the potential in everyone even those who walk through the door at their lowest.”
Holly moved back to Reading after staying at Amber for 9 months and secured a flat with the help of the End Youth Homelessness Housing Fund. She got a job in retail and enrolled at Reading College to take her GCSEs.
After completing her exams Holly then signed up to an Access Course in Psychology, Biology and Professional Healthcare Practice while working as a manager in customer service.
Things haven’t always been plain sailing for Holly though. When she first moved on from Amber she struggled to adjust and even rang the staff at Amber to ask to come back.
“The said no and said they knew I could do it and I’m so glad they did. It was tough love but I needed it.”
Holly moved back to Reading due to family ties but at times it has been difficult being in the same place as she when she was sleeping rough.
“I remember one particular incidence when I was in a park at lunchtime with my college friends. It was the same park that I used to sleep in only a few years before. I remember looking at the bench and thinking this could have been my bed for the night.”
While rough sleeping Holly was supported by The Salvation Army and St Mungos and she has visited them both since being back in Reading.
“It was great to go back and show the staff and volunteers how I am doing. I even met my street outreach worker again. She was so overwhelmed to see how well I am now she was in tears.”
Throughout all this Holly stayed in touch with the staff at Amber and also found the time to support our fundraising by appearing at an event to tell her story and by completing a marathon walking challenge with a friend raising over £400.
This year Holly has been able to fulfil her dreams of going travelling. First she spent 2 weeks travelling around Ireland.
“I grew up on the west coast of Ireland but really wanted to go back to visit some family and actually see the sights like the Cliffs of Moher.”
After returning from Ireland Holly then travelled to Barcelona with a friend then travelled on to Morocco, Italy and Croatia.
“It was a huge culture shock but I feel so privileged to have had such a great experience and I met so many wonderful people.”
‘I wouldn’t swap what I have now for what my life was like before the Amber Foundation.’
Josh arrived at Farm Place, Amber’s Surrey centre, from rehab. He turned to drinks and drugs when his mum died when he was just 17 years old.
Before Amber Josh spent several years in and out of rehab. In that time he experienced both street homelessness and sofa surfing.
Since being at Farm Place, Josh has been sober. This is the longest time he’s maintained sobriety in the last eight years, something he didn’t think would ever be possible.
With the support of the team at Amber Josh has risen to the challenge of learning to live with himself sober including dealing with the thoughts in his head and his emotions. He can now see that drink or drugs won’t change anything in his life.
Josh is feeling excited about his future and living independently. He has a new job as a digger operator and is looking forward to progressing in his new role.
“My childhood was pretty hard. I lived with my mum and twin sisters but my mum’s partner was very abusive towards us. We experienced a lot of domestic violence, which wasn’t helped by their drinking. I didn’t really have a childhood, I had to make sure that my sisters were safe, I felt responsible for them. I finally moved to my gran’s where things were better but then I was sent back to my mum’s and the abuse continued.
“Once I was old enough, I decided to move to Cyprus. I was only 16. I trained as a lifeguard there and really enjoyed it, I didn’t want to come back. After the season had ended I returned home but I had nowhere to live.
K was able to access a place to stay via the YMCA’s Crash Pad Project but it wasn’t ideal as he couldn’t stay there during the day.
“It was good to have somewhere to stay but I had to be out of the accommodation from 9am-5pm every day. I didn’t have any job to go to and my mental health started to suffer. I really wanted to get away, start a fresh somewhere new.”
Finally, K was referred by the council to Amber’s centre in Trowbridge. “When I first arrived at Amber I found it really hard. I didn’t like it but after a while I started to get to know people and quickly settled in to a routine.
“My mental health had got really bad and I needed more support. My Team Leader made referrals to Gamblers Anonymous to help with my addiction and I started to get counselling. My Team Leader also attended meetings with me, it gave me confidence to know that things were getting sorted. I have worked hard on processing all that has happened to me and the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has really benefited me. The hard work is down to you though. Amber can only help you so much until you need to take responsibility.”
K is now looking forward to the future in his new home. “My aim is to continue getting support for my mental health and get back into work as soon as possible. All of the hard work was worth it, it was worth the wait!”
NB: To protect K’s identity at his request we have used a stock image.
Tom was first made homeless in his early 20s when he and his mum decided to move from Dundee to Surrey to be near his sister and her daughter, who were missing having family close.
