Under the Arches #2 – Time to recover

3rd April 2024

Henry* has just delivered a great comeback at my expense, and the rest of the volunteers are laughing their heads off. He was making a round of teas and coffees and I shouted out, “Am I not included?” He looked at me getting up from my desk, smiled and said, “You haven’t earned one yet!”  An allusion to the idea that sitting at a desk isn’t real work in The Archer Project – and there’s nothing so funny as the boss being put in his place.

I joined in the laughter. Henry is a brilliant volunteer. It gets to the end of the day and we tell him we need to go home so he has to go too. He tidies, washes pots, shreds paper, sorts this and that. But it wasn’t always that way.

For around three months he came in every day and sat. He just sat, as if tired out, tired of life itself. When we asked him to join in activities he declined. As a team we spoke about his inactivity. It concerned us. But then he started volunteering and he hasn’t stopped.

So what was going on? Quite simply he was recovering from everything that had happened to him and he needed time. Emotionally he had been knocked sideways by becoming homeless and navigating a system that supported him to avoid rough sleeping. He still doesn’t have a home but he has recovered enough to be him. To be him, it seems a strange thing to say but it needs saying. In those three months he wasn’t himself. We know that because the Henry who volunteers is social, willing, full of stories, kind and perceptive, and he wears a gratitude to those around him for how he has been supported. The Henry we knew at first was withdrawn, fretful, avoidant, closed down conversations and we worried about him.


Becoming and being homeless is exhausting. It is hard to think about it in those terms because the general impression is that people who are homeless don’t do anything. Henry disagrees. He worried. He was ashamed. He wanted to hide and couldn’t. He had to check continually to make sure he was making progress. Take, for example, walking through town. He felt that everyone knew he was homeless. That meant he felt everyone knew he had failed, and looking at him was a judgement, “Could have, should have done better!!” He visited Housing every day waiting for them to tell him they weren’t giving him a room the coming night. He worried how he would cope if (when) that happened. Where would he be safe on the street? Would he survive? He noticed that some hotel staff changed the way they treated him when they realised he was a local authority funded bed. He could feel the judgement and one night when he found no tv remote in his room, his first thought was that they would naturally accuse him of taking it because he was ‘one of them’!

So, he sat and allowed his brain and body space.


I heard a comment on a radio programme which said the British are historically good at offering support to impoverished and dispossessed people only if they can see that the person is trying to help themself. Taking time to recover doesn’t look like ‘trying’. If Henry had had surgery we would give him space and time. So why is giving that same time to someone recovering from shame, judgement, and a sense of failure so difficult to do?

Time is only one half of the equation. Space is the other. And it has to be the right type of space, amongst people who show understanding and provide knowledgeable support. Our space did that for Henry. It isn’t perfectly set out, but space is about the people in it too and the presence of medics, housing providers and other professionals alongside our team makes the space work. We are not the only ones who provide this crucial space – places like Ben’s Centre and St Wilfrid’s are just a couple of examples.

Fortunately, Henry took time and used the space, and we are now seeing the benefits of recovery.


*Name changed to protect identity.


Written by Tim Renshaw, CEO of The Archer Project.

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