I started working at Emmaus Oxford in January 2018 as Head of Fundraising and the most rewarding part of my role is getting to know the companions and hearing their stories.
Before Emmaus, I had a bit of a career sidestep. I was previously a social worker due to return from maternity leave but joined Emmaus instead of going back to that role. I had done fundraising for other charities before stopping to do a master’s degree in social work, so I knew that I had the old skills to do the fundraising role at Emmaus. At first, I started working three days per week and then added another day to help with starting new projects. I use my social work brain for that part quite a lot, which is satisfying.
Emmaus was doing some fundraising before I started, and work had been done by a committee of volunteers to make connections with people in Oxford through events, lunches and lectures. We still have quite a lot of supporters who first got to know us through those activities, and there was certainly quite a lot of knowledge in Oxford about who were and what we did. That meant that I wasn’t starting from scratch, which is the most difficult part of fundraising because you have to establish that knowledge and trust.
A typical week for me involves coming to the office for two days out of my four. I tend to use those days to catch up with colleagues, arrange donor visits, and generally do the more outward facing part of my role which is often meeting new people and setting up meetings with organisations and individuals who want to support us. I use my two days at home to do reports and applications, which is the more time-consuming part of my job.
A good example of a typical week was recently – on the Tuesday, we had a visit from an organisation called CRASH which might be helping us refurbish our new property, the next day we had a visit from Oxfordshire Freemasons, who funded our Resettlement Support Fund, then the Community Leader and I did a talk about Emmaus at a local school, and on the Friday an MP visited our community.
My favourite thing about working at Emmaus Oxford is definitely, hands down, getting to know the companions. It’s what makes my role so rewarding, because fundraising on your own can be tough.
Just after I joined, Darren came to live with us as a companion. Seeing him go from how he was when he joined us to where he is now, working and in his own flat, is really moving. We really get to know people as individuals, which can bring up lots of problems because people come to use with lots of problems, but we invest so much attention and care in them that often it helps, if it’s the right time in that person’s life.
I also enjoy how varied the role is. In a lot of fundraising jobs, you get your little area to focus on and that’s all you look at. Whereas, at Emmaus, there’s a bit of everything, weighing up what the opportunities are, and making sure we’re saying thank you to supporters. It’s always changing and doesn’t get repetitive.
If I was describing Emmaus, I’d say that we provide accommodation, housing and support for people who have been homeless. When someone comes to us, we give them a lot of time and support to help address deep-seated problems they’ve had in the past and why they became homeless. We do expect a lot of companions; they volunteer in our social enterprise and are expected to be part of our community, living alongside other people. However, we also understand that someone who has been homeless may struggle to do those things.
We’re a safe place for people to rebuild their lives from and when people are ready, we’ll help them move on to paid employment and more independent accommodation. We keep in touch with people afterwards too just to offer a bit of extra support in that vulnerable period. This is something we would like to do a bit better and more formally in future, but currently we have a really nice and warm way of keeping in touch with companions after they move out. Every week, we have a lot of people who come back to play football and that’s quite a nice way to gently check how people are getting on or make sure they aren’t feeling isolated or struggling with bills.
Coming up at Emmaus Oxford, we’ve got some exciting plans over the next couple of years. Initially, we were very worried at the start of the pandemic about how we were going to keep running, but we all pulled together, and our donors and supporters were incredibly generous. This meant that we ended up being able to run our services and have a surplus at the end of year. Our trustees have invested that in buying a new property, so we’re going to be adding another four bedrooms to our community to help more people because we always have a waiting list. The new rooms will be for move-on companions, who have found employment and want to live a bit more independently than they can in our community, but who still want support when needed.
Alongside that, we’re hopefully going to offer a lot more training to companions as well. At the moment, companions can approach us for funding college courses and that sort of thing. We’ll say yes as much as we can, but we want to make it a bit more formalised to offer more funding to each person and create a programme that acts as a pathway for people to equip them for work. Ideally, if we get the funding, we’d have a training officer overseeing all of that, and my job in all of this will be to raise the money to keep everything going!