They had secured a flat but things went badly wrong as their landlord pulled out just at the last minute leaving both him and his mum homeless. Tom sofa surfed for a while but also lived in a tent with his mum in a park for 6 months. During this period Tom was offered accommodation on a number of occasions but he refused to leave his mum who was finding it more difficult to access support. Eventually, a safe hostel was found for his mum and Tom was placed in a hostel for young people a short while later.
Sadly this hostel was not a good place for Tom. Since the age of 15, Tom had struggled with arthritis and had been prescribed opiates over the years to manage the pain. This led to an addiction to prescription drugs. There were lots of drugs available at the hostel and Tom’s drug use spiralled out of control leading to him being evicted. After spending a few weeks sleeping rough, Tom moved in to Amber.
Tom found all the staff at Amber really helpful in ensuring that he stayed in a good place. He commented, “Amber stopped me from dying; I was on a dangerous path to non-existence and self-destruction”. Two of the support staff in particular were brilliant, always making themselves available to chat if it was needed and making sure that he was alright.
During his time at Amber Tom achieved a huge amount including taking his Maths and English GCSEs as well as updating all his qualifications in Health and Social Care. To help with the cost of this he was able to access support from the End Youth Homelessness Employability Fund.
Tom has now found a job as a carer at a care home in Dorking. He has also found a room in a shared house with people he met while at Amber so knows he will be in a supportive environment with people he knows and trusts.
“I’m looking forward to living in my own place again, to have a job and to do a normal days work as it feels like a long time since life has been normal.”
Despite his bad luck Tom remains very positive about everything that has happened:
“It may sound strange, but I wouldn’t change anything that has happened. I’ve met some great people being homeless and that experience has been joyous. At Amber there are people from all walks of life who are joined by this common thread. Some of the people I’m sure I will be in touch with for many years to come.”
“It was the pandemic which broke the camel’s back. I couldn’t live with my parents because my mum had to isolate – every day was a struggle and I started to drink during the day.”
While the break up and the pandemic was the immediate cause of his homelessness, Dan now recognises that he started to struggle with his mental health at a very young age.
“I never really dealt with it. When I was younger I played a lot of football and I got pretty good. But it became more other people’s dreams than my own to make it as a professional footballer. The novelty basically wore off as it became exhausting.”
Dan gave up football and got into the wrong crowd at school. “I drank too much, got into lots of stuff that was really bad for me. I didn’t feel very happy at home so started staying out a lot. I didn’t feel like I could connect with my parents – I just felt pressure whenever I was around them.”
Just before Dan arrived at Amber his best friend died from suicide. “It felt like the carpet was pulled from under my feet. The pain of losing her was unbelievable but it did make me see that I needed to go to Amber and to take all the opportunities I was offered. I realised then, otherwise I could go down a path with no return. It woke me up to how bad things had got.”
Because of the pandemic Dan’s stay at Amber started in isolation.“It was a bit weird but the staff were just so helpful – they really helped me settle in. At first I didn’t open up about what had happened to me but as time went on I started to and the staff arranged specialist bereavement support and were just so reassuring.
I was at Amber for just over a year and during that time the staff were just so understanding and supportive. I feel like it helped me have an emotional breakthrough. Up until then I just felt like I had to man up all the time.”
While at Amber Dan took part in a project with ‘Volunteer it Yourself’ helping to convert some disused garages into workshops. He also attended in-house Amber workshops and training units including a session on “Dreams and Desires” which helped him start to really assess what he wanted to do for work.
Dan felt the practical side of the Amber programme was also really useful. “The sessions really prepared to me to move on. I was able to look at what options I had and worked on my budgeting skills. The staff continued to be really supportive and caring but didn’t sugar coat things.”
Before Dan moved on, he got a job in a care home working with people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. He was then able to access the End Youth Homelessness Housing Fund to move to a shared house near work. “I felt really good about moving on at first but it was hard. I had to adjust to being on my own more and not surrounded by 30 other people like at Amber, but the friends I made whilst at Amber were really helpful.”
Dan is now looking to the future with hope. “I want to stay working in care and work up to being a manager. It’s my dream to eventually own a care home.”
Dan will never forget the help Amber gave him.“I don’t know where I’d be without Amber. Things had got really bad before I arrived. I was really at a crossroads but I feel I chose the right path when I made the decision to come to Amber.”
Jake moved on from Amber after being with us for 7 months. He has a job in a warehouse and secured a room in a shared house with the help of the End Youth Homelessness Housing Fund.
