Part 1 of Aaron’s story was written in 2019 when he joined Emmaus North East as a companion. Part 2 of his inspiring story was added in 2021, when Aaron progressed from a companion to an Emmaus North East employee.

Part 1

“When I was younger I had a good life. My family was quite well off and they brought me up well, but my Mum and Dad split up when I was young and for a few years I was going between the two of them. When I turned 21 I started bidding for a council property. I was bidding and bidding and bidding, and then was finally offered a flat with the council. I was young and wasn’t ready for my own place but just thought I’d take it.

“I started knocking around with the wrong people and having them over.”

I’d just sit around all day and didn’t pay my rent and went for weeks without gas and electric because I didn’t think I could afford it. I could but I didn’t want to pay it because it’s bills. I was in the flat for about a year before I got evicted. I then moved between shared accommodation, hostels, B&Bs and private landlords which I found with the help of a local home finder service. You can stay in the accommodation for as long as you want but people don’t because they’re not nice places.

They were very different to the flat I had because the turnover in places like that is high, there’s always people moving in and out, all with different problems. You could hear them at 3 in the morning, jumping all around the rooms. I’d spend a lot of time in my room because I didn’t really want to associate with people in those places. Because it didn’t feel homely, it didn’t feel safe.

“I don’t take drugs and I don’t drink alcohol, so I’ve always been the odd one out.”

I’m always straight headed, and I sort of know what I want but people make it hard in places like that. I was treated like an outsider. They always asked for alcohol and cigarettes and money but when you don’t give it to them they start to turn angry and violent. I’d go to visit my Mum and come back, and my door had been kicked in, stuff like that. You’d rather be homeless than be in some of those places. I’d only stay in each place for a few days and would go from there to sleeping on the street or to a different accommodation.

I’d try to only sleep on the streets for a few days at a time. When I was in public I tried not to let people know I was homeless. They don’t really know unless you show it.

“I’d go to the public library and read books for hours and I never got bored by it because I was nice and warm.”

I did that from 23 to about 27 or 28 when I moved into Emmaus. I was visiting the home finder’s organisation in South Shields, which was next to the market on a Friday. I saw the Emmaus van parked at the market and as I was reading it I wondered if they’d be able to help me. I went over and spoke to the driver who was a staff member called Nick. He gave me the number to phone Rachel, the support worker, and within a couple of days I had joined the community. In those few days I’d researched Emmaus, so I knew a lot about it. It was just me, everything about it.

The thing that attracted me the most was that you’re not left to your own devices. You don’t wake up and do what you want all day, you get up to do something useful. You go to work, then you come back and have your meal and you’ve done something with your day, so you feel tired. It puts structure back into your life.

I love working in the shops. I really love the challenge. Sometimes it’s straight forward but when challenges come towards you, you must think about how to solve them and I like that. I know a lot about computers, so I understand how the tills work which means I’ve been able to help train people, showing them how to do things and helping to solve problems. I also run the Hebburn shop when the staff aren’t there. It’s a lot of responsibility but I like that, I know the trust is there and it makes me feel better about myself and more confident.

I never worked before but now I’m doing a lot. I’m working each day and I’m doing courses. I’ve already done first aid and food hygiene courses and have completed Level 3 Maths and English. I’m also about to start a Level 3 ICT course because I really like computers. Completing qualifications and learning new skills really helps with my confidence.

“The help from staff has been amazing, from the community leader to volunteers. I’ve met so many people and made new friends.”

Hearing about their experience has really touched me because I’ve never heard stories like that and having people that have been in a similar situation to me has helped loads. Everywhere else I’ve been I don’t feel part of something but now I do. It’s like a family to me.

Emmaus has helped me a lot. I was never the most confident or self-aware person and moving in and out of so many places meant I lost a lot of confidence, but since moving into Emmaus North East I have discovered myself. My confidence has really grown, and I’ve done things I never thought I could do. Never in a million years did I think I would be able to work in a shop, let alone running one occasionally! I’ve learned a lot of new skills I never knew I had and it’s all thanks to Emmaus.”

Part 2 – Updated March 2021

3 years after becoming a companion at Emmaus North East, Aaron has been offered full time employment within the charity as a Companion and Volunteer Development Worker.

I start my employment with Emmaus on 8th March which is exactly 3 years to the day since I joined Emmaus. I have always tried my best working in the shops at Emmaus but I do think I have just got really lucky. We had a companion who was an ex-alcoholic and he relapsed in a really bad way. I used to go to his flat and help him out and I think the staff notice things like that.

“A lot of people feel a sense of shock when they arrive, but I like to show people the ropes. I don’t want people thinking they’re not wanted or not needed, so I like to show them what to do. I think that gets noticed.”

Helping other companions will be a big part of my role, especially when they first move in. I’ll also be helping them do things in the shop. I’ve been in their shoes and I’ve got the experience. I have always said I’d love to have a job at Emmaus because it has helped me with my confidence so much. My CV is a lot better now and I want to give back to the charity.

Joining the community is always a bit of a shock as it’s all new. But once you get into it, everyone is just so welcoming and there are plenty of people who have been in your shoes. You meet people from all walks of life.

“I’ve met people from more cultures through Emmaus North East than I have in 29 years of living. I’ve made some lifelong friends.”

In a couple of months’ time I’d like to be living independently. I don’t want to live and work at Emmaus. I think if I lived here I would still see myself as a companion. But I want to now be a member of staff. If people see the progression that a companion can actually make, it could motivate them to come and try the community.

My advice for someone considering joining Emmaus North East would be to do the work and enjoy it. Stick at it and you’ll adapt. You get into a routine and it helps to structure your life a bit.

“Looking to the future, I can’t wait to start my new role”.