Emmaus is an international humanitarian movement concerned with helping those who suffer injustice, deprivation and oppression. Since taking root in the UK in 1991 its main focus has been on the alleviation of homelessness, but it tackles this problem in a unique way. Emmaus creates Communities that offer to all, but particularly those who are homeless or otherwise marginalized, friendship and a place to live and work and support themselves. Moreover, it provides them with the opportunity to serve others who are suffering. This solidarity action, as it is known in Emmaus, is an important part of the wider restoration of Companions (Community members) as they see their efforts helping those less fortunate than themselves.
Companions come referred by statutory and voluntary agencies or in person. Some suffer from multiple and complex problems such as mental illness, addiction and relationship breakdown. Some have been in the armed forces and some in prison. Communities generally accept anyone fit for work including those whose physical and mental health issues are being managed. Companions sign off all benefits and work as volunteers to the best of their ability for five days per week in the Community business. This mainly consists of the repair and resale of donated household goods, diverting these from landfill. The business provides the income for the Community to sustain itself without external funding and any surpluses in cash or kind are given to those more needy in the wider-community. Companions work in and run most aspects of Community life and the business. In addition to domestic duties this includes much of the building work. The staff are mainly there as enablers. Community life, work and personalised training aim to prepare Companions for their return to main-stream living.
The process of acquiring a home for Emmaus Bolton began in the summer of 2000. At that time there were only ten Emmaus Communities in the UK. The trustees carried out a street-by-street physical search of the Bolton area to identify properties that would be suitable for an Emmaus Community and produced a list of some twenty sites that included Derby Barracks, although this was not on the market at the time, being occupied by Sea and Air Cadets.
The most positive of these, part of a farm near Blackrod was actively pursued and if achieved would have led to a much different sort of Community to the present. However, the sale fell through and just as it did so in August 2002 part of the Derby Barracks site came on the market. The main part of the site, occupied by the Sea Cadets, was to be sold but the smaller part, “The Cottages” was to be retained for the use of the Army Cadets, although in the longer term this part might also be sold because it was dilapidating and becoming very costly to repair. By early 2003 trustees were in discussion with the Reserve Forces office in Liverpool and by May 2003 it was agreed they would deal only with Emmaus. A sale was agreed in January 2004 with eight months allowed for necessary processes, including fundraising, before completion. In the event completion took place in January 2005.
As Emmaus Bolton bought the semi-derelict Derby Barracks in 2005, three other Emmaus groups were planning multi-million-pound buildings staffed with support workers. Something of the Emmaus way of doing things on a shoe-string had been lost! Bolton trustees agreed that their Community was to be built as cheaply as possible, while recognising that this would take longer to achieve. This was to be done by minimising structural alterations, only doing what had to be done, using free or cheap materials, and using Companion labour when possible. At the time big funders didn’t like this “do what we can when we can” process but fundraising kept pace with progress. A pioneer group of four Companions from existing Communities built their own accommodation and started a skeleton business. When another room was finished, and the business could afford it, the first new Companion moved in, worked in the business, helped create another room and the process escalated. Companions took ownership of their Community, learnt new skills and overcame confidence and self-worth issues.
In due course, the Army Cadets were relocated and the remaining part of the site, The Cottages and adjacent land were acquired in June 2011. The Cottages consist of a terrace of three, two-storey buildings and were in a seriously dilapidated condition, requiring they be stripped back to bare brick walls, concrete floors and wood joists. At one stage the whole building was open to the sky. Over the next two years, largely by the efforts of Companions the buildings were brought back to life. The caretaker’s cottage became a home for three Companions. The other two adjoining cottages became a café and kitchen, with boutiques for clothing, collectables, and books and music.
The last major project was the conversion of the former 30 metre indoor rifle range into a workshops complex during 2017. The run-down shell has become four workshops including a full production wood workshop, electric testing and repair, and bicycle repair and rebuilding. The complex adds value to donated goods before resale and is the main skills centre for Companions.
Work on the Barracks is ongoing. Most recently a new night kitchen has been built for Companions; a garden centre operates within the grounds; the café in the Cottages has been expanded and has a new kitchen: a conservatory has been built onto the old drill-hall/main shop; and one of the garage bays has been converted into Lucie’s Pantry, a food-bank for the most deprived local people. Most of the remaining work will concentrate on converting the remaining garages into individual shop-units.
Today, Derby Barracks and its Emmaus Community is one of the most successful of all now twenty-nine Emmaus Communities in the UK. The Community provide a home, family and useful work for twenty-two formerly homeless people; a shopping experience and meeting place for local people; and a source of hope for the most deprived people of Bolton and beyond. It does this almost completely by what it earns by its own efforts, requiring external help only for the remaining development work.
Copies of our History Booklet are always available – Pick one up when you next visit…… They are free!