"If it weren’t for you lot I’d still be on the streets."
Please read our latest stories below (names and images changed to protect identities).
Sasha, a journalist student, sits in on our screenwriting group last Friday.
The Archer Project runs a wide variety of groups and activities for those who use the centre, including social media, art and film clubs. Every six months the activities change, allowing people to explore new hobbies and interests. All the groups aim at helping individuals to build their confidence, self-esteem and provide them with a sense of achievement.
This week I got involved in the Friday screenwriting group run by two partner volunteers*. The screenwriting group use prompts to come up with their own scripts - they have even made short films out of these!
The focus this week was on discussion: we looked at the magazine ‘The Unexplained’ and debated all things supernatural, including ghosts and old-school mysteries.
Everyone got involved as we discussed our opinions on what we thought about some of the creepiest unexplained stories we could find, and it was easy to see why so many people enjoy coming to the activities. It gave those there a space to express themselves, to develop their own opinions and explore new topics.
One of the volunteers who co-ordinates some of the groups spoke about the impact that these can have on those who participate:
“We’ve had groups such as social media, colouring and photography, but the most popular are the educational and job search based activities…[everyone who comes] builds a lot of confidence.”
*Partner volunteers, are volunteers who also access the services and support that the Project offers.
Sasha, a student volunteer, shares her first impressions of volunteering at the Archer Project.
Having lived in a big city for the past few years now, I've been more than aware of the fact that homelessness is a problem that could potentially affect anyone, with up to a quarter of a million people in the UK living without any shelter. Giving loose bits of change to people on the street can often seem like a quick way to provide help, but what about the people who go that extra step further? I've been visiting The Cathedral Archer Project to find out.
My first visit was on a Friday morning, and at first I was unsure of what to expect. I was given a tour of the building by volunteers, finding out that they not only provide two hot meals a day but also have showers, laundry facilities, medical services and run activities. The aim is to make those who use the centre feel like it is a home, a safe place and a refuge. I was told that I'd come at a fairly quiet time, but the atmosphere was still bustling and busy.
I started chatting to Mark*, who'd started coming to the Archer Project 18 years ago, after beginning at the Salvation Army when he'd been walking the streets at 4am every night.
"I had a lot of anger that needed to be controlled and I was just fighting the world."
He explained that the Archer Project had provided him with the help he needed in order to come full circle, and eventually he started volunteering.
"I come down most days, and I do it for me. I think it helps that I can relate to the people and their situations."
For individuals like Mark the Project provides more than just a place to rest, but a place to develop, gain new skills, and be himself.
*Names have been changed to protect individuals.
One of our service users, Chris, recently gave this talk at our Christmas Carol service. We were so impressed we'd thought we'd reproduce it here for all of our supporters to read!
'Before I went to the Archer all I did was sit in my flat and take drugs – which made me really depressed. I had the same routine day after day, the more drugs I took the more depressed I became. I just knew I had to do something about my life or I would not make it to Christmas.
I went to the Archer and told the staff the kind of life I was living and asked them for help. They offered me a volunteering role six months ago. And since then I have started to turn my life around. I also started a class at the project called the Brink so that people with drug problems could get together and help each other.
After a couple of months I got nominated as a recovery volunteer of the year – I never thought I had a chance of winning until they called my name out. It is the first thing I have ever won and I felt so proud because I am doing something I really love doing – and getting an award for it.
So now I am off drugs and I look forward to getting up in the mornings and I will be spending Christmas Day with my 14 year old son for the first time in years.
I am so happy that I reached out and asked for the help I needed. Over Christmas I hope I can volunteer and help people just as much as I was helped. I want to say thanks to everyone at the Archer Project for making me so happy and to wish you all a good Christmas.'
Steph, one of our fab volunteers is leaving and she has shared what she has got out of helping at the project.
Homelessness is something that I have always thought a lot about so deciding to investigate it for my third year dissertation just made sense and was the perfect opportunity to delve in and find out more. I have always wondered about the stories behind homelessness and if it was at all possible for me to find out if a solution was out there somewhere. I decided that in order for me to write a 10,000-word essay on homelessness, information off the internet just wouldn’t suffice. I had to get myself out there, engage with those who knew it the most, those who had suffered and are suffering it. I wanted to become involved in some way.
I contacted the Cathedral Archer Project and became a volunteer two days a week. From the offset I was involved in most aspects of the project. As the weeks went by I often found myself forgetting about my dissertation investigation. I found myself wanting to be at CAP to help others.
Week by week clients grew to know me and I began to know them. I learnt early on that to build a strong relationship with clients could often take months sometimes years but the astounding staff at CAP had managed this. Strong and trusting relationships were definitely present at CAP between staff and clients and were visible daily. The relationship between staff and clients was something that stood out to me from the beginning. I soon understood that for clients, CAP is a lifeline and a place they treasure. For them it feels safe here, it’s a friendly face on a dull morning.
Hearing clients’ stories over my time at CAP is something that will always be a big part of my experience. For them to feel able to open up to me meant a great deal and those stories will stay with me for a lifetime.
