Hot meal...and a recipe for a new life

Tim Renshaw and Tracy Viner at the Archer Project
Tim Renshaw and Tracy Viner at the Archer Project

IT’S Thursday morning, and spaghetti hoops, bacon, cereal, toast and tea are on the menu. And there’s always porridge, even through the summer.

About 30 people arrive over an hour or so to start the day with a hot meal, taking advantage of perhaps what the Archer Project is best known for.

For the past five years, it has been a purpose-built refuge for homeless and other vulnerable people in a building at the back of the Anglican Cathedral.

But it offers much more than cooked breakfasts.

It is a place to seek help and advice, but crucially it’s where every encouragement is given to abandon destructive lifestyles.

The range of people who drop in during the day is varied, from crisis cases to those on the road to recovery.

Some may be sleeping on the streets, but others could be ‘sofa surfers’, moving between the homes of friends, and some may have accommodation but little else, looking for the social contact that the Archer Project can provide.

These people on the edge of society include drug and alcohol addicts, although anybody who turns up in an obviously disruptive state is not allowed in.

They all gravitate to a place designed to offer a potential way out of chaos and hopelessness.

Visitors are assessed individually for the type of help they need, but, of course, the scripts does not always go according to plan.

Gatherings of noisy street drinkers in front of the Cathedral are a long-running issue, prompting occasional complaints from nearby businesses, and they were sometimes a source of friction when the Occupy Sheffield movement shared their patch.

A core of up to ten or so potentially disruptive individuals is acknowledged, and attempts are made to help them, with variable results.

“It’s something we are aware of,” says marketing and development manager Tracy Viner. “We have our own patrols and we have excellent links with the police community support officers and civic ambassadors, and you can see the relationships they have with the clients. They do a brilliant job. They know when they need to intervene, and when it’s time to calm them down and move them on.”

Tracy believes the majority of people recognise that the street drinkers need to be somewhere “and we are part of the solution rather than the problem”.

Tim Renshaw, who has been chief executive officer for seven years, is keen to put the issue in context. “To have a centre that runs so smoothly and quietly 98% of the time is a great achievement.”

The charity believes that, with support, most people will be able to live free from drugs and alcohol and the lifestyle that accompanies them.

It offers a route to tackling drug, alcohol, medical, housing and other issues - and 21 activities to stimulate new interests, everything from a film club and music to gardening and a women’s group.

More basically, it aims to build up self-esteem and the need to develop a sense of personal responsibility.

“If somebody is going to move away from homelessness, a structured life is as important as a roof over their heads,” says Tim.

Achievements can be measured in the numbers of clients who progress to becoming volunteers. The Archer Project is run by 12 staff and 40 to 45 volunteers, including 25 who use the centre themselves.

It all comes at a cost, but the Archer Project can help to save money, says Tracy.

A nurse and a dentist visit every week, and in some cases wounds and other medical problems are treated before they get worse. “Without that, some people would end up as an emergency hospital admission. There would be amputations and a lifetime of rehabilitation and disability benefits.”

The Archer Project started in the Cathedral when homeless people realised services could be followed by tea and biscuits.

Under increasingly difficult circumstances, it continues to offer sustainance to some of Sheffield’s most vulnerable people.

As well as the free breakfasts, there are lunches costing £1 (sweet and sour chicken and rice on Thursdays). “It’s about people learning they have to pay for things, but if they take part in our activities, or volunteer, they can get a voucher.”

Yet sustainance can come in other forms.

Tracy says: “When somebody comes to the centre for the first time, there is a feeling of somebody giving them a hug and saying ‘You’re safe’. And there is a sense of achievement for them when they go on to volunteer.”

It’s about giving clients “the opportunity to have that little bit of hope and optimism that they can take the steps to change their life”.

But she adds: “We are not a miracle cure, we are working with human beings. Every year there will be a handful of people who haven’t made it, but that’s life. We don’t always make the right choices ourselves.”