Travel is important to me; I enjoy going to new places and meeting new people, so when I was on annual leave in Amsterdam, and happened to run into Jos, the Community Leader for Emmaus Haarzuilens, I couldn’t possibly turn down an invitation to see how our Dutch cousins operate.

I headed out to Utrecht on Friday 27 September and was kindly given a tour by Jos, who introduced me to the many volunteers and companions based there. The community can provide a home to up to 14 formerly homeless people, and their age range varies from 18 – 65. The site itself is located in the beautiful Utrecht countryside, which is about an hour away from the capital.

I learned about the history of the community and its formation over 60 years ago, after Abbe Pierre met a wealthy family on a visit to the country who then donated the site as a present. When it first opened it mainly offered a home to older people who had found themselves homeless, but that has changed over the course of the years.

The community itself is incredibly well organised and has a different model and approach to ours in the North East. Their shop is only open for two days a week, unlike ours which is open for six days. There is also a heavy emphasis on solidarity projects within the community, with a significant amount being raised annually for projects in South America.

I am very pleased I had the opportunity to visit Haarzuliens, I always feel at home whenever I go to another community, and they have certainly embraced the ‘unconditional welcome’ that was introduced by our founder. Jos and the team have kindly agreed to let me return with some companions from the North East for a working holiday – a few of them are already interested!

We are part of a large international family who share the same vision and values and I am hoping that I can return the wonderful hospitality when they come and visit us. The Haarzuliens community is a beacon that shows us what is possible with many years of dedication and hard-work. I have great hopes for our community in the North East and know that with the help and support of the external community, we can continue to do what we do best; helping those who need it most.