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This piece was written by Valerie Hart. Valerie is an incredible supporter of FareShare Sussex’s work. She also dedicates her time to collecting and writing up stories from our community groups. She is an amazing volunteer and writer, thanks for your help, Valerie!

Last month, Valerie interviewed Kelsey, the Fundraising Manager at the Amber Foundation. The Amber Foundation – Farm Place centre based in Surrey joined FareShare Sussex in March 2014. Since January 2019, we provided enough food for 58,931 meals that feed disadvantaged and homeless young people. By using our service, the Amber Foundation prevented 24,751 kg of food from going to waste.

FareShare Sussex Team.

Among the charities FareShare Sussex supplies food to is the Amber Foundation, which provides a place to stay and support homeless and disadvantaged young people in three residential centres in the south of England.

So successful have they been in helping young people turn their lives around, and the need so great, that they are now expanding. Kelsey Offord, Fundraising Manager at Amber told us they plan to open a fourth centre next year after having been gifted a property in Kent by a charitable trust.

“The young people that come to us generally have multiple issues and we provide them not only with a safe place to stay, but the support they need to transform their lives,” Kelsey told me.

Founded in 1995, Amber currently has residential centres in Surrey, Devon, and Wiltshire, housing up to 30 young people each at any one time. Young people aged 16 to 30 who are homeless or at risk of homelessness and unemployed are accepted. They can be self-referrals or referrals from social services, the prison service, homelessness hostels, or drug and alcohol teams.

Amber’s ‘Theory of Change’ programme, which it developed alongside Project Oracle (the children and youth evidence hub), focuses on four key areas: employability, independent living, health and well-being, and personal development.

1. Employability. The residents are helped in finding employment. This may consist of helping them gain qualifications, or literacy and numeracy, or in how to put a CV together, and getting either work or volunteering experience.

2. Independent living. This will be anything from supporting them with practical life skills like helping set up bank accounts, teaching them to cook and clean and manage a weekly budget, to understanding a tenancy agreement.

3. Health and wellbeing. Many of the people who arrive have been living on the streets, and their physical and mental health is very poor so they need support to recover. Amber’s Surrey centre has a gym on-site which has been fitted out through donations and residents are encouraged to use it.

4. Personal development. Amber tries to give its residents new experiences to push them out of their comfort zone and give them confidence and resilience.

Kelsey described how recently a group went with another charity – the Ocean Youth Trust – on a sailing expedition around the Isle of Wight.

“Most of the young people who come to us have never set foot on a boat, let alone learnt some basic sailing skills. They are probably never going to sail again, but what it does is build their confidence. It’s all about building resilience so when they leave us they’ve got the skills to exist in mainstream society.”

Kelsey Offord

The pandemic

Along with many other charities, the effects of the pandemic hit Amber hard. On the one hand, they were lucky in that all their centres have space around them.

“A lockdown when you’ve got a big field is much easier than when you are stuck in a flat. Obviously, because there were a number of young people on site, there was always somebody to talk to and there was never the isolation and loneliness that a lot of people experienced during lockdown,” she explained.

However, Amber really struggled to feed everybody because sometimes they couldn’t get hold of enough food. “It got really quite dicey at times as to whether we would have enough to feed people from one week to the next,” admitted Kelsey.

Alongside that at the start of the pandemic they had no idea how infectious Covid-19 was, so some of their staff who already had immune issues went on long-term sick leave. As well as paying sick leave, they had to get in other staff, so costs rose which hadn’t been accounted for.

“We remained open the entire time and took people in when we had space. We also had issues with having to isolate people when they first arrived on site because there were no testing facilities available in the first six months. If you are homeless and likely to be struggling with your mental health, then having to go into a room and isolate is extremely difficult for you.”

Kelsey Offord

Kelsey explained how many of the young people who arrive have issues that don’t make them particularly attractive employment prospects on paper, which made them particularly worried about how the pandemic would affect their future. In fact, over the past 18 months, it is the young people who have suffered most in terms of unemployment.

As a result, Amber has had to adapt its programme to deal with the stresses that people were feeling at the time.

Zero-hour contracts

She described how the job market for relatively unskilled young people is particularly bad as zero-hour contracts are the norm. It’s difficult to get a rental if one is on a zero-hour contract. There’s been a lot talked recently about the Universal Credit uplift.

“Some young people cannot afford to take on a contract that’s more than 16 hours a week. We have several who will work part-time before they leave us but they can’t afford to work full-time as they will get less money and then can’t pay their rent.”

Kelsey Offord

“Although there are more jobs out there today, these are not necessarily ones that guarantee a set income coming in every month? We have quite a few of our young people going into the care sector, which is fantastic because the care sector is massively short of workers, but zero-hour contracts are the norm here. We have been lucky and built up a good relationship with a care home close to our Surrey centre which offers proper contracts. It’s the same in the hospitality industry – with the zero-hour contract you will get asked to come in when they need you.”

Success rate

Over the past year, Amber has had a 77% success rate. However, Amber does not work for everybody.

“People will come to us and say all the right things, but actually are not willing to change their lives whatever that change might mean. We consider success as people who go on to employment, or further education, or into sustainable rented accommodation, or they achieve some major goals like mending relationships with their families, or remaining free from drugs and alcohol.”

Being a relatively small charity, and with 60% of their funding comes from fundraising, every penny counts. One of their biggest costs is food, and FareShare Sussex helps by supplying food every week to the Surrey centre.

“Obviously, at the moment the well-documented lack of HGV drivers (of which FareShare has also been struggling with) has had an impact on charities they are delivering too. So the amount of food we’ve been getting in the last few weeks has gone down. On a normal situation, it would probably account for about £400-500 worth of food every week which makes a massive difference to us.”

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In 2021, we have been challenged by the shortage of HGV drivers, a national crisis that will also impact the lives of vulnerable families across the UK. Your support will go a long way in helping us to continue to deliver food not only during these winter months but in the struggling time ahead.