I moved to Emmaus Hertfordshire in 2016. I went through a messy divorce and most of the money I got from the sale of our house went on paying bills, so I got stuck. I was homeless for about two years, going from place to place trying to find somewhere. I ended up in Welwyn Garden City where I met another guy who was homeless, so we stuck together.
We had our favourite spots to sleep; park benches, and covered areas for when it got bad. It was very difficult. There are all sorts of weird people out there. I had abuse thrown at me, I had police move me on. It was a very difficult time.
I decided to try the YMCA, and I was there for about two years. There was another guy who moved into YMCA who had been kicked out of his bungalow by his ex. He was disabled, so I became his full-time carer. I did that for two years, during which time he got his bungalow back. When he got his home back, I wasn’t needed as his carer, so I became stuck again.
My key worker suggested that I try to get into Emmaus Hertfordshire, and I’ve been here since 2016.
It was difficult to settle in at first, because it was another move, and I had to settle into something unknown once again. But I got to know other people in the community and settled in.
I’m currently working full-time in the workshop which I really enjoy. I used to be on the vans when I first joined Emmaus Hertfordshire as I had a driving licence, but I am 64, coming up to 65 years old, and although the brain is with it, the body is weak at the moment!
When I was on the vans, I picked up donated furniture, did deliveries to customers and drove items between our shops. It took a bit of getting used to, but I soon got into a routine.
I don’t have a background in woodwork, but I left school at 16 and went straight onto the building sites, doing roofs and first and second fixes, so I picked up some skills from there which has helped. When I first came to Emmaus Hertfordshire, Ed, who ran the workshop at the time, taught me a lot. He took me to one side and showed me what I need to do, and I now pass that knowledge on to other companions to the best of my ability.
We were finding that the furniture we were upcycling in the workshop was selling quickly so we decided to open a pop-up shop in St Albans just for that. I now supply the shop with furniture to sell. It’s getting really good and is popular with customers.
Today I am working on a really old wardrobe, an antique. The first thing we do is check it over to make sure there’s no dry-rot or woodworm, and then we treat it. Every item is different, it doesn’t matter if it’s a chest of drawers, a wardrobe… I have a toolbox I am currently doing up as well. It really varies. The items we sell come in for nothing and then some we sell for hundreds of pounds after they have been upcycled. We have some really weird and wonderful things come in, that people just don’t want anymore.
The biggest item I have ever done is a 16ft table. It had lots of leaves to extend it, so you can have two people sitting at it, four people, eight people…. It was huge, and I think we sold it to a caterer to use at events and weddings.
I love taking something old and unwanted and turning it into something new. We’ve done a few talks recently about recycling, including to the Cubs. It was great to show them that you don’t always just have to throw something away, but you can do something with it to make it good again or turn it into something else.
I’ve also helped out with the food bank (St Albans and District Food Bank). I did it with another companion, Peter. It was only meant to be a short project to help them out, but we did it for two years in the end. In the beginning, we were dropping parcels off to people at home who couldn’t get to the shops. We also went to the supermarkets to pick up donations and took them back to the food bank warehouse for them to be sorted. We also drove the van round to collect donations up from people’s houses, and I think one day we picked up 16 tonnes of food – that was hard work that day! It was a good thing to be involved with, to support another charity and know we were helping other people. It made me feel good.
Emmaus Hertfordshire has helped me a lot. I have got my self-esteem back. I’ve settled down very well, I’ve learned a lot and I have some great friends around me. The staff here are really good; if I have any problems here they get straight on to it. I find them very helpful. I’d really recommend people come here.
I’m coming up to retirement in March, but I can’t see myself going anywhere just yet. It’s a difficult time to find anywhere out there at the moment, and I think it might be hard for me to go out there in the real world right now. I can’t remember the last time I paid a bill or sorted anything out like that, it’s all a bit daunting. It’s all taken care of for me here. I could be here for life, I don’t know yet, but that’s the good thing about this place, there’s no time limit. You don’t get kicked out, so you always know you have a home.