People power

Adam Bates was a successful sports commentator, travelling the globe for major sporting events like the Olympic Games and Grand Slam tennis tournaments.

Then he took a trip to Lesbos in Greece to volunteer with a refugee project, and it changed his life.

“Before I went, I had been exploring ideas around how I could help people get closer to personal fulfilment,” he says. “I came back from Lesbos with my mind completely blown by the refugee situation, and I decided I also wanted to do something that would bring communities together.”

So towards the end of 2016, Adam quit his career and set up Ambigo, a social enterprise that delivers fun, community networking events based around people sharing their personal goals and ambitions. He discovered that his two objectives dovetailed perfectly.

“I realised that people supporting each other towards fulfilling their own goals was the perfect vehicle for strengthening community cohesion,” he explains. “Because as soon as someone starts talking about their personal aims, then others identify with that person on that basis, as opposed to their race, religion, disability or whatever else.”

So what happens at an Ambigo event? Working with a variety of charities, organisations and community groups, the company brings together a diverse mix of people, and facilitates group sessions where everyone gets to share their own ideas and ambitions, however big or small. People then write down their goals on an ‘ambition sheet,’ which is hung up on a washing line. Everyone present is then encouraged to walk around the room reading the ambition sheets, and if they have any information, advice or contacts that might help, they jot it down on a post-it note and stick it on to the sheet.

From the woman who has developed a project around mental health and creativity, to the homeless man who is starting up his own catering business, Adam has seen how the events help to build confidence, create connections and develop ideas.

“At every event we do, everyone leaves having been supported with their goal in some way,” Adam says. “People often come along with a personal objective in mind, but they’re soon crowding around the ambition sheets to see how they can help others.”

Based in Brighton, the Ambigo team has hosted nearly 40 events across the region over the last two years, with the help of a regular crew of volunteers. The community events – sometimes hosted in a café or a pub – are offered free to participants, but with a ‘pay what you can’ scheme also in place. Most of the company’s budget is derived from grants, but a growing source of funding is their business-orientated events, which have been producing some very positive feedback.

“We’ve hosted several business to business functions, including an event for the Brighton & Hove Chamber of Commerce. On that occasion, 60 people came along, and after two hours some were saying it was the best networking event they had ever been to.”

Ambigo hopes to expand its operations beyond East Sussex in the not-too-distant future, always keeping diversity at the heart of what they do.

“After returning from Lesbos, I really sensed how divided our country was becoming around race identity,” says Adam. “So we always try to make sure we have a nice mix of people from different cultural backgrounds. It helps people see that we all have a lot more in common than we perhaps realise.”

Ambigo are co-hosting a Refugee Week event with Smiley Movement in Brighton on June 21, 2019. The free, interactive event includes a panel discussion, featuring Caroline Lucas MP and others. For more information, go to

By Theo Hooper