The story of the Matthew Project began in 1984, with a Norwich-based Christian social worker called Peter Farley. Peter was concerned about the level of substance misuse he was seeing among young people in the city and felt that the existing provision was not doing enough to support them and to and tackle the root cause of this issue.
Peter’s idea was to set up the Tackle Shop, a Norwich-based drop-in for 12-25-year-olds to get confidential advice and support, particularly around substance misuse. This was accompanied by an additional out-of-hours phoneline called the Tackle Line. Both services were immediately popular with young people, and this led to the establishment of a new charity, set up by Peter, called the Matthew Project, which comes from the word Matthew in the Bible meaning ‘gift of God’.
Throughout the 1980s the Matthew Project established itself within schools across Norfolk, providing a range of education and one-to-one support for young people, especially those affected by substance misuse and mental ill health. We also introduced the Tackle Express, a new mobile caravan built to travel around the county and provide outreach support to at-risk young people.
By 1991, the outreach service had grown rapidly, and was reaching over 3,000 young people per year across Norfolk. Many of these young people will remember these sessions with the Matthew Project for decades to come.
Throughout the 1990s, the charity continued to grow in size, culminating in Peter’s retirement in 2000. Following Peter’s retirement, the charity underwent a significant restructure, and won a large new local contract to deliver adult drug and alcohol support across Norfolk and Suffolk. By 2001, we had 19 staff members and were supporting over 5,000 people per year through a range of adult and young people’s services.
In a county as rural as Norfolk, having local outreach support is essential, and by 2007, we had bases in Norwich, King’s Lynn, Great Yarmouth, and Thetford, as well as a newly opened Cromer-based centre called the Junction.
A few years later, in 2013, staff at the Junction piloted a new small-scale veteran support project, staffed by veterans, called Outside the Wire. This veteran-led, specialist substance misuse and PTSD approach has proven popular, and the service now employs ten staff working across Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex.
In 2017, we came together with other VCSE organisations across Norfolk to form On Track, a partnership-led project working to support young people facing multiple barriers to employment. Two years later, in 2019, we officially opened Norfolk’s first community recovery hub, called Next Steps, and based in Norwich.
Since 2019, the Matthew Project and our beneficiaries have experienced some setbacks and difficulties, particularly due to Covid-19, although our charity never stops growing and learning, listening to our staff and beneficiaries and establishing the best ways of supporting those who need us going forwards.