As lockdown ends, a new chapter begins...
If you haven't already heard, we are excited to announce that we have a new chair Dr Liz Wiggins. Listen to her above being interviewed on BBC Radio Norfolk and read below to hear more about her and why she joined our cause.
Why did you decide to become Chair of The Matthew Project?
I am a huge believer in the importance of community and for a while I had been looking for a way of doing something useful where I could give my time and skills. Someone emailed me the job specification for the Chair of The Matthew Project. I asked my husband for his thoughts about who we knew who might be interested. He said why didn’t I apply. So I did.
What does The Matthew Project do?
Our main role is supporting people impacted by drug and alcohol related issues, providing innovative education about the risks of drugs and alcohol and empowering people to make more informed choices and break down barriers to fulfilling their potential. The Matthew Project is based largely in Norfolk but also works in Suffolk and Essex. We are blessed with a fabulous recovery hub in Norwich called Next Steps which provides a welcoming environment for service users.
Before I took on the role, I met the outgoing Chair, Paul Hoey, for a coffee. He has been involved with the charity for over 15 years so has played a huge role in shaping and guiding it to become the organisation it is today. He described the charity as working with people who aren’t just on the margins of society but who have fallen off the page. That phrase really stuck with me. It made me want to be involved.
What is the role of a Chair?
The Chair has a number of roles including leading the Board of Trustees who are collectively responsible, legally, for making sure the Charity is using its resources of money and people wisely and meeting the charitable purpose for which it was established. I also see my role, along with the other Trustees, as being a thought partner to the CEO and senior managers. It’s not at all about telling staff what to do but it is about asking good questions that are both supportive and challenging.
Who does The Matthew Project help?
The Matthew Project provides a place of hope, working with young people and veterans, providing support not judgement and practical help to recover from addiction and then build skills and self esteem so that individuals don’t relapse. We help young people who have addiction issue themselves or who are affected by the addition of other family members. We also run support groups for parents who often feel very isolated and struggle to know what to do, or who to talk to, if their children have become involved in drugs or alcohol. We also have a programme called ‘Outside The Wire’ for Veterans run by veterans. This is a group of people who sometimes turn to drugs or alcohol as a means of coping with PTSD and the loss of routine and purpose that comes from being an active member of the Armed Forces.
What difference do you make?
Rather than me saying, I’d like to include part of a poem written by one of the young people who used the services and attended a writing workshop run by The Writers Centre Norwich.
Do You Understand
Addicts are always seen as scum of the earth,
Been that way since birth,
Don’t be around them, they’re cursed,
They’ll just steal from your house or purse.
Has anyone actually looked at one,
And thought understandingly where had it all begun?
We weren’t born with knives or guns,
Expect to deal with losing a daughter or a son,
Having no home and constantly on the run.
What about thinking they are a human being,
And there’s more to it than what you are seeing.
Could you cope with the fear they hold,
Holding so much shame they think their heart is cold.
Not having the knowledge to break the mould,
Or forgetting the things they’ve been called or told.
Where does your funding come from?
Some of our work is commissioned by, for instance Norfolk County Council. We also apply to a wide range of grant funding bodies, and raise money from the community. We are now also seeking to raise our own funds through social enterprises through our Next Steps centre such as furniture upcycling, electrical and bike repair and resale, and historic church renovations.
What difference has Covid made to The Matthew Project?
In the first lockdown, we closed the Norwich Recovery Hub, Next Steps, and our other offices and went to daily on-line and on-phone support. We also delivered welfare packs and would make Covid-safe visits to clients where we had concerns. By the time of the second wave, we were so aware of the impact of not having the centre open for people in recovery, that we were determined to stay open. We initially funded ourselves all the testing, PPE and changes at the centre but these costs have subsequently been met with support from the NHS Norfolk County Council, and Norwich City Council. All our other projects, continued to provide support remotely; with face-to-face visits where necessary. As soon as we can we will resume full in-person support, supplemented with technology.
What are the biggest challenges facing the Charity sector at the moment?
Another way of putting this would be to say what are the challenges facing young people and people affected by substance misuse? Put very simply it is increasing demand at a time when the financial envelope is shrinking. That is why we are very grateful for donations. Places are filling fast for our next event at the Bishop’s Garden on May 16th https://www.matthewproject.org/bishops-gardens-open-day
What do you do when you’re not being Chair?
I work for myself as a coach and change consultant. Much of my work is with leaders in the NHS so I very much see my skills as helping those who do the front line helping to do their work in a way that is sustainable for them and their organisations.
Aside from spending time with my family and our rather temperamental Scottie dog, Willoughby, I enjoy reading novels which I view as trying on another life for size. I’ve just read ‘The Salt Path’ by Wynn Raynor which makes you realise how easy it is to become homeless but is also full of hope. I’ve also just read ‘Shuggie Bain’ which is the story of a boy growing up with an alcoholic mother in Glasgow.
This interview can also be read in Network Norwich magazine here