When rough sleeper Liam came to homelessness charity Emmaus Burnley, he arrived with nothing but the clothes on his back and a worn-out pair of trainers.
The 59-year-old had been sleeping under bridges and on park benches after becoming unable to cope following the death of his wife.
Upon finding his feet in the charity’s Burnley accommodation and gaining meaningful work at Emmaus Department Store, Liam felt better able to revisit his passion for long-distance walking.
Whereas before he’d trekked for miles around to find a safe place to sleep, Burnley and the wider countryside became a source of great joy for Liam, providing the opportunity to spot wildlife and the chance to unwind.
Director of Emmaus Burnley Stephen Buchanan said: “As soon as we discovered Liam had been going out walking without full wet weather gear, we immediately used the money we earn from customers visiting our Rochdale Department Store to buy him a pair of brand-new walking boots and got him a full set of waterproofs. Doing without could well have harked back to his earlier experiences of ‘making do’ when he lived on the streets.
“Since Liam came to us, it has been a lovely to see him enjoy the great outdoors again. Walking is fantastic for the people who live and work with us, with many benefits to their physical and mental wellbeing. I know Liam has been kind enough to take some of the other people we support on his travels. As someone Burnley-born and bred, and through his former experiences, he knows some of the most spectacular places around the town and the best viewpoints to go and visit.”
Liam’s top spots in Burnley include Rowley Lake and Townley Park as well as Edale village and Kinder Scout in the Peak District, and Ingleborough, the second highest mountain in the Yorkshire Dales.
After becoming fully kitted with walking gear, and with more walking holidays under his belt, Liam’s next ambition is to walk the entire length of the Pennine Way from Edale to Kirk Yetholm in Scotland, a trip, which Liam relishes revealing, US ultrarunner completed in a record 2 days 10 hours and 4 minutes.
“It’s on my bucket list,” Liam said. “I would like to do it in about three weeks. I like to set myself a challenge. I’ve walked 16 miles up Kinder Scout, which involved a lot of climbing and walking through bogs with the wet and rain coming in. A lot of people can’t wait to sit down at the end of a long day, but not for me, I’m always active.
“I love it, getting out in the fresh air away from everyone. It’s just nice to get out there and everyone is friendly. If you’re in the centre of town, people might not look at you twice, but walking around, people are very friendly. They always stop to say hi.
“I recently joined Facebook Group, the Pennine Way walkers, where you can read tips and advice and I’ve been encouraging other walkers who have decided to do the entire Pennine Way by posting messages of support each day.
“After slipping around everywhere on one of my walks, I realised you need the right footwear. I’ve got arthritis and can’t get away with what I could before in the wet weather. My new hiking books have made a massive difference and it’s thanks to customers who buy from our Rochdale Department Store that I got these. In fact, it’s due to Emmaus that I’m here at all! Now, I put my waterproofs in a little bag, put my boots on, and I’m off.
“Walking now is completely different from when I was homeless. I walked to keep away from everyone because it felt quite dangerous. I slept where I could and kept moving on. Emmaus has really helped me. Not enough people appreciate Emmaus for what it does for you. Every purchase people make in our Department Store goes to help someone in need. Emmaus was a lifeline for me.
“I’ve been here three years now and it has changed my life completely. I have more sympathy for certain people and understand people’s issues a lot more. When I first came to Emmaus, I struggled a bit, but walking costs nothing. With my holiday money, I’m going to go walking in Edale and I can’t wait.”