Alumni stories – Amaze

29th March 2021

As part of celebrating the IICF UK’s impact over the last 5 years, we spoke to one of the IICF UK grant recipients Amaze to catch up with how their work has developed since their grant award. We caught up with Aileen Welch, Amaze’s Trusts Fundraising Manager and Sue Winter, Co-ordinator of the Amazing Future Project in Brighton and Hove.

What does your charity do?

Aileen: Amaze provides information, advice and support to families of children, young people with special educational needs and disabilities and we work across Brighton and Hove and Sussex supporting about 5,000 families every year.

We work directly with parent carers and also with children and young people with additional needs up to the age of 25 and we do this in a variety of ways. We provide casework, disability benefits support, a leisure card discount scheme, workshops and training courses, helpline, peer support for disabled young people and befriending support for parent carers.

Who are the main people your charity helps, and how does your charity do this?

Aileen: We were started by parent carers and we’re still very much user lead organisation, so half of our staff and volunteers are parent carers and since about 2014 we started working directly with young people. A third of our volunteers now are young people with additional needs and all of our trustees are either parent carers or sibling carers. We are very much led by what families, tell us they need and that is how we develop our services to ensure we are delivering the support needed.

Are there any specific projects your charity does that have been particularly successful?

Sue: One of our first projects we set up specifically designed to help young people is Amazing Futures, the project I work on.  It is for young people aged 14 to 25 who have special educational needs and disabilities.  It is a peer support project, which benefits both the young people receiving peer support and the volunteer peer supporters, who are young people aged 18+ many of whom also have additional needs themselves.

The aim of the project is to improve young people’s mental health and wellbeing, which we do through promoting the five ways to well-being, for those young people. So looking at things like helping young people connect with other young people, because so many of them are very socially isolated, and have communication issues due to their additional needs and giving them opportunities to build their confidence, learn new skills, try new activities and think about their next steps as they move into adulthood.

How do grants from organisations help your charity?

Sue: The Amazing Futures Project is one that the IICF UK grant helped us to fund and set up, so they played an important part in helping us develop this direct support for young people as historically the charity had focused on supporting parent carers.  We simply would not have been able to achieve this without that support.

Your charity was awarded an IICF grant in 2017. since your grant award how has the charity changed and grown?

Aileen: Once we were awarded the grant from the IICF UK, we were firstly able to set up the Amazing Futures Project as Sue talked about, but more importantly, we were able to use the IICF UK endorsement as a springboard to approach other funders. We were able to approach the National Lottery Community Fund and other funders and get further support to help us grow and expand the Amazing Futures project.

When it started, the Amazing Futures Project focused on just the Brighton & Hove area initially, but with the support received from the IICF UK and other funders we were able to extend the reach of the project further into East Sussex so we could help more families.

Since the grant awards, we have been able to offer more services to families across Sussex and more importantly have been able to create new projects and support services.  We are becoming more young people led, able to help young people with a whole range of support and signposting to the help they need.  However, this can and will only continue with the support and funding we receive from grant awards and donations.

What impact has COVID had on your charities activities?

Aileen: A lot of our unrestricted funding just stopped when lockdown happened, and we had to furlough some staff, which of course had an impact, and with many of our volunteers, being parent carer’s childcare issues affected us.  We were able to do pro-active outreach telephone calls to continue to support our parent carers and young people and were able to set up virtual sessions and create some FAQ resources to help people navigate how to get the support they need during lockdown.

We worked closely with our local councils to ensure that we could direct people to the help they needed despite lockdown, and also ensured we could keep delivering activities remotely and support our families throughout the lockdown period.

Where do you see your charity going in the next 5 years? What plans do you have for the future?

Aileen: We are bringing together all our different projects for young people under one banner and as part of that we really want to make sure that we have young people’s voices at the heart of our services.

We are taking the learning from COVID 19 from the lockdown about how we do things and as we are just coming to the end of our strategic plan, we are currently consulting with staff and volunteers, but also with our beneficiaries, with parent carers and young people about our next strategic plan from 2021 onwards. For us it’s making sure that we can still offer that wraparound service for families and that we can have that unified service across Brighton and Hove and Sussex.

How can the IICF and their supporters help you get there?

Aileen: Funding is the key – we are very well known in Brighton & Hove, but we want to be just as well known in East and West Sussex and we can only do that with funding and continued support.

People need to support us to help us be there going forward, as our funding is not secure, but as well as funding we need people to come forward with their skills and expertise that can help us. 

That could be as simple as doing fundraising or sponsored activities to raise funds for Amaze or volunteering some time to help our young people understand the world of work, write CVs and those kinds of things.

About Amaze

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