'He used to pin me up against the wall, he used to punch me' - How Sheffield mum-of-five Suzanne has turned her life around and now helps others

Violent domestic abuse. Being in and out of prison. Addiction and having her children taken from her. This is Suzanne’s story which somehow has a happy ending.

Friday, 3rd December 2021, 2:42 pm

The somehow is Sheffield’s Archer Project, founded in 1990 and based at Sheffield Cathedral, which supports homeless and vulnerable people living in the city centre and beyond.

After years of living on the streets, Suzanne found her way to the Archer Project and has since made huge changes to her life. She now works at the project in the paid position of Progression Support Worker.

This Christmas she wants to tell her story in the hope that her journey to a better, happier life and safe place will help others and demonstrate how The Archer Project turned her life around.

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Suzanne in front of Sheffield Cathedral

Suzanne is aged 41, lives in Grimesthorpe, is a mother-of-five and grandmother to one. She asked us not to use her surname and as you read her story, you’ll understand why. She said: “I grew up in Muirhouse, Edinburgh town centre was just a half an hour walk from where I lived. I fell pregnant pretty early and got my own place. It was good at the start, my partner was from Barnsley but I met him up in Edinburgh.

"Then he started drinking with my mum and that led to him being violent towards me. The violence started when I was young, I must have been about 17 or 18 years old. He used to pin me up against the wall, he used to punch me and beat me but never on my face, always places no one could see it.

"I was young with kids, and basically no family because he was drinking with my mum, so she was taking his side. He expected me to forgive him every time, which I did.

“We decided to move to Barnsley, I thought things would be better because we had his family and we’d get help, but that didn’t quite work out because they backed off after a month of us being down there.

Suzanne hard at work in the Archer Project

"He started on heroin and then it got worse from there because he expected me to pay for his habit and every time I said no he’d get more violent. He beat me up with my daughter in my arms over a stupid watch, and she was only a few weeks old so that was the last straw.

"I got a knife and held it to his throat and told him if he ever hit me again I would actually use it against him, so he made me totally flip but we didn’t stay together much longer after that anyway.”

Her children were taken from her while she was still in Barnsley. Suzanne said: “It started off where I asked for help but that led to them being taken off me, because of the violence I was suffering from and the drugs. My two eldest went to their nan who lived in Barnsley, two got adopted out and my youngest got adopted out separately.

"Losing my kids was heart-breaking. It kind of killed me inside and after that, I was in and out of prison, more drugs, more amphetamine, tablets, and I’d sometimes drink – but not when I was taking amphet.

Suzanne now works for the Cathedral Archer Project as a progression support worker

"When I moved to Sheffield, I stopped kind of taking that and started drinking and that would be bottles of vodka, more than one a day. I got into some states to shut it all off but obviously, it didn’t work.”

Then came the homelessness. “Me and my partner were in private rented accommodation but then other people started moving in that we knew and they started behaving violently towards me so we ended up in a tent in the allotments at Rivelin,” Suzanne says. “It was that bad winter when we had all that snow.

"A day living in a tent was getting up wet and cold, just to sit there drinking and looking at a fire. I think we drank a lot more than what we normally would just to sleep.

"I didn’t think there was anything better lying ahead to be quite honest with you. I didn’t see the point in carrying on with my life. I used to self-harm and take a whole load of tablets plus drink, so yeah, I didn’t see the point. I hoped not to wake up in the morning but each morning I did.

The Archer Project is based in the grounds of Sheffield Cathedral

“My partner knew about the Archer Project so that’s why we started going there. I was humping and grumping about walking there in the cold and it took like over an hour in the snow to get there. It was hard because we had to carry all of our stuff in a carrier bag. When we got there, we’d have something to eat, have a shower, warm up and then the whole same thing again, walking back in the wet and cold.

“Once I got used to walking in the snow and going there and we could stay in and do things, I enjoyed coming to the project and we ended up getting help with accommodation.”

The project began to change her life. “My partner knew to come here for food and to get help. I was the one who kind of pushed to stay around the project and get help.

"We got help with accommodation, volunteering, and then we had to work at getting a property together. When we got housed it was amazing - your own hot water, your own bed, your own place to cook something, so that was amazing once we got in there.

"My lifestyle didn’t change at first though, I had something to do during the day but as soon as I finished, I’d be drinking and taking whatever tablets I could so I think the only thing it did change was that I had a house to live in and things to do during the day.

“I did have a temper but someone had to rile me for me to kick off, but with drink I think I was easily bad tempered and I’d fly off the handle, but somehow the project saw good in me and asked me to volunteer.

The Breakfast Club is a key part of the Archer Project

"I started off in the laundry room but I always had a drink on me so I was sometimes excluded. From there I progressed to not drinking while at work, working up into the kitchen from the laundry room and making the tea, I was even sometimes on front desk.

"And then that got me into paid work, it took 10 years more or less but it was worth the 10 years. I wouldn’t have employed me back then.

"Being offered a job was surprising but it was good to be offered the job. My job now is a progression support worker, I work with the volunteers that are progressing from being homeless to getting somewhere but still need support. Because I’ve been there and done that I do relate to a lot of them and I know them all, so I can have banter with them while I work.

“I do get a sense of accomplishment now when I’m helping them. I want them to get as far as I’ve got, or at least somewhere along the line. I know there are setbacks and do I understand that, I’ve had plenty of setbacks but I've overcome every single one of them, even my illness.”

Suzanne is referring to the end of 2019 when she started having pains in her legs, going back and forth from the doctors and the hospital but no one knew what was wrong. “Not until I collapsed at home and ended up in the hospital,” she says. “I deteriorated quite a bit, my mental state kind of deteriorated, I thought the nurses were trying to kill me, I even phoned the police on them. I was in some right pain.

“The doctors didn’t think I’d pull through and I ended up on the Palliative Care Unit. I got this rare skin disease called calciphylaxis, which was calcium deposit in my bloodstream. I had loads of ulcers on my legs which had me in horrendous pain and I got covid in hospital which really annoyed me so I felt like giving up then as all I wanted to do was to get out of the hospital, but I kept on going.

“When I came out I couldn’t walk, I was in a wheel chair. I still had opened wounds which were at risk of infection, I had help with doing things around the house.

"They didn’t expect me to come back to work as soon as I did. I did physio before to get me up and walking, I just couldn’t wait to get back to work.

"I enjoy work and being stuck at home is a trigger for me because if I’m bored it reminds me of drinking so I like to keep going. Now I don’t drink when I’m at home, I drink when I go out for a meal though. I have a bottle of vodka in my house which hasn’t been opened yet and I’ve had it there for three weeks.

“Sitting and thinking about it, if I hadn’t have got into that terrible first relationship and suffered domestic violence, I don’t think I would have become homeless. I think I would be like my sister who lives with her family and life would have been totally different.

“People should support The Archer Project because they can change lives, and just look at me, I’m living proof.”

Suzanne reflects on how her life has turned around thanks to the Archer Project.
Suxanne got calciphylaxis, a rare skin disease to do with calcium deposit in the bloodstream which gave her terrible ulcers.