Meet Sheringham Town Council’s newest member Peter Farley

Original. Peter Farley.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY Original. Peter Farley. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Monday, August 18, 2014
7:00 AM

He has been a police officer, teacher and helped set up a pioneering alcohol and drugs support charity which marked its 40th anniversary this year. But despite his busy life, Peter Farley still relishes work and has become the newest member of Sheringham Town Council. Reporter SOPHIE WYLLIE spoke to him at his Sheringham home.

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Sitting in the corner of his living room Matthew Project founder Peter Farley, 71, is quiet and looking out to the north Norfolk countryside.

But despite his unassuming character he has achieved many things, with people being the main focus. And he has big ambitions of getting involved in Sheringham community life.

“I still haven’t decided what I want to be when I grow up. I couldn’t imagine not working. I still get great enjoyment out of it. There has never been a day when I didn’t want to go to work,” he said.

Mr Farley, from Chestnut Grove, was born in Chiswick, London, and after studying at Chiswick County Grammar School he went straight into work.

After doing several small jobs he joined Warwickshire Constabulary in January 1963 where he spent two years on the beat in Solihull before moving to CID and then finally the drugs squad in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire.

He said: “I saw the police as more like social work because you could help young people in trouble.”

Mr Farley left the police in 1970 and during that time he enjoyed the intellectual challenge of interviewing and investigating in CID and it was during his time in Welwyn Garden City when his interest in drugs issues was sparked.

“In the seven years I was in the force I had a wide experience of life. I met a wide cross-section of people. I developed my tolerance and understanding of people and it strengthened my desire to do what I could to help people.”

He completed a three-year course in primary school teaching at Welwyn Garden City in 1973, the same year he moved to Cremer Street, Sheringham, with his wife Margaret and children.

The father, grandfather and great-grandfather became attracted to the north Norfolk town after visiting in 1971.

From 1973-75 he taught art and social studies to children aged 11-16 at Sheringham High School and then taught at another school in the town which taught boys with behaviour problems from 1975-81.

“They were the six most fulfilling years of my life,” he added.

Mr Farley first thought of the Matthew Project idea in 1981, when he moved to Buxton Road in Norwich, but it was not until 1983 when he and some volunteers started fundraising and gathering support.

“I went to a meeting called by social services and the police as a result of glue sniffing on the Mile Cross Estate in Norwich. There was an increase in young people sniffing glue in the summer of 1983. There was a problem that needed a voluntary response. I said we should set the Matthew Project up with the aim of helping young people.”

At the time there was no counselling support or advice for young people suffering from drug or alcohol abuse in Norfolk.

The project opened in April 1984 in St John Street, Norwich, with three rooms and two volunteers.

At the start Mr Farley had raised £17,000 from charitable trusts which was topped up by £10,000 from the Sainsbury family.

“It was for young people in general but it became apparent that drugs and alcohol were a problem.”

The project started helping 12 and 13-year-olds in Norwich but the charity soon found itself doing more work.

It has always run a telephone helpline as well as offering advice and a place to “hang out”.

Mr Farley said: “In 1989 I had an idea for a mobile service which at the time I didn’t realise how innovative it was. There was nothing else like that in the country at the time.”

The unit travelled to schools in the day and village and town centres at night and was a place where youngsters could get support and informal health education.

In 1991 the project branched out to work with adults in the first provincial arrest referral scheme in Britain. It involved supporting people with drug and alcohol problems who had been arrested.

The late Jill Dando was patron of the charity which is now based on St Stephen’s Road, Norwich.

It now has about 40 staff and volunteers and supports anyone of any age affected by drugs and alcohol across Norfolk and Suffolk through various schemes.

Mr Farley stepped down as project director in 2004.

He said: “I feel privileged to have been part of the project. I was one of a team. I find it staggering to think of the thousands of people it has helped. The project was at the forefront of support organisations.

“There is potential in everyone and what attracted me was being able to help people reach their potential.

“Working with young people has helped me appreciate how blessed and fortunate I am. I admire how many people have coped with adversity.”

Mr Farley has worked for the Charities Evaluation Service which awards the quality mark to charities for the past five years.

He also supports teachers at St Andrew’s School, Aylmerton, which teaches children with autism.

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