Before he came to Amber Jake was street homeless in Southampton following a break up. He was unable to see his baby daughter which led him to use harder and harder drugs to escape. His mental health deteriorated rapidly resulting in him being sectioned.
“It was the staff at the hospital who suggested Amber. At first I wasn’t sure I’d be able to come but when they did accept me I was so relieved I actually cried down the phone. The day I arrived I was blown away by what is available here.”
While at Amber Jake has felt really supported by the staff “they have been hugely helpful and are always willing to talk. They have also helped me get in a routine and attending programme sessions on how to lead a normal life have been really good”.
Jake had some real problems with angry outbursts when he arrived but he has worked well with the staff team and has found ways to cope in a positive way. He has also importantly learnt it was possible to have fun while clean and sober.
“I don’t really think I laughed or smiled at all in the months before coming here- not properly anyway. But here I’ve had lots of good times and times I’ve laughed so hard.”
When he arrived at the centre Jake’s self-esteem was really low “I basically felt my life was at a dead end but now I am over 200 days clean and I actually feel proud of what I’ve achieved. It feels weird saying it because I never thought I’d be proud of myself but I really am.
Jake is now positive and hopeful about his future. “I am a little nervous about moving on but mostly just really excited. My next plan is to save up for my own place, eventually it would be great to have somewhere my daughter could come and stay. None of this would be possible without Amber.
I really think Amber is the only place which gives young people a real proper start in life. Coming here has been the best thing to happen to me. Without it I really think I’d be dead”
Lily, 21, moved on from Amber in Devon after a 6 month stay. This week she is starting a job as a courier driver and a room in a shared house with the help of the End Youth Homelessness Housing Fund.
Lily came to Amber because she was facing homelessness- her relationship with her family had broken down due to her escalating drug use. She nearly ended up living on the streets but the council referred her to Ashley Court, our supported living centre in Devon.
Being at Amber has been hugely helpful to Lily
“My time here has helped me realise that I don’t need drugs to be happy with my life. I absolutely adore the staff here- they have just been so supportive. Before I was never one to trust professionals but I’ve really opened up here and find myself talking to staff about stuff I never thought I’d talk to anyone about.”
Getting into a routine was hard for Lily at first; “having to be up every morning was really hard at first but once I got used to it I found the routine of life at Amber really helpful.”
Reconciling with family and some of her friends was important to Lily “my time here has helped me see who I wanted to stay in touch with and help me rebuild those bridges.”
Lily is really excited about moving on. “I am a little nervous but mostly really pleased, I want to save to get my own place and to go on a holiday as I’ve not been away on a proper holiday in years.”
Lily doesn’t know what would have happened to her without Amber
“I quite literally lost everything, my car, my friends and my family. I dread to think what would have happened to me without Amber. The way my life was going was heading to a really bad place.”
Brandon (24) has been in and out of homelessness since he was 15 after his mum asked him to leave home due to his behaviour as a teenager. Since then, Brandon has struggled with an alcohol addiction which has caused him to lose both jobs and homes. Although Brandon left school with no qualifications, he started work in a pub as a kitchen porter, and when the chef left, he was asked to step into the role. However, being constantly around alcohol was too big a temptation for Brandon and he eventually lost his job due to his drinking.
Brandon first came to Amber in 2015 where the staff helped him to get control of his drinking. However, when he left the first time, he went back to work as a chef in a pub which proved to be his downfall. “I was drinking at work, in my breaks and all my wages went on alcohol. When my flatmate left, I didn’t have enough money to pay the rent and I lost my flat and my job”.
Brandon got in contact with Amber again in Feb 2020 and it was agreed that he could stay for a short period. The original plan was for Brandon to be at Amber for 3 weeks, at which point he was going to go to a rehabilitation centre to work on his alcohol addiction. However, the first Covid lockdown put paid to those plans and Brandon was fortunate enough to be at Amber when the pandemic began to sweep across the UK. He commented: “I was not in a very good way, if I hadn’t been at Amber, I think my drinking would have escalated and I would be in hospital. I know that I wouldn’t have been well.” Fortunately, the staff at Amber understand the difficulties of being in detox, and really supported Brandon through the first initial weeks when he was struggling.
