The reason I started volunteering with Emmaus Bolton and know everyone here is because I saw on Facebook years ago this thing about a rucksack project. You could get a rucksack and fill it with useful things, including a thermos of soup, and hand it to a homeless person. I liked the idea, but wanted to do this another way, so I thought I’d ask Emmaus Bolton to distribute rucksacks to the people they knew who were in need: things like sanitary towels, wipes or things people would need to keep warm in the streets.

The people of Bolton really delivered; it was amazing. We had a room full of rucksacks. The reason this clicked with me was because, when I was 16, I went into a hostel. I was lucky enough not to end up on the streets. This is part of the reason why Emmaus Bolton feels so familiar and warm to me because I’ve been in a similar situation with women completely on their arses: some on drugs, some pregnant, some trying their best. There were a whole range of people there from all walks of life.

My experience of homelessness

When I was 16 and doing my GCSEs, I was anorexic and struggling with life, I was in a YWCA hostel called Trevor Stubbs House in Leeds. They were so, so kind. I remember at Christmas before my GCSEs when I was 16, we all got a hamper that had been donated by C&A. And it just said, which still gets me now, with love from your friends at C&A. I just thought, they don’t know us, they don’t have to do that. I opened it and it was a clock radio, which I could use to get up for school.

That just had this massive impact on me, that these strangers could give something to people that they had never met, and there was no way to ever thank them. The hampers were just brought round and donated to us. It had such a major impact on me, this kindness. I had always thought, one day I could give something back and that’s why I’m here. I couldn’t volunteer when my sons were little, but now they are much older, I can come to Emmaus Bolton and volunteer now.

Leaving a gift for Emmaus Bolton

When my husband Phil died eight years ago, we had a collection for Emmaus Bolton because he was really keen on helping people who were struggling. He was a good friend to the team here and really believed in that saying: “give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime”. Phil really believed in giving people the tools to get back on their feet, which is what Emmaus Bolton does.

I still run the company I started with Phil, and now I’m managing director I can be flexible with when I can come in to volunteer. At Christmas, instead of sending out corporate gifts to our top clients, our company makes a big donation to Lucie’s Pantry on their behalf. The first year we did it, I was a bit worried that our customers would feel miffed not receiving their wine and chocolates, but in fact the overwhelming response was that they were pleased to be able to forego a gift if it gave people in need a slightly easier Christmas. Like my unknown friends from C&A all those years ago, it’s nice to be able to pay something forward.

And when I married Ed a couple of years ago, we decided we had enough toasters and dinner plates (from our previous weddings!) so our guests all brought donations for Lucie’s Pantry too – we had a big table set up at the venue and it looked wonderful, like a harvest festival! Everyone was so generous.

I’ve been volunteering in the clothing department for a year now, and I’ve got a system going with donated clothes. Clothes are sorted before they get to me into what can go out in the shop and what can’t. When I’ve put them all in the correct boxes, I see what’s out on the shop floor and see what needs to be added, then I price these and steam them. I’m really anally retentive about hangers, not just right sized hangers, but the right hanger: like woolly jumpers going on wooden ones! Every now and again something will slip through the net and you’ll sell a Calvin Klein t-shirt for £2. But that’s not such a bad thing, you’ve got yourself a bargain! It’s already keenly priced.

What I like about volunteering

What I enjoy most about being a volunteer in the fashion department at Emmaus Bolton is seeing lots of hangers behind the till, because that means items have sold. It would be nice if someone can take it over now it’s running as it should be. It’s great to have a new stock room for processing the donations.

I want people to walk into that bit of shop and think it’s a nice place to be. I do like doing it on my own, but I also like to pop out and speak to people. I get on with the companions and we have a chat. It’s nice to have that human contact as well.

Everything Emmaus Bolton does here is so important. That includes everything to do with recycling. I have enjoyed upcycling some of the furniture. It has been really good for me. I would only do it for Emmaus.

The first thing I did was a bureau. One was an old drinks cabinet that I made teal, with lining paper all coming from Scrap Store and I used the ReColour paint on sale in the charity shop. The paint just goes on really well, I really enjoy doing it. Emmaus Bolton brings all the furniture to my house, to help me do it around my day job, and I would like to upcycle more in the future.

Ellie upcycles furniture for Emmaus Bolton

Why volunteer for Emmaus Bolton?

I just think it’s a really good way of putting something back; it’s good karma points! It’s a really lovely charity community to get involved with. There’s always someone to talk to and you can always find something to do. It’s changed my life for the better. Giving a few hours every week helps because you know you are helping and doing something useful. We can all have hobbies, but this is something that is actively helping other people – and Craig cooks some nice lunches as well.

If you would like to volunteer at Emmaus Bolton, you can see our current volunteering opportunities and complete an application form on our Volunteer Roles page here.