The Amber Foundation
It was a lovely sunny day when three DCF colleagues and I travelled the lanes of north Devon, full of chatter and sharing stories about the things we had done and were planning to do over the summer. I was particularly excited by my next adventure – a family wedding in America.
On reaching the rather austere Ashley Court my thoughts turned more reflective, keen to learn more about the people who lived and worked there. We were warmly welcomed by Rebecca Fry – Fundraising Manager and by one of the residents, a young man eager to share his experiences in life and at The Amber Foundation.
The Amber Foundation aims to help homeless, unemployed young people move to positive, independent futures. As well as providing supportive accommodation it operates a weekly timetable of training and activities based on accommodation, employment, health and wellbeing and fun and participation. Young people become homeless for many reasons – family breakdown, financial problems, drug and alcohol abuse, leaving care, mental health, prison release or sometimes they just make bad decisions.
In the case of our guide he had financial problems that led to family breakdown and ultimately to prison . . . and so the downward spiral continued. Once homeless it can be very difficult to find work, secure accommodation and get back on your feet.
DCF have been able to support The Amber Foundation in the past with two grants, including one from The Devon Crimebeat Fund (a proportion of the proceeds from money seized from criminal assets and sales of stolen goods). This is a subject close to my heart, as coming from a police family, it feels like poetic justice.
Once we step inside, my impression of the cold exterior dissolves as there is a relaxed, homely feel, and the walls are plastered with motivational slogans providing positivity and hope for a brighter future.
On a practical level, residents are split into teams, working together to complete everyday tasks: cooking, cleaning, etc., engendering a sense of pride in their surroundings.
The site has an indoor and outdoor gym, an art room, an Education Suite, and a well-equipped music room. Practical training courses are provided (our guide is training to work in construction) and work experience is encouraged. There is also a counsellor on site two days a week that residents have access to.
At first the local community in Chawleigh were concerned about having this project on their doorstep, but it has become a symbiotic relationship. Residents regularly volunteer at local events, like a monthly hot lunch event and at the recent local 150th anniversary of the Chawleigh friendly.
The Amber Foundation has centres in Wiltshire, Surrey and Devon. Although residents at its Devon centre come mainly from the region, some have chosen to re-locate here as it takes them away from bad influences elsewhere, and its rural location provides a natural environment with countryside walks.
But it’s not all a walk in the park. There are strict rules and boundaries, including: no TV during the day, 11pm lights out and no drugs or alcohol on site. Our guide told me that if residents returned drunk they had to stand at the top of the lane until they were sober – that’s one hell of a naughty step!
On reflection, my thoughts return to my holiday – and walking through Boston Common (a park in central Boston with a philanthropic history) where we saw an avenue of posters with photographic portraits and short stories celebrating The Uncornered Project.
“When we look back at the history of our city, becoming Uncornered is a bedrock of Boston.” This project reveals the universal experience of what it means to be Uncornered. Through bold portraits, photographer John Huet has captured the humanity of a broad range of people, sharing in their own words a moment when they felt cornered and how they became Uncornered.
I think The Amber Foundation provides that pivotal and defining moment for people who feel ‘cornered’ to release themselves for a hopeful and brighter future.
Nicola Hobson, Devon Community Foundation ambassador
Residents of The Amber Foundation can be referred or self-referred. They are aged from 17 to 30 and share their home with a community of around 30 others. The average stay is 6 to 12 months but there is no fixed limit. To find out more about The Amber Foundation visit their website here.
Since Nicola wrote her blog she and those others who attended this visit were delighted to learn that their guide had secured an traineeship with a local builder.
Click here to find out more about the Crimebeat Fund.