20 years of helping people who are homeless in Cambridge

A man that has been helping people in Cambridge who are homeless for two decades explains his passion for continuing to work in the sector and the rewarding aspect it brings.

Jamie Butcher, service manager at The Victoria Project in Cambridge.

Being able to empower people and diffuse challenging situations is a rare quality, but that is just what Jamie Butcher has been able to develop and achieve over the last 20 years.

The 48 year-old has been the service manager at the Victoria Project in Cambridge for 10 years. However his interest to help people who are homeless began in 1999 when he volunteered at a local church.

He says: “I was at university studying art and art history when I began volunteering and then went on to work for the day centre doing breakfast and a soup run in the evenings.

“I had a brief spell for a few years doing different types of work such as construction and I set up a gardening business but I couldn’t settle and got bored easily. Then a friend alerted me to a job at our sister scheme Willow Walk so I applied and was successful. This was the start of my career and I haven’t looked back since.”

The Victoria Project and Willow Walk provide safe and supportive accommodation to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Both schemes are run by housing association Riverside, along with The Springs and Cambridge Youth Foyer.

Jamie worked at Willow Walk for four years, firstly as a locum worker on nights then as a support worker during the day where he was able to set up projects using his skills set and interests to help residents.

Jamie Butcher, service manager at The Victoria Project in Cambridge in 2009,
Jamie in the garden of The Victoria Project in 2009


Jamie from Cambridgeshire explains: “In this line of work you don’t get bored, there’s always a variety of things that keeps your interest up. With my arts background I would organise guided tours at art galleries and museums for residents as they had limited experience of doing anything beyond their daily routine. It also gave them the opportunity to create art and display it in their room.

“I also set up a gardening club and created a sensory garden and got people volunteering at charity shops. There was a music group called Street Voices set up with a local choir leader and there were some really good musicians that we helped express their talent.

“These projects had a positive psychological effect on residents who have complex needs, and gave them a sense of self-worth that they can achieve something. It also gave them a sense of normality, for instance the opportunity to simply sit in a café after a museum visit which was brilliant.”

Jamie’s career went from strength to strength, working with young people as a peer support worker at Cambridge Youth Foyer. It was also a significant period of his life as he met his wife Nicky at the scheme and they kept in touch when she went to work at another organisation, then romance blossomed.

Jamie came back to Willow Walk in 2009 working in the same role, peer support worker, while studying for an NVQ level 3 management qualification paid by Riverside.

Jamie Butcher with customer Jimmy in 2009
Jamie (left) with a resident in 2009


“I began to feel that I could help run these services and make a difference, as well as develop my career,” the dad-of-one continued.

“I had a client who was in a continual cycle of homelessness, back and forth. One day I asked him what had excited him in his life apart from drugs. He had a think and said ‘cars’ and began talking about stock racing and fixing them up with his dad. It then went from there and eventually he went on to do an apprenticeship in a garage and continued to turn his life around and live independently.

“It was fantastic to see him develop, and that’s so rewarding. It’s incredible to see someone transform and self-develop. It is also great for me to be constantly challenged and how best to get the best out of them.”

It was in 2010 that Jamie then became a service manager at The Victoria Project and adapt the service by taking the psychological and emotional needs of people into account, called Psychologically Informed Environments (PIES).

“My time at Riverside has flown by and it’s been very rewarding in so many ways. I’ve been able to study for qualifications at my employer’s expense, plus keep up-to-date with training courses such as PIES. I’ve talked to people in other workplaces who haven’t been given that opportunity.

“I’ve also seen colleagues that I’ve line manged and been promoted which is great to see. I was given the opportunity to fill in as area manager for a while. I’m very fortunate that Riverside has been by my side helping me when I need support or time off when I’ve needed it, it is a great place to work.

“I am invested in Cambridge and it is so satisfying that my team are making a positive difference to people’s lives, working with the clients to effect change,” reflects Jamie.

We currently have a number of roles available working in our supported services in Cambridgeshire, just visit https://www.jobtrain.co.uk/riverside/ to find out more.