My name is Jon, I have been a companion at Emmaus Cambridge for nearly two and a half years and, amongst other things, I am a member of the gardening team.
I want to share with you some thoughts and a few pictures, that I hope will give you a ‘flavour’ of what we are doing here in our lovely garden. I also hope they will whet your appetites to come and see the results when we welcome you again to our community.
Emmaus is different from other supported housing services. We do not receive any government or social care funding or grants from trusts. Our only income other than Housing Benefit is that which derives from our social enterprise: our shop, cafe, market stall and eBay.
It is you our customers and donors – who in many cases have become our dear friends – that keep me, and forty other blokes like me (companions), in accommodation and work whilst receiving the support that we, often, need to keep us from ‘the streets’.
The virus has hit us hard! We have had to close our shop and cafe and can no longer maintain our presence at Ely market.
We do however still have bargains online. Did you know we have a fantastic eBay shop? Find it here.
Apart from this though we no longer have any money coming in. Our trustees and director have been prudent and we do have some reserves but these will not last long.
Nearly half of our staff team have had to accept the government’s ‘80%’ offer and others are having to work from home.
So how are we coping?
Actually, rather well considering the situation!
We are all ‘pulling together’ in the way a genuine community should.
No one is ill thankfully and we are observing the government advice to maintain ‘social distancing’ with people outside the community. As we are all members of the same household we can still socialise with each other, just like a family so social distancing does not mean ‘social isolation’.
We do have some companions who, due to underlying health conditions, have been advised to self-isolate and we are supporting them to get food and other essentials. Some of us who are drivers go shopping for the others, our business team is looking at other ways we can generate income and our wonderful support staff are ‘going the extra mile’ by coming in to work in the evenings.
There is also, still plenty to be done here: John our maintenance manager is carrying on with the new entrance and toilet block (Our companion maintenance man, also called John, is self-isolating), we are cleaning everywhere and, ‘if it doesn’t move we are painting it!’
There has been a lot in the media lately about getting out in to the garden. As well as alleviating boredom it lets us get in touch with nature, improve our environment and maybe grow some delicious veg’.
The first busy time in a gardener’s year: beds to prepare, seeds to sow, lawns will soon need mowing and the first ‘crop’ of weeds is appearing!
Unfortunately, our stalwart volunteer Graham cannot be with us at the moment but there are plenty of willing companions giving their time to make sure our garden this year will be the best it’s ever been!
Our alliums (onions, garlic and shallots), which were planted last autumn by students from Castle School have started to ‘spring up’ and promise a good crop to come. Emmaus has had a relationship with Castle School for some years and we miss their company. The peas they planted in one of the raised beds have surpassed expectations!
New companion Tommy has shown us just what a potato trench should look like: straight out of the textbook and something I would have been proud of even in my younger years!
Home-made compost was put in, then Tommy and Ian planted the ‘spuds’.
This is Tommy and Ian (I think the above picture sums up our community spirit!) Ian has lived here for over 20 years, Tommy for a few weeks. In between are the rest of us: some long term companions who want to stay forever, some who will ‘move on’ to their own accommodation.
At the moment though Emmaus Cambridge is OUR HOME and we do not want to lose it.
When I came here in 2017 I was a mess: anxiety, depression, debt and an alcohol problem; now I am able to write this and am proud of my community and how it has helped me and my friends here.
Can you help us?
We will get through this but until we are able to re-open our social enterprise we will become increasingly dependent on the goodwill of our supporters. Your donation, however small, will help Emmaus Cambridge to continue to provide us with a home and meaningful work.
You can donate by clicking here.
PS This is Alex. He’s not a gardener but he is a great cook and all-round nice guy!