Before joining Emmaus Oxford as Chief Executive in 2011, I had worked in the homelessness sector for more than 15 years and have personal experience of being homeless when I was 18 years old.
I started off working frontline at hostels, before becoming a substance abuse officer and then going into management. During my years in the charity sector, I’ve been involved in a variety of schemes ranging from mental health and learning disabilities to housing and drug projects.
I wanted to work for Emmaus Oxford because I like the ethos and belief system behind Emmaus, as well as the idea of having a social enterprise linked to the community which pays for that community and the support it offers.
When I was applying for the role, the more I looked into the job, the more I wanted it. It got to the point when I was interviewing, that I said if they don’t give me the job then I want to apply to become a volunteer. I just wanted to be involved with Emmaus Oxford somehow.
The best thing about my role is the variety. I’m involved in every aspect of Emmaus Oxford and that means I’m always learning and growing. I’ve seen massive changes at the charity since I’ve been here too. We added four more rooms in 2012, our store moved from Marston to Cowley, the staff team has grown, and most recently we have had to adapt the way we work during the pandemic.
That’s the best thing about my role, but my favourite thing is the people. We have a strong staff team, and our community supports up to 28 formerly homeless men and women, known within Emmaus as companions. Working with companions, seeing people change their lives and playing my part in that, helps to keep me energised.
The unique thing about Emmaus Oxford is that we don’t have a set length of stay, so companions can be here for as long as they need to and the combination of work and support we provide, gives them the skills to move on in their lives.
In the store, people get all types of training that any employee would get to work in a retail space such as health and safety, manual handling, and fire safety, as well as training to work on the phones, on the vans, and PAT testing for electrical items. The training we offer to companions has really improved over the past few years and I think it’s an important part of what we do here. Just like I’ve got the opportunity to grow and develop in my role, the same is true for companions at Emmaus Oxford.
I believe one of the biggest things people get out of joining an Emmaus community is the change in status. Many people who have been homeless have a very negative self-identity. They may see themselves as a homeless person, a drug addict, or a criminal and they have identified with those stereotypes, either through society or from being institutionalised in other systems.
When they enter Emmaus Oxford, there is a very clear line in the sand. They are now a companion and they see themselves as a companion. A lot of the people we support are proud to be an Emmaus Oxford companion, and we’ve even had some people change their workplace on Facebook to ‘companion at Emmaus Oxford’. That is not something you would find in other homelessness services. People are not proud to be in a hostel or supported housing project, often they will keep it secret. At Emmaus Oxford, it’s the opposite. Companions are proud to be here and I am proud to work at Emmaus Oxford.