Under the Arches #6 (part i) – From placement student to volunteer

31st May 2024

In January 2024, I started a placement in The Archer Project’s engagement team as part of my criminology degree at Sheffield Hallam uni. Though I was naturally nervous at first, as I knew I’d be working with individuals who experience excessive stigma in society, I was also excited to be part of such a reputable organisation that does so much charitable work to address Sheffield’s intensity of homelessness.


At first, I did feel quite out of place. To be honest, by being a young white man from a middle-class background, my initial interactions with beneficiaries from much different backgrounds were quite slow and awkward as there was not really much common ground between us.

As I realised this quite early on, I decided to build relationships through more subtle ways like offering to make teas and coffee or simply just remembering names. Therefore, I progressively built trusting relationships with many in The Project, with some people even asking me to support them in more complex matters, which felt incredibly uplifting in my development as a support practitioner.

One individual limited in English disclosed to me their desire to address their substance misuse issues, which resulted in me translating on the phone when registering them with a substance misuse organisation.


Even just actively listening to various beneficiaries’ stories of trauma in regard to abuse, though incredibly upsetting, felt important as I was almost empowering them to voice their adversities, when society’s stigma around homelessness so strongly discourages that openness.

Not only were these interactions vital in developing my communication and emotional intelligence skills, but they also enlightened me to important issues. How migrants’ experiences of homelessness are particularly harmful with how language barriers can slow down and distort support. How obtaining accommodation, which I previously thought of as the end goal, can be quite mentally daunting, exacerbated by the prominent mental illnesses in homeless populations. And how accommodation itself can perpetuate the cycle of homelessness when it has issues like being inadequate, dirty and far away from an individual’s support circle.


Part ii has now been released as part of Volunteers' Week, so you can keep reading at: https://archerproject.org.uk/news/under-the-arches-6-part-ii


Written by Harry, Archer Project volunteer and keen baker.

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