My name’s Liam, I’m from Burnley and I currently live at Emmaus Burnley. I lived in Cheshire for 12 years but I’m Burnley born and bred.

My problems started when my wife passed away – I gave up. It was a period where I couldn’t cope, and I’ve never really fully recovered properly. I got down and tried to take my own life a couple of times.

My wake-up call was when I was in hospital and I had people around me who had illnesses. I felt so ashamed of what I’d done, surrounded by people who’d do anything to be well. That was a turning point for me.

I sort of improved – I had my own place but then I lost it again. Unfortunately I went through a few dark moments, gave up and before I knew it, I lost everything. I looked after my mum for a few years and moved in with her. When she passed away I sofa surfed with friends, but you soon outstay your welcome.

My sister took me in for a bit and then I just felt I was putting too much on people, so I lived on the streets for a while, sleeping under bridges and things like that. I didn’t like burdening people and it just felt uncomfortable. In total, I was homeless for three years.

I heard about Emmaus when I was on the streets. One day I bumped into my brother-in-law and he insisted that I went down to the council. I told them about my situation, and they asked if I had heard of Emmaus. They explained how it worked and I thought it sounded good, so I applied to join.

Joining a new community

I joined Emmaus Burnley in August 2018. In less than a week I had somewhere to live and couldn’t really believe it had happened to me. I’ve always been a decent mixer and I was that made up, I settled in to the community fine.

I work at the Emmaus Department Store in Rochdale and have done since it opened. My first words when we got the keys to the Department Store were “how are we going to fill that?” I had my doubts at first and thought the building was too big to take on. We only had about three weeks from getting the keys to filling it up and opening the doors.

My work days involve moving furniture around, pricing items, rotating stock, talking to customers and serving people at the till. The Emmaus Department Store has just got better and better as the months have gone by and the quality of the donations we receive have got better too. When customers come in and aren’t sure whether the stock is new or second hand, then that tells me we’re doing a good job.

When I’m in the shop I try and be professional, I’m on show and it picks me up. Working in the shops, feeling worthwhile and speaking to customers just makes you feel more confident. I find in Rochdale, the people are generally friendly and really appreciate a good chat. For me, I didn’t know about Emmaus and it seems to be everyone’s big secret. Word of mouth is so important and that starts with us chatting to customers about Emmaus.

Looking to the future

I just like the whole thing about Emmaus and I believe it’s the right way to go. But, I’m also thinking now, maybe I’m ready to move on. Working in the shop – I’d never worked in a shop in my life – has made me get stronger and helped me grow. I think Emmaus is designed to do what it’s doing to me. It’s been great, given me confidence and now I have the chance to succeed on my own two feet.

My biggest worry is that when I make the big leap and go on my own, what do I do when I have dark moments? The companions at Emmaus have sort of been my family for the past few months. It’s surprising really: it’s not always the ones you think of who support you. Someone can spot when you’re down and I try and do the same for others.

The thing about Emmaus is that all people have issues but here, there’s an understanding. It brings people together. Before I joined Emmaus I didn’t have the awareness I do now. I’ve learnt a lot and I’m more understanding because I’ve heard from people with different life experiences, and I’m still learning. I try to keep an eye out for other companions who may be struggling.

I don’t know where I’d be without Emmaus and I know that’s the same for a lot of people. It’s a good model that just works. It’s designed to pick people up – those who want to change their situation – and give them support. I’m so appreciative of what it’s done for me and I’ll never forget Emmaus – it’s been brilliant. Hopefully, when I’ve got my own place, I can support Emmaus and start buying items from the shop.