I am one of a team of volunteers at Emmaus Bolton based at the Fletcher Street Barracks. I initially became a volunteer with Emmaus upon the suggestion of a friend and I was the first volunteer to be recruited over five years ago.

When I first started, I was given a tour of the complex, which, as the name indicates, was a former army barracks. The former drill hall is now the furniture shop, the cottages house the Café Pierre, collectables, books, CDs etc., while other buildings include the residential accommodation for the companions supported by Emmaus Bolton.

I was totally impressed with the environment at Emmaus, it embodies the values of the charity. I was also impressed with the concept that the charity works to give back dignity, purpose, and responsibility to those whose lives have faced difficulties.

My volunteer role

When I first started volunteering, I worked in the sorting room where all the non-furniture donations arrived – this entailed sorting out a constant stream of black bags containing everything from collectables to children’s clothing and toys. It was a learning curve to be able to assess what was of a sufficient standard and what was not. I always had the staff team to ask in time of doubt, particularly in relation to collectables.

When Lucie’s Pantry, the social supermarket run by Emmaus Bolton opened, I transferred to help there. This involves stocking the shelves with the weekly produce donated by Fair Share, as well as items donated personally by local people. It’s a very satisfying role to which I hope to return post lockdown. I do this twice a week on Tuesday and Friday for about three to four hours.

During lockdown I’ve missed both the engagement with the management team and with the companions. They have, over the years, really made me feel like one of the Emmaus family. I come in to volunteer and the guys all say, ‘Hello Serena’. The three members of the management team I regard as real friends.

Being part of Emmaus Bolton

I think if you are planning to be a volunteer you need to think about a long-term, consistent commitment. This is very important for the management team, to enable them to rely on a stable input and give them time to address all the many other issues that they deal with on a daily basis.

I am full of admiration for the way that the staff team at Emmaus Bolton, with the support of the Board of Trustees, constantly find new ways of moving forward to engage the skills of the companions and generate funding. To name just a few of the developments that have taken place in the time I have been there; they have expanded the café, redesigned the furniture store, added a conservatory extension to the drill hall which housed a Christmas shop last year, opened a garden centre and are always find new ways to make furniture.

What do I gain from volunteering at Emmaus Bolton? It is fun, interesting, enjoyable, satisfying and socially engaging. I hope that my small contribution has helped over the years and will continue to do so in the years to come.