Amber House - the UK's first public women's refuge - goes from strength to strength

The UK's first public women's refuge, which is in Littlehampton, has been going from strength to strength.

The Safe in Sussex charity team with Katy Bourne, centre
The Safe in Sussex charity team with Katy Bourne, centre

Amber House in New Road, Littlehampton, has been open since 2017. Since then, 305 women have used its drop-in centre and 27 families have stayed in the refuge itself. Click here to read a story from one woman who used the drop-in centre.

Amber House is run by Safe in Sussex, and Sharon Howard – pictured second from right – is the chief executive.

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The charity boss said the success of the refuge had surpassed her expectations: “What we wanted was to have a refuge known in the community where people could come to the drop-in centre rather than having to be signposted to other agencies.

The Safe in Sussex charity team with Katy Bourne, centre

"The community is really protective of the refuge. We have had women who have come into us and said they wish that they had had this support many years ago.

“People know we are here and I think the community like having the refuge in the area.”

How does the refuge work?

Based on a Dutch model, Amber House is named after the traffic light system because its purpose is to help women and their children who are in the early stages of abuse by their partners and to prevent it getting worse.

Open Monday to Friday from 11am to 3pm, the drop-in centre allows victims of domestic abuse to get advice on their situation and to speak to experts who can help.

The charity also runs a series of 12-week programmes to help women recover from the trauma of abuse and to understand why abusers behave the way they do.

Manager reflects on Amber House's success and challenges

Leigh Tyler, pictured far left, is the refuge manager and has worked for Safe in Sussex for four-and-a-half years.

She said: “It has been really interesting. We have had our challenges and we reflect very frequently and keep trying to move things forward. The model for bringing people here to the drop-in has been very useful; having the other agencies on-hand means you don’t have to keep repeating your story."

What is next for the charity?

Sharon said it was looking to start drop-in sessions in libraries across the county – particularly in more rural areas – over the next couple of months, and would be hiring and training more staff.

To donate to the charity, visit or call 0330 333 7416.

Police and crime commissioner visits Amber House

Katy Bourne praised the work of Amber House at a visit on Friday.

The Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner paid the team a visit to coincide with International Women’s Day, meeting residents and people who use the drop-in centre and hearing their stories.

According to her office, Katy has funded Safe in Sussex since 2014 and in the 2017/18 financial year, she provided the charity with £58,000 for its Recovery Toolkit – a 12-week programme empowering women who are no longer in an abusive relationship to overcome the psychological trauma of domestic abuse.

She described the work being done at Amber House as ‘fantastic’, adding: “Violence against women and young girls is probably one of the most important issues that society faces.”

Domestic abuse is 'like a wall being built around you'

Katy said she was inspired to fund the service based on the story of someone who was subjected to domestic abuse from his partner.

She said: “He described it as like having a wall built around him.

“At first, he could see everyone, and they could see him, and he could step out and get help.

“But as the wall got higher, getting out got harder, and he needed help to get out.

“One day, he realised that the wall was so high that everyone else had stopped seeing him; no-one knew he was there.

“It was a terrifying way of describing it.

“He told me: if you get that PCC job, do something. So I thought, right, okay – I will.”