Holistic support that 'saves people' at the Archer Project - 10/09/2018
The Archer Project, based behind Sheffield Cathedral, started out in 1989 simply as tea and toast being provided to homeless and vulnerable people who congregated there for shelter. Now, the Project is a well known homelessness charity in the city, and describes itself as a holistic service which helps those who access it to improve their lives by developing their independence and self confidence, and helping to improve their ability to tackle setbacks and change negative behaviours.
Various issues cause people to seek out help and support from the Archer Project; lack of accommodation, a breakdown in family relationships, a history of offending, poor physical and mental health, and substance misuse problems. For many who access the Project it is a perfect storm of most or all of these factors combined.
There is a wide range of support available through the Project; assessment and signposting, in house nurse and dental clinics, access to hot food, drinks and food parcels, showers and laundry, access to computers and phones, support for those in recovery from drug and alcohol dependency, a wide range of activities and a thriving structured volunteer programme, where people who use the service work their way up to becoming volunteers – giving back to the place which has made such a positive impact on their lives.
I visited the Project to speak to some of those who use the service and the first thing I noticed was that most service users viewed me with a slight air of suspicion. Many who use the project seem to know each other, and they knew I wasn’t a regular there. In contrast to this, the staff and volunteers shared jokes with the regulars, chatting about what they’d been up to, bemoaning the fact that Easter was coming and the Project would be shut for a few days.
This mistrust of outsiders, especially ones sat with a paper and pen, observing and making notes, is completely understandable when dealing with a group of people who may have had negative experiences in the past. A real strength of the Archer Project seems to be the camaraderie which exists once you enter the place, and on more than one occasion people referred to the Project as ‘my family’.
As people were signed in they headed to the kitchen for breakfast – the project serves around 100 each day, and they are always looking for local businesses to get involved in sponsoring the breakfast shift and serving food to people. After breakfast, people congregated in the various sitting areas, chatting to friends, using the computers and reading newspapers, whilst others attended a Kickback Recovery support group meeting, which runs several times a week at the Project.
In the midst of the busy and slightly chaotic sitting room; par for the course when dealing with vulnerable and homeless people, I found real life stories of hope, recovery and achievement.
The first volunteer I spoke to didn’t want to share much, other than “this place is life or death for some people. I mean it. It was for me. Life or death. It saves people”.
Kerry spoke to me in more detail (in-between finding replacement jeans for someone who’s only pair were ripped, and answering questions from other volunteers) describing years of drug and alcohol abuse from being a young teenager, leading to a suicide attempt and being sectioned before finally entering detox. Upon returning home to her children she said she could feel herself slipping again, and in desperation called a drug worker who brought her to the Archer Project, “and that was it for me, this was my place, and I love it”. Kerry now volunteers at the Project 5 days a week and has been doing so well that she’s been put forward for an accredited award, although she’s worried if she goes for it then it will take her away from the Project which is her place of safety and where she can continue her recovery journey.
I spoke to another volunteer in the kitchen and she told me how the Project gives structure to her life, so much so that she worries about what will happen to her if she’s unable to come each day. She told me how she trusts the team completely, and sees them as her family, and spoke about all of the activities and support she accesses at the Project – counselling, recovery, running group, camping trips. “If I didn’t have this place I don’t know where I’d be. It’s everything to me”.
Another person I spoke to has been attending the project for “20 years or so, I’m one of the old ones!” For him the Project is his only contact with the outside world – he’s either at the Project, or he’s “stuck in his place”. He came to the project with a drug habit and mental health issues, and no family to support him, and credits the Project and staff, particularly the recovery group, with helping him to turn his life around.
A relationship breaking down had started a chain of events which led another person to the Project. His partner had “kicked him out”, he’d lost his job, and found himself homeless. Like most of the people I spoke to, he accesses the Project most days, enjoying a free breakfast, using the laundry, being supported by the staff and socialising in a safe space with friends he’s made.
Everyone using the Project that day was at a different stage of their journey – some were clearly in crisis, sleeping rough, hungry, cold and in need of support with a variety of issues. Other services in the city work with the Project staff to support service users effectively. Framework staff spend time there each day, checking up on people they may have found sleeping rough earlier in the morning, for example.
Alongside those in crisis, it was encouraging to see and chat to lots more people whom the Project had supported to move past that stage, still accessing the centre daily to keep working on their own personal journey. The Archer Project has clearly had a huge impact on the lives of so many people in the city, whether directly, or by supporting a friend or family member.
On my way out of the Project I saw an impressive mountain of Easter Eggs which had been donated by various businesses and individuals from the city for people who access the service to enjoy over Easter time. A volunteer explained to me that the Project relies heavily on donations to support their work, whether that’s food, clothing, money, or people volunteering their time. The Project keep a live list of what they are most in need of on their website here.
Perhaps you could consider enabling the Archer Project to continue to their work in supporting some of the most vulnerable people in the city by fundraising, volunteering or donating. By doing so you will make a real significant positive difference to a person’s life.
Alison Riggott - SheffGives