Brighton & Hove based charity Off The Fence are this year celebrating 20 years of serving the city!
Started up in 1997 by Paul and Wendy Young along with a few volunteers from around the area, Off The Fence was founded with a vision to end poverty and see long lasting, positive change in the lives of those who need supporting.
Off The Fence runs Antifreeze, one of the largest and busiest homeless day centres in the city which gives life-saving support to homeless individuals and provides night outreach to those sleeping rough, ensuring that lives are not lost on the streets. Off The Fence also support local schools by offering a variety of programmes led by our Schools & Youth team, and run Gateway, a day centre for women experiencing crisis or recovering from emotional difficulties.
To celebrate this milestone year, Off The Fence have held a number of events during the year, including an anniversary celebration at the Hilton Metropole in March and a Celebration Prayer Gathering on the date Off The Fence was officially founded, July 2nd. Paul Young, CEO and founder of the charity, says “we started small and over the years we have been able to support thousands of people in need thanks to the grace of God, careful planning and many supporters in prayer and giving. We couldn’t have done it on our own. We want to say a huge thank you to all who have and continue to support this vision and the work!”
Paul and Wendy Young first met each other on a missionary trip off the coast of Africa in 1985. Having visited over 70 countries between them they eventually married and moved to England where they made Brighton and Hove their home. In 1993, Paul heard a sermon that deeply challenged him. A preacher called George Vewer taught on how people needed to “get off the fence” to support the lowly in society. It was at this pivotal moment, Paul and Wendy made the decision to go out into the streets of Brighton and Hove to help the most marginalized and vulnerable in the city.
“We needed £3000 a year to just make the minimum wage at that time and still be able to claim benefits… at that time it seemed a huge thing to step out. People thought we were a bit crazy – we had a lot of people criticizing us and thinking it was irresponsible for a young family to do this. But we really knew this was what God was asking us to do.” – Wendy Young
In 1993, Paul went out onto the streets with a friend and began speaking with the homeless, guiding them to areas and services in the city where they could receive help. This team started out with two people. This soon turned into a team of four. Eventually, seventy volunteers from across a range of local churches and different denominations joined them, all with the goal of caring and saving the lives of those who were falling through the cracks of society.
“We started to give out the sleeping bags, clothes, hot drinks and it continued to grow from that. Over the years we used a coach that would house the homeless especially over the Christmas months. We had 6 people in that van and we looked after them as they struggled through the bitter winters.” – Paul Young
Together, Paul’s team of volunteers would do everything from handing out sandwiches and serving hot soup to distributing sleeping bags and warm clothes to help keep the homeless alive.
As the scale of volunteers grew so did Paul and Wendy’s ministry. Through the advice and support of friends and various churches and agencies in the city, Paul and Wendy eventually made the decision to establish Off The Fence as an official registered charity. In 1997 this became a reality.
Antifreeze, Gateway and Schools have since been established by Off The Fence to provide life-saving support and care for the most vulnerable individuals in Brighton and Hove. These projects are still at work today and every day make contact with thousands of individuals to provide crucial support and care. We have seen hundreds of young people, members of the homeless community and women facing difficulties housed, advocated for, befriended and mentored.
In 1993, there were not many services around to help support homeless individuals in Brighton. Paul wanted to get out onto the street and help people directly, which is when Antifreeze became a major part of Off The Fence’s ministry. Antifreeze is one of the first homeless drop in centres to be established in Brighton and Hove and is currently providing hundreds of clients with 1-to-1 emotional support, housing, employability and welfare advice, and essential items such as food, clothing and sleeping bags on a day to day basis.
“Without Antifreeze I would be totally lost. I have had loads of help having been travelling constantly all my life.” – Antifreeze Client
Wendy, having worked in counselling and spent time supporting a number of homeless women had a growing desire to support women who were particularly vulnerable. It came to her attention that certain women in the city not only needed help with various issues such as mental health and relationship breakdowns, but they also needed to be loved and cared for whether for a short or longer period of time. Gateway has since grown to where it is today, last year receiving 1697 clients visit, providing a safe space for women to build friendships and receive practical and emotional support from a team of caring, committed staff.
“A life saver! I can’t tell you how much it means to me to come to Gateway. I feel understood, listened to and validated when I’m here.” – Gateway Client
Paul Young always had a heart for kids and youth work having been heavily involved in speaking at school assemblies in the past. Paul and Wendy established the Schools & Youth project in the early days of Off The Fence, where the team would regularly visit children in local schools across Sussex to teach practical workshops, as well as values of love, forgiveness and prayer. For a number of years this project has ran prayer spaces, lunch time clubs, mentoring and small group work covering different topics in local primary and secondary schools, helping encourage students to live full and good lives.
“Thank you for giving me courage and hope.” – School Student
Off The Fence now celebrates 20 years of resisting poverty, empowering people and restoring hope having seen miracles happen, people saved, and lives transformed. Our staff and our army of over 50 volunteers are dedicated to meeting the needs of vulnerable people across society and work tirelessly every day to ensure lives are turned round and supported out of difficult and life-threatening circumstances.
“Sadly today there’s more need than there was 20 years ago. Mental health is just one area of real need within the street community…the support isn’t there and people just can’t cope with normal life. We’re looking for miracles… we want to give people housing… It’s a big task. We can’t do it ourselves but with you we can make a great difference.”- Paul Young
We invite you to be part of this story. If you would like to volunteer, make a financial donation, or even host an event for us, we would love to hear from you. Even the smallest act of generosity can help transform someone’s life.
“Off the Fence is a remarkable organisation that provides three key services for Brighton and Hove” says Hugh Burnett, Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex. “This organisation needs our fullest support. We are lucky that they are such an important part of the Brighton and Hove Community”.
If you would like to hear more about Off The Fence and donate to their work, head to their website- www.offthefence.org.uk .