I live in St Albans so Emmaus Hertfordshire is part of the community that I live in, and to be given the opportunity to work as the Deputy Community Manager makes me feel very fortunate.
Prior to working at Emmaus, I had a 16-year career in social work with Age UK, Mencap, Barnet Carer Centre, and Barnet council. With Age UK in Islington, I worked with unpaid and formal family carers to assess what statutory support they required from the local authority, but also what emotional and physical support they needed from Age UK so that they could sustain their carer role long-term. My work with Mencap as a support worker was very hands on to identify the life skills people with learning and physical disabilities had so I could offer opportunities for them to engage in the local community. At Barnet Carer Centre I again worked with formal and unpaid carers, starting as a support worker before moving up to Carers Service Manager. Like the work I did at Age UK, I was providing the practical and emotional support with a holistic approach looking at all areas of their life, how I could support them, and what other services are needed. At Barnet Council I was involved with the dementia support programme working with their care and their family support network by engaging people in a programme of support with information on how to support someone with dementia, but also so the carer could look at their own role, wellbeing and health.
I knew of Emmaus Hertfordshire before applying for the role – I had brought some furniture from its St Albans shop and heard about the work of the charity. What stood out for me and made me sure that I wanted to be involved was the unique offer that Emmaus provides to people who have experienced homelessness. It’s not just about getting someone off the street; Emmaus gives someone a bed and a reason to get out of it in the morning – a real tangible thing that someone can get involved with.
Another aspect of Emmaus that quickly stood out during my first few weeks in the role was the solidarity and offering a hand of support to others less fortunate. I have been very fortunate with the opportunities offered to me and for the love and support of my parents, family and friends – not everyone has that support network around them. Talking to and getting to know the companions in my first few weeks made me realise that anyone could find themselves in the situations that resulted in them becoming homeless. Before Emmaus, I wrongly thought that the majority may have had issues with drink and drugs, and while there is some of that, there’s so much more – family breakdown, job loss, and mental health issues to name a few.
I approached the role as Deputy Community Manager differently to previous roles in terms of the type of support required. At Emmaus, it is so varied – some people don’t need a lot of support after living at the community for a while, others need a lot of emotional support, and some need time before accepting support. So far it has been a learning curve personally and professionally and I have tried to get involved with the community as much as possible.
In November 2018, I joined the former Chief Executive and a companion on Emmaus Hertfordshire’s monthly trip to Calais to distribute items to homeless migrants. Although this trip wasn’t a distribution, we visited the Care4Calais centre and I was given the opportunity to talk to a few migrants. To hear their stories, how they got to Calais, and why, was an eye opener. For them to come all the way to Calais to be homeless without support because it is a better option than what they had before is frustrating to me.
In December 2018, I was involved with the winter rucksack appeal where we collected and distributed essential items to rough sleepers to help them during the cold months. That again was an eye-opener and many people were so grateful for a bag containing items that I sometimes take for granted. I also attended the St Albans sleepout at Oaklands College and took my 11-year-old son with me. I decided to take him with me because I wanted my son to have some understanding of how fortunate we are and how difficult it can be for some people. I think he got a glimpse of what it can be like for someone homeless and what other people can face in life. I learned a lot about myself in that evening too. It surprised me how bleak it felt, even though I knew that I was going home to a warm flat in the morning. The thought of someone sleeping outside night after night was very disheartening.
Looking forward, I want to continue getting to know the people that I am supporting and developing personally in the role. I would like to get a better understanding of the different aspects of Emmaus Hertfordshire too. My focus is support, but that support is interlinked with the retail side of Emmaus, and I would like to learn more about the business model.
I saw from the get-go that Emmaus is an organisation that can really make a difference to someone’s life and I’m looking forward to being at Emmaus for the foreseeable future.