CAP has given me an unforgettable experience and although I may have helped clients at CAP with a friendly face in the morning, an ear to listen to, placed their washing in the machine or helped make a phone call, the clients at CAP have helped me. They have helped me to realise that homelessness can happen to anyone. To me, to you, to the person sat next to you. Homelessness does not define a person. Homelessness is not a self-contained event but a series of events that happen in a person’s life and the way in which those events have affected that person.
Being involved in CAP is one of the most rewarding things I have done to date. The courage the clients have and the smiles that still appear on their faces during such a difficult life event is astonishing.
18th of March 2016 – the night of The Sleep Out in aid of The Cathedral Archer Project! Or as I dubbed it at 10 to 6 the following morning “The Wake Out”.....
I’d signed up for the event a few weeks before and I was really grateful for all the sponsorship that had been coming in, but when it got to the day itself I felt a little nervous as I’d no real idea of what to expect nor even how many other people were taking part; all I knew was that I’d be sleeping outside the Cathedral for the night. Once at the Archer Project I realised that there would be quite a few of us and we were made to feel welcome and although it was a little quiet to start with everyone started chatting and mingling and then we were given an introductory talk by Tracy and Tim. This gave us more information on what to expect from the night and on the work of the project and some insight into just how difficult it must be in every way to be homeless on an ongoing basis. We were also given a tour of the Project building and we all started to realise just how many things the Project provides, and why. For of course there are all sorts of different aspects to being homeless not just that you are sleeping rough (as if that wasn’t enough!), for instance something as simple as not being able to get yourself a hot drink when you fancied one or popping to the shops for some food for your tea and a whole of host of other things that we take for granted every day of our lives. Some examples of what the Project provides are washing facilities – where else could you get your washing done without any money to pay for a laundrette?; breakfasts for around 80 people arriving at the centre every day (this costs £550.00 per week on its own); an educational room; a “surgery” where you can be seen by a doctor, or a nurse or a dentist. There are also a few computers – another thing that most people have access to all the time and take for granted, and the list goes on....
It had been raining when we arrived but by the time Tim led us round to the front of the Cathedral with all our gear about 8.30pm – we must have looked a motley crew – it had stopped. This was very kind of the weather! We all started to look for our “spot” to plonk our things. The BBC Radio 4 programme “Any Questions” was being broadcast from inside the Cathedral that night and we were all eager for it to finish so we could stand with a collection bucket outside the front doors and hopefully collect some extra donations from the audience coming out. We told people what we were doing there, and why, some seemed amazed, some ignored us and others gave generously (the collection raised another £120.00!). Maybe this was a slight reflection on what it must be like to be on the street: some people are amazed you’re there at all, most just ignore you and occasionally, hopefully, someone might be generous towards you in some way. However, nothing could have prepared us for what Gav told us as he took us on a tour of the city centre and showed us where he and others spend their nights when sleeping rough. Some of the stories were horrific, the violence some rough sleepers have experienced was unbelievable, and he kept reiterating how it was to be out on your own with no protection and hearing people coming in your direction...”you just keep your head down and hope they leave you alone”, the loneliness, the boredom, the exclusion all came through loud and clear. It was a sobering tour.
We all bedded down at different times. I got into my sleeping bags about midnight, (I’d taken 2 and some cardboard and what I hoped would be a waterproof layer to go over the cardboard, and a Thermarest sleeping mat – how lucky was I to be able to take all that!?) and there was a lot of camaraderie, something that would be missing from every rough sleepers evening. I have to say that I wasn’t cold at all, apart from my face. But again this was because I’m lucky enough to have a lot of warm clothing and I’d wrapped up really well. Quite a few other people were cold throughout the night and that would have been much more how it feels on a daily and nightly basis for anyone sleeping out. The noise of the city kept most of us awake, and this was one thing in particular that really made me think: how can anyone function when they’ve been freezing cold all night and not had much, if any sleep, (I certainly didn’t get any) and especially when they have to endure this on a continual basis? That on its own must be something that’s terribly difficult to live with. Amazingly, we were watched over all night by JJ, Gav and a couple of other guys who I unfortunately didn’t get chance to talk to so didn’t find out their names properly. Despite being out under the stars in the middle of town this made me feel safe and was a luxury which they would never get for themselves and it brought a lump to my throat. And the noise of the city continued....
When we got up we were given breakfast and thanked for taking part, but I felt like I’d not done anything at all as it was easy for us knowing that we could leave in the morning and go home and have a shower or a bath. Easy for us to go and get into a warm, safe bed and then get up again when we felt like it. Easy for us to make ourselves a meal and get a hot drink as and when we needed to. And easy for us to have a nap at tea time and then go about our daily business the day after as if nothing had happened at all. This bears no resemblance to a “real” rough sleepers life; never getting any proper rest, being vulnerable out on your own for hours just waiting for it to get light again. And that's before you've started looking for food, somewhere to get warm, do your washing, get clean, or maybe having to concentrate to fill a form in, or remember an appointment or basically just trying to survive the day before you have to survive another night.... and that’s not to mention the boredom and the loneliness and the lack of any “home comforts” and the general wearing down of “self” that such a life must bring. Our humbling experience was something that I wouldn’t have missed and I would recommend everyone to do it at least once just to glimpse what we can only really try to imagine; a hard, hard life which we only scratched the surface of with our “Wake Out” event.