Heaven and Hell: Andy Sexton of the Matthew Project

Andy Sexton, CEO of the Matthew Project in Norwich

Andy Sexton, CEO of the Matthew Project in Norwich - Credit: Claire O'Hara

Andy Sexton is CEO of the Matthew Project, a charity working across the east  to break down barriers with people affected by issues such as substance misuse.

For many years he worked in Africa and then around the world on issues of child homelessness, human trafficking and child soldiers. In 2010, he moved to Norwich, and was Associate International Director for Oasis.

Before joining the Matthew Project, he established a programme to support refugees.

What’s the impact of Covid-19 and how have you adapted?
I have felt the impact of the pandemic most keenly with my work as CEO of the Matthew Project.

Aside from a million more emails and Zoom fatigue, the need for our work has increased significantly as a result of Covid-19.

There are many more people with mental health and substance misuse issues in need of support to help them live fuller lives, free from addiction.

It has been, and continues to be, an intense time.

We have adapted by using all internet and social media platforms, and phoning people, but there is no replacement for face-to-face support which we are still providing.

What is your connection to East Anglia?
I am Australian but have worked all over the world in international development, focused on establishing projects with homeless children, trafficked children and child soldiers. 

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When we decided to move to the UK, we had family connections in Norfolk and Suffolk. And have not been disappointed with the choice.

What is your East Anglian Heaven?
I love the East Anglian “bush.” Walking in out-of-the-way parts of the region is heavenly.

And there are some great coffee  roasters in East Anglia now. A good cup of coffee in a trendy café is hard to beat.

What is your East Anglian Hell?
I am not going to lie, the weather can be pretty grey and grim at times.

Having been used to the sun in Australia, Africa and California, endless grey days are wearing.

What’s your favourite East Anglian restaurant?
I love food from all over the world.

There is a little Turkish place on Magdalen Street in Norwich called The Mediterranean that I would thoroughly recommend.

They are doing takeaways. But the best lobster is at The Grove in Cromer.

What’s your favourite way to spend an East Anglian evening?
Paddle boarding on the Broads as the sun sets.

What’s your favourite East Anglian landmark?
Norwich Anglican Cathedral and the whole Cathedral precinct is stunning.

I have a favourite place to sit and reflect in one of the Chapels.

It is right beneath a plaque to one of my heroes, Norfolk son Thomas Foxwell Buxton MP, who took over the parliamentary mantle from William Wilberforce, to finally end British slavery.

What’s the best thing that happens in East Anglia every year?
Royal Norfolk Show.

What is your specialist Mastermind subject?
I am more of a jack of all trades rather than a master of anything in particular, but I really enjoy discussing current affairs. 

What is always in your fridge?
In my freezer… ice-cream.

What’s your simple philosophy of life?
Love God and Love your Neighbour as you Love Yourself.

More important than ever in the pandemic.  

What’s your favourite film?
Probably The Mission, but for light relief The Pink Panther starring Steve Martin.

What was your first job?
I was a primary school teacher in a picturesque town in Australia.

However, it was a tough town with huge drug and alcohol problems.

As a newly qualified teacher I had a real baptism of fire.

I can laugh now but then, let’s just say, it sorted the men from the boys, and I was a boy.

They ran rings around me.

Those kids were the making of me though.

I left teaching after three years to get stuck in to addressing the causes of why they behaved as they did. It became my life’s work.

What is your most treasured possession?
A dining table and chairs made in Zimbabwe from railway sleepers.

It weighs a ton but is beautiful.

Who do you admire most?
Aside from Buxton, I would say Nelson Mandela.

He came out of 27 years in prison with a message of forgiveness and a vision to create a rainbow nation.

What is your biggest indulgence?
Skiing – so expensive but it is hard to beat racing down a snow covered mountain.

What do you like about yourself most?
I have always cared a lot about marginalised and vulnerable people.  

What’s your worst character trait?
Impatience.

Where is your favourite holiday destination? 
The French Alps.

Best day of your life?
Hard to choose between my wedding day and the birth of my children.

What’s your favourite breakfast?
A full English breakfast made from locally grown produce, but without the beans.

What’s your favourite tipple?
A non-alcoholic beer. There are some good ones now.

What’s your hidden talent?
I used to be a decent bass guitar player; super rusty now though.

When were you most embarrassed?
People who know me well, know I am good at embarrassing myself.

The funniest was telling a comedian on a plane a joke, and forgetting the whole middle of the joke, so the punchline made no sense.

I begged him not to mention me in his gig at the Adelaide Comedy Festival!

What’s your earliest memory?
Listening to the radio broadcast of the first man to walk on the moon.

I was three years old and with my parents on a European camper tour.

We were in a campsite in Amsterdam.

Everyone was so excited. The memory and the feeling has stayed with me.

What song would you like played at your funeral?
Definitely “40” by U2 – that song, based on Psalm 40:1-3, has been my modus-operandi for working with at-risk children and adults, throughout my career.

Tell us something people don’t know about you?
I had the privilege of speaking to a US Congressional Committee on the issue of child homelessness in Africa.

 What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?
“I wish you had never been born.” I vowed never to say that to anyone.

Tell us why you live here and nowhere else.
It was family connections that brought us here first.

For previous international work it was convenient.

I could travel from Norwich to Amsterdam and then pretty much anywhere in the world.

East Anglia is amazing and because of Covid-19, and not being able to travel, we have enjoyed exploring a lot more of it.

It is full of surprises.

What do you want to tell our readers about most?
The Matthew Project has a brilliant service, Outside the Wire, run by ex-military veterans to support other veterans with PTSD and substance misuse issues in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk, so please help us by sponsoring a 1:1 support session through our crowd funding appeal https://www.totalgiving.co.uk/appeal/veterans

If you have a story, email gina@hallfarmfornham.com or follow Twitter: @geewizzgee1 Instagram:@ginageelong
 

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