Although the first few months at Amber were tough, Brandon is particularly grateful for the efforts of some of the night staff who helped him when he needed to talk, as he felt they really took time to listen. He also realised that he needed to approach post-Amber life differently this time around “I knew when I came to Amber this time that I had to do something different. I decided not to go back to being a chef as it’s not good to be around alcohol all the time. I can be around it, but I need the option of being able to walk away”. Since being at Amber, Brandon has studied hard and gained multiple AQA qualifications in subjects such as ‘Managing a Weekly Budget’ and ‘Emotional Wellbeing’. He was also granted a bursary from End Youth Homelessness to access training courses and has completed Levels 1 and 2 in Health and Social Care.
The training that he had completed meant that Brandon was able to find full-time work at a care home in Horsham, and he started there in May 2021. In July, Brandon managed to find a room in a shared house and used the End Youth Homeless Housing Fund to access a deposit for the room. Brandon is enjoying having the structure of a full-time role and is grateful for the fresh start in life.
Alex has come a long way from his Stratford-upon-Avon roots and is now a musician living in Nepal who earns a living singing traditional valley songs across the region.
Alex (41) first came to Amber when he was 17 in 1997 and stayed in Tottenham House in Wiltshire. Alex had struggled at school with un-diagnosed dyslexia and didn’t pass his GCSEs. This led to conflict with his parents and he ran away from home as a reaction to the situation. Ultimately, this decision led to homelessness and a drug addiction. Although Alex was referred to Amber, he admits it wasn’t the right place for him at that time as he wasn’t ready to give up drugs, so he was unfortunately asked to leave.
For the next 10 years Alex led a fairly chaotic lifestyle as he struggled with drug addiction, homelessness and crime and was in and out of prison and rehab on a fairly regular basis. Alex did come back to Amber in 2003, and had a period of being clean, however he got involved in a relationship with someone who also struggled with drugs and this influence caused Alex to relapse once again. However, when Alex woke up in hospital after a drug overdose, he realised that he needed to change his life and he returned to Amber in 2006.
Whilst at Amber, Alex got involved in a variety of different experiences which widened his perspective about how life could be different. Getting involved in so many activities outside and connecting with nature really helped him get control of his drug addiction as he realised there were healthier ways to live. He took part in the ‘Dreams and Desires’ workshops that enabled him to understand what he wanted to do with his life. Music became his passion and whilst at Amber, he started to follow this dream of becoming a musician taking part in concerts in London. “Amber gave me the confidence to become someone else. I have nothing but gratitude for the staff at Amber; they never gave up on me.”
Alex visited India in 2011 originally for a 6 week trip that turned into 6 months. He then travelled to Nepal and was attracted by the more simple life “I felt a spiritual connection that felt bigger than myself. I got involved in yoga and meditation and became very interested in the music and culture.” Alex has stayed in Nepal and travels the country as a musician taking part in concerts. Before Covid hit the region, he was about to embark on a 3-country tour as part of a Nepali tourism initiative to bring more tourists to the area. Throughout Covid, Alex has been persevering with the music and he is thrilled to have got a record deal to take his Nepali songs to a wider audience.
Alex had this to say about his time at Amber: “Amber gave me a better perspective on life; I had lost my mind, but it made me find my soul. It made me want to do something good, which I’m not sure I would have got to without their intervention. I made some great friends at Amber who I am still in touch with today, and I can say that my time at Amber was some of the best times of my life”.
Renee (24) has recently moved on from Amber into a room in a shared house and into work at a bookmakers.
Renee left school at 16 and had always worked, first in retail and then in betting shops and really enjoyed the customer service element of her roles. However, Renee arrived at Amber having escaped from a toxic relationship which led to her becoming homeless. Whilst in the relationship she was a victim of both emotional and physical abuse, and, over the 18 months of being with her boyfriend she became increasingly isolated from her friends and family. She was evicted from her flat due to ongoing issues with her boyfriend and was referred to Amber through Surrey County Council last October.
When Renee first came to Amber her mental health was in a poor place; she was suicidal and depressed and didn’t really know how to function without the constant presence of her boyfriend. “When I first came to Amber I was really angry and I had a bad attitude, always arguing with everyone. But, you soon realise that everyone just wants to help you and wants to help you change your situation.” Being in a house with other young people really helped Renee, in particular being surrounded by other men as it made her realise that there are genuine people in the world.
At Amber, Renee was put in touch with the East Surrey Domestic Abuse Service (ESDAS) and she completed a Hope2Recovery course which helps survivors of domestic abuse come to terms with what is happened and how to recognise healthy relationships. Renee also completed a number of workshops run by Amber around emotional wellbeing which helped her to put her previous relationship into perspective and made her realise that it was not her fault. Looking to the future, Renee is currently completing a Level 3 Health and Social Care course which she was able to access with an employability bursary from End Youth Homelessness.
