Christmas together with Norfolk charity
For Michael, Matt and Mark, who have previously been homeless, Christmas this year will be spent together at the Emmaus Norwich community in Ditchingham in South Norfolk. Here are their stories.
Michael (pictured right) 55 and originally from Lewisham, was homeless for a number of years. His life involved working hard in the building trade and binging hard, a permanent battle with drink, which started when he was a 15 year old. Life for his family was difficult and Michael ended up on the streets living under cardboard boxes, living in a field and wondering where the next bit of food was coming from. Eventually Michael made a decision to change his life, he didn’t like himself and sought help in dealing with his heavy drinking. Whilst staying in a night shelter in Hertford he heard about Emmaus in St Albans and did some voluntary work for them while signing on as unemployed. He then got work and had a flat but then, a couple of years later when the recession hit and work was harder to come by, Michael ended back at the night shelter and thought once more about Emmaus. He at last felt in control of his drinking and applied to Emmaus in St Albans and was accepted.“I had sorted my head out, was used to hard work so doing things like moving furniture was enjoyable for me” said Michael. “I really liked being there as there was no pressure and I felt safe. I am a bit of a loner, not a mixer, but apart from the odd personality clash, the 30 plus companions got on well.”
Michael was a companion in St Albans for two years then a chance meeting with Cathy Hembry, Community Leader at Emmaus in Ditchingham, on a boating trip resulted in Michael having a holiday at Emmaus in Norfolk. Having experienced a well-established community in St Albans, Michael felt that he could help with the development of Emmaus Norwich and was accepted there earlier this year as a companion, where currently there are six. As well as helping in the kitchen when he first joined, Michael enjoys the work that each day brings going out in the van to collect donated items and deliver larger items in addition to organising the warehouse and managing scrap metals and recycling.
Although Michael has a family, he has not seen or had contact with them for several years so Christmas will be spent with other companions. Christmas Dinner will be cooked by Jose, another companion, whose role is to cook for the community, staff, companions and volunteers throughout the year. Cathy, the Community Leader, who lives on site will also be helping with the dinner and enjoying Christmas with companions.
Michael still enjoys an occasional beer at the local pub but it is now 10 years since he drank heavily. “My life has been a series of constant ups and downs but now I have a purpose and through everything I have maintained my sense of humour. I am really fortunate that Emmaus was there for me. I take each day as it comes and rather than being self-centred it feels good to be part of something that is supporting others.”
Matt (pictured left) 43, is a local man, who has been a companion for 9 months. A flippant remark to him about Emmaus in Ditchingham resulted in Matt googling the charity.
“I’d never heard of it” said Matt, “although I lived and worked just a few miles away”.
Companions come from all sorts of backgrounds and Matt had skills which meant he was able to fill a few holes. He had IT skills, knew about social media and was able to drive the van.
“This is the first job where I’ve been glad it’s a work day and not wishing it wasn’t” said Matt
Matt is keen to develop his skills still further and with training provided by Emmaus to help him fill some of the gaps in his C.V. he hopes to one day work for Emmaus as a staff member.
“Actually, this isn’t just a job, adds Matt, this is about the helping of others. I remember when we fully fitted out a flat for a man in Norwich. He had walls and a roof over his head but no furniture or basic items. The smile on his face once we’d finished made the hard work worthwhile.”
Solidarity is the ethos of Emmaus, work to live and give. Hearing about the good works and fundraising carried out by the companions for those less fortunate than themselves is humbling. When companions apply to be accepted, they are not judged on their past, they are valued for what they can give and not criticised for what they can’t.
Mark, who was living in Southampton, found himself homeless in March due to a marriage breakdown. He stayed with his sister in Suffolk for a couple of weeks during which time he visited a local church and heard about Emmaus. Within a few weeks of leaving his marital home Mark joined the companions at Ditchingham.
“I am on medication which meant that I needed to find somewhere safe and I found that here”. The reception, shop and logistics are Mark’s responsibilities, a role he has grown into over the months he has been there.
A companion may end up staying for just a few weeks or a few months or even longer. There are some great characters amongst them and like any family, they have their moments, but no matter what their backgrounds the difference that Emmaus has made to each and every one of them is clear to see.
The charity shop at Emmaus Norwich, Ditchingham is open Tuesday to Saturday, 10.00am – 4.30pm with plenty of free parking.
For any additional information contact: 01986 895444 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
or visit www.emmaus.org.uk/norwich