Hidden Owls to help former homeless secure employment
-Armley project will employ and train those recovering from chaotic lifestyles-
Howarths and The Howarth Foundation are delighted to formally announce the launch of Hidden Owls; a new community project based in Armley that will help people that have experienced homelessness learn the skills they need to get back into employment.
Based at Gelder Road in Armley town centre, Hidden Owls encompasses a clothing and homeware store selling pre-loved and new items, as well as a training centre and head office for The Howarth Foundation.
Part of The Howarth Foundation’s Street2Feet programme, the pre-loved store will employ and train individuals from across Leeds and the surrounding areas who are recovering from homelessness – often resulting from drug addictions and substance misuse – and provide a safe working environment in which to develop essential employability skills.
Andy Howarth, founder of the Hidden Owls project and Chief Executive Officer at The Howarth Foundation, said: “Hidden Owls is not your conventional second-hand shop. It is a community-led re-integration and recovery programme for people who have been less fortunate in life but now want to work towards getting back into meaningful and sustained employment.
“Since launching in 2017, our Street2Feet initiative has delivered a bespoke programme of mentoring and training for individuals recovering from chaotic lifestyles and preparing to get back into work.
“Having helped almost 30 people back into employment since launching Street2Feet, the opening of Hidden Owls in Armley takes the programme to a new level to help even more people across Leeds.
“We will provide support, guidance and structured hands-on training and work experience for men and women recovering from homelessness, sofa-surfing or who have recently been re-homed. These are often people who are committed to start living a conventional, productive, and structured lifestyle as part of their recovery, but who need close support to help them develop the skills they need to take the next step into employment.”
Natalie Wells, Director of Training and Client Services at The Howarth Foundation, said: “The pre-loved store will give our clients hands-on experience in a live retail environment. They will learn what it takes to run a shop, interact with customers and deliver excellent levels of service; all skills that are essential when it comes to securing long-term employment.
She continued: “We also have a training centre next door to the store. From here, we’ll link up with organisations to deliver training in areas like finance management and CV writing. This will ensure all our service users have the fundamental skills needed to help them secure job interviews and go on to manage their money effectively as part of their ongoing recovery.”
“More importantly though, Hidden Owls will provide an opportunity to gain confidence, re-establish relationships, make friends, be with others with a similar story and background and, ultimately, find a way back into society through working with The Howarth Foundation.”
Most staff recruited to work at Hidden Owls as the project progresses will have been homeless, recently re-housed or sofa-surfing, and the majority will be working with organisations aiding their recovery from addictions to drugs and mind-altering substances. Some may have also been subject to human trafficking or modern-day slavery.
One such person is Carl, from Armley. Carl, who it is hoped will become Hidden Owls store manager following a period of time volunteering, is in recovery from a cocaine addiction and lost his job after being caught stealing from his employer to fund his drug habit.
Carl explained: “I started selling drugs when times were hard for my family. After five years selling, I tried some cocaine, and it quickly turned into an addiction where I was getting through large amounts every single day. I ended up losing my job and my family and was on the streets, sleeping rough.
“One day, as I was about to end my life because things had got so bad, I got a call from my brother saying he had got me onto a rehab programme. It was my ‘God’ moment.”
Carl now works with St George’s Crypt, Spacious Places and Narcotics Anonymous and has brought his addiction under control.
He says: “I got involved with setting up the Hidden Owls project through The Howarth Foundation and have played a big role in getting the premises ready to open. Couple with my rehabilitation work, getting involved with the Hidden Owls project has given me a renewed sense of focus and purpose in life, and I now see my children and grandchildren regularly again as I continue my recovery journey.
“My hope is to become the store manager at Hidden Owls after I’ve completed some time volunteering and focusing on building up my confidence, skills and re-invigorated passion for life.”
Chris Sylvester, from Armley, began using heroin at the age of 12. By the time he was a teenager, he was registered with an addiction unit. He spent time in prison and then living on the streets of Leeds after his release, where he would steal cars with his friends and drive around the country shoplifting.
Chris decided to turn his life around and is now clean. He is employed as Client Coordinator by The Howarth Foundation for The Howarth Foundation and has been closely involved in the Hidden Owls project.
He said: “Armley is my old stomping ground. It is amazing to think that I’m now supporting a project to help people to recover from their own addictions on the very streets that I used to steal cars and deal drugs when I was younger.
“Everything has come full-circle and I’m proud to be involved in the Hidden Owls project to help give others that are going through what I did the opportunity to get back into meaningful employment as a crucial part of their recovery.”
Visit our Hidden Owls shop at Units 11-13 Gelder Road, Armley, LS12 3UF.