Jemima, the Centre Manager, played an important role for Renee “it was a great help having a staff member who is female, who took the time to sit down and listen to me when I was a bad place. She really helped me when I was still trying to get over my ex-boyfriend.”
Renee had this to say about her time at Amber “if I hadn’t come to Amber I would probably be dead. I was rock bottom. It’s crazy how far you can come in a short space of time with the space, the time and the support from everyone here”. “I just want to say a huge thank you to the team leaders and the other residents. They’ve all been there for me, allowed me to be myself and re-discover who I am”.
Renee was able to take advantage of the End Youth Homelessness Housing Fund which has enabled her to access funds to put down a deposit on her rented accommodation, and although it is in a new area of Surrey where she doesn’t know anyone, she is nervous but excited to get back to work.
At the age of 15, Cole started going out drinking and using drugs recreationally, and although he left school with a handful of GCSEs, going out and using drugs meant that he never really managed to settle at any job and the relationship with his family began to break down. Cole’s alcohol and drug use escalated over the next few years and he was asked to leave his family home. At the start of the pandemic in March 2020, Cole had been sofa-surfing, but moved back home once the national lockdown was announced. Unfortunately, things did not go well, and although he managed to stop using drugs and drinking for a few months, he slowly started again. This was very hard for his mum and she asked him to leave.
Whilst living in temporary accommodation, Cole contacted 1625 Independent People (Bristol Youth maps) and was assigned a keyworker called Elliot Klimek. Elliot was working with Cole for a couple of months and was supporting Cole in finding stable accommodation, however, Cole was adamant that he wanted to stay close to his family and would not leave Bristol. Elliot did not suggest The Amber Foundation because of this, but in July when Cole was arrested for drug possession, he knew that he needed to do something drastic to change his situation. Cole’s arrest was a big wake-up call for him and he decided that he needed to start afresh to take back control of his life. This is where The Amber Foundation came in.
The past 9 months at Amber have been busy for Cole. “Before coming to Amber, I was apprehensive, but as soon as I got there, I knew that it was the support I needed”. From the start Cole got involved in all aspects of the programme and gained qualifications in various subjects, as well as starting to study for his Maths and English GCSEs. “Amber gave me structure, it was brilliant. Yes, it kept me sober but it also gave me all the tools to sort myself out and motivated me to move on with my life”. At Amber, we provide opportunities for the young people to gain qualifications through the completion of Progressive Training Units which Cole enjoyed; “they got my brain ticking over and helped me get back into the swing of work, particularly as I hadn’t been on a computer since leaving school”.
Whilst at Amber, the centre was contacted by digital marketing agency Waffle who wanted to help support and mentor a young person build a career in digital marketing. Following a discussion with Cole, he decided to put himself forward and was enrolled in a Traineeship studying Digital Marketing at Wiltshire College. Whilst doing this, Cole was able to access the End Youth Homelessness employment bursary scheme to purchase a laptop in order to complete the traineeship. Whilst doing the traineeship, Cole has gained work experience with The Waffle Agency, Refashion My Town Chippenham, and Turning Point in Wiltshire. On completion of the course Cole is planning to start a marketing apprenticeship. Cole has also been able to access the End Youth Homelessness Housing Fund which has provided the upfront costs associated with securing a tenancy; this has allowed him to be able to move out of Amber into more long-term accommodation.
Centre Manager, Jennie Rubel commented, “Since being at Amber, Cole has gone from strength to strength and is seen as such a positive role model for the other young people at the centre”. Being a role model is something that Cole has embraced; for the past few months Cole has been doing peer mentoring at Turning Point, a rehabilitation centre in Trowbridge. Alongside this, he has also been chosen to act as a young person adviser on a grants committee with the Dulverton Trust, and he has applied to become an Appropriate Adult to support young people in custody with Wiltshire Council.
“I can’t thank the staff at Amber enough for what they have done for me. My team leader, Kirsty was brilliant, but the whole staff team and all the other residents helped me on my journey; there was always someone available to talk to if needed, or to give advice. They just want you to do well, and offer support and encouragement whenever it was needed, they really did save my life”.
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 a bursary from End Youth Homelessness for driving lessons (which he will need for work) and the End Youth Homelessness Housing Fund 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.”
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.