Community project in Armley helping former homeless people secure employment and build a new life opens its doors with a new shop2

A new community project in Armley that will help people that have experienced homelessness and chaotic lifestyles learn skills to get back into employment opened its doors with the lifting of lockdown restrictions.

Saturday, 24th April 2021, 6:00 am

Hidden Owls, based at Gelder Road off Armley Town Street, is a clothing and home-ware shop selling both pre-owned and new items from books to clothes, home furnishings and sofas, as well as a training centre and head office for the charity behind the project, The Howarth Foundation.

Part of The Howarth Foundation’s Street2Feet programme, Hidden Owls, was able to open for the first time on April 12 after lockdown restrictions on non-essential retailers were lifted.

Hidden owls will employ and train people from across Leeds and the surrounding area who are recovering from homelessness - which often comes with drug and alcohol addiction and substance misuse - and provide a safe working environment in which to develop essential employability skills with a view to getting a job elsewhere.

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Hidden Owls is nestled under the high-rises of Armley

Already this week four new volunteers have been taken on at Hidden Owls - which is also becoming a focal point for people to come for encouragement and support during their recovery.

The Howarth Foundation was set up four years ago by former policeman Andy Howarth and was granted charitable status in February 2017.

Its Street2Feet initiative has delivered a bespoke programme of mentoring and training for individuals recovering from chaotic lifestyles and preparing to get back into work and has since helped almost 30 people back into employment. Hidden Owls is set to take the programme to a new level helping even more people.

Mr Howarth is himself Armley born and bred and has had successful businesses and wanted to give something back to the streets where he spent his formative years.

Andy Howarth, CEO, of The Howarth Foundation's Street2Feet programme, with Natalie Wells, Director, at Hidden Owls charity shop.

He said: "It has been my stomping ground for most of my teenage life but I looked and thought it had gone down the pan a bit and wanted to give something back. When I got the opportunity to set up a charity, Armley was the place - I adore it.

"Leeds City Council has been amazing and I wrote to them and asked if they could give us a shop they couldn't rent or get rid of, I would put the resources in, do it up and make Armley part of what we have done.

"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.”

He admits it is not always easy as they are working with people still in recovery and there has to be a balancing act between training people and not "tipping them back to a dark place".

Andy Howarth.

However, the rewards are when people leave the Howarth Foundation safety net.

Natalie Wells, Director of Training and Client Services at The Howarth Foundation, added: "Twelve months later their confidence has increased and they are ready to fly the nest, they don't need our support and are moving onto bigger and better things - that in itself is so rewarding, to see how much people grow and you can't put a price on that really."

The training centre next door to the store will be used to link up with organisations to deliver training in areas like finance management and CV writing.

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