The Emmaus Community in Colchester offers homeless people a home for as long as they need it and the opportunity to gain new skills working within the social enterprise.
Established in 1999 by a team of trustees and volunteers who wanted to create an Emmaus community in the town, Emmaus Colchester offers people the stability helps people to rebuild their lives following homelessness.
“After many years of fundraising, including opening a charity shop, the group worked with Genesis Housing Corporation to build and open a purpose-built community, providing accommodation for 20 Emmaus companions and one member of staff,” said a statement from the charity.
“Since then, the business has expanded to encompass three shops and a warehouse located across Colchester. This success of the social enterprise has allowed us to own our own accommodation, which provides move-on accommodation for companions who feel ready to move into independent living again. We now have room for 31 companions.”
“Around 37 people per year are benefiting from the support offered at Emmaus Colchester, with many using their time with us to regain their self-esteem and re-establish family contacts, helping them to move on successfully with their lives. We are proud that four of our former companions have gone on to become Emmaus employees,” the statement added.
Jason, 49 years old, is from Mersea and his circumstances changed very suddenly in February 2018 when he was made homeless.
Jason had been living in the family home, caring for his father who had developed glaucoma four years before and had become blind. In 2017 it became evident that he was suffering from dementia, and Jason was no longer able to take care of him. The house was quite rundown because Jason’s father was on a pension and Jason had no income. Social Services moved Jason’s father out of the home and into care and due to debts, the house was repossessed and Jason was left homeless.
In a state of shock, Jason spent his first night under a beach hut having lit a fire to keep warm. For the following days he found a bed at the Night Shelter, but, with nothing to do in the day time, Jason felt lost and was rapidly running out of money, because it cost £3 a night. He spent a week and half there until one of the keyworkers, Lynne, told him about Emmaus. He went to Emmaus Colchester the next day and was given a bed for the night – and he’s been there ever since.
He works in all the shops – the Works, the Emporium and the New Life Shop and Café, has worked in the transport office and been a kitchen porter at the Companion’s House.
“Emmaus has given me a sense of purpose and I’m very grateful for the help I’ve had. I’ve taken advantage of counselling with Diane. I think in recent years I don’t think I’ve ever gone through such a traumatic time and I’ve had to rebuild my life. Dad’s dementia started a long time ago, he used to love his boats, and when he lost his eye sight he couldn’t do the things he loved. He said to me, ‘everything I love has gone’. And now I can understand how he felt. You never know what you’ve got until it’s disappeared. Coming here has saved me,” said Jason.
Gia, the development and progressions manager, and Flo, the progressions manager, have both helped Jason to overcome his lack of confidence, which held him back when he was younger. Flo referred him to a basic confidence course, and he’s also gone on a cookery course and is currently doing an NVQ in customer services as well.
The community has helped Jason to set career goals, he’s got a new CV and is sending emails and attending interviews. Gia has helped Jason with his CV and interview techniques and Flo has offered lots of support.
“Now my life is moving on I feel much more confident and self-reliant. It’s made me look at what I want to do in the future. I’ve always had a strong interest in history, especially military history and WW2 and I’ve always been good at writing. I’d like to go to university and then teach – knowledge is wasted unless you use it. I’d also like to have my own house by the beach in Mersea,” said Jason.
“The last year has been a learning curve. It’s been a journey but I’m ready for the next stage. You learn all the time. When my time comes to move, I’ll look back knowing that without Gia and Flo, I wouldn’t have got this far,” he concluded.
There are currently 29 Emmaus communities across the UK, providing a home and meaningful work to more than 815 formerly homeless people. In addition to this, there are five emerging groups, working hard to establish new communities.
Emmaus originally started in France in the 1940s and, since then, Emmaus has grown into an international movement with more than 350 groups based in 37 countries across the world.
Each person living at Emmaus Colchester has their own individual bedroom with all meals provided in a communal dining room. Normal living expenses are covered. There is no time limit for people living at the community and while most people stay for a few months, some leave after a short time and others stay for years.
However, the stability helps people to rebuild their lives following homelessness and the environment enables companions to regain lost self-esteem and the confidence to get back on their feet.
Each person receives a weekly charitable allowance to pay for any extras as well as accumulating a ‘leaving fund’ during their time in the community. This helps them pay for deposits and moving costs when they are ready to move on.
Companions at Emmaus Colchester are asked to work up to 40 hours per week in the social enterprise, with two days off. After three months, companions receive a long weekend and then every six months companions receive a week off.
Once accepted at Emmaus Colchester, a person has to sign off all benefits with the exception of housing benefit, which is claimed by Emmaus to support the community.
Almost 80% of companions who have lived at Emmaus for a few months say that working and having something to do every day has been most beneficial part of their experience.
The main business activity for Emmaus Colchester is collecting donated furniture and household goods and selling them in one of their four shops, running the New Life Cafe and the house clearance service.
Companions can be found carrying out a range of work while staying at Emmaus Colchester, including:
Appropriate free training is provided in health and safety, manual handling and food hygiene.
“Emmaus is not about giving hand-outs, it’s about providing people with the tools to help themselves. This approach has been proven to produce long-term, sustainable results. For the many people who have been stuck in a cycle of homelessness, Emmaus provides the space and support they need to take stock of their lives and make positive changes for the future,” said the charity.
For every £1 spent with Emmaus there is an £11 social, economic and environmental return on investment, according to an investment study carried out on behalf of Emmaus.
Diane Wills is Consultant Social Worker at WillisPalmer, responsible for quality assuring the forensic risk assessment reports.
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