This Summer our CEO, Diane is retiring after an amazing 11 years at Emmaus Cambridge. Diane has transformed our community and shown incredible amounts of love and support to our companions, volunteers, staff and trustees. Last week we celebrated Diane’s amazing achievements in a garden party and our founder Selwyn Image presented her with Emmaus Founders Medal for her outstanding contribution to the development of Emmaus. Hear about Diane’s experience of over a decade at Emmaus:

I joined Emmaus Cambridge in 2008 as a trustee, at that point I was working at Cambridge City Council as the single Homelessness and Rough Sleeper Coordinator there. I was approached by Simon, the then-CEO and he said it would be great if we had a trustee with that background, so I agreed and joined. I arrived and the board was made of founding members after about six months I said that it needed a shake-up, and I was asked then to become deputy chair and I began a piece of work to look at what the board should look like and what skills were needed. We came up with a code of conduct for the board and what we should focus on.

I was chair at the time Simon handed in his notice and by that point, I was immersed in Emmaus and it was sort of my dream job. I stepped away as they went through the recruitment process, and I didn’t really have much contact with Emmaus for 3 months. I wanted the distance and to apply on my own and not be offered it as chair. They interviewed 7 people, and I was offered the job. I was immensely happy, and it was brilliant, I had lots and lots of energy and could see a way forward.

I started in 2011 as CEO and it was chaotic, it took me quite a while for companions and staff to adjust their attitude and to stop swearing in front of me. It was very male-dominated, and there wasn’t really a support team, but I just started to get things moving. We refreshed the board, since then I have worked with 4 chairs, all of whom have made an enormous difference at Emmaus in their own right. I’ve had a fabulous board the whole time I have been here, and I always get them involved in any moral or really bizarre questions so they can get a good feel of what happens here every day!

Emmaus is the most emotional place I’ve ever worked, and you can’t help but become fond of people or care for people. It becomes a family, it’s a real community, you have good and bad in family, and you have good and bad in the community but there’s always something in everyone that you know you can help with. We’ve never been a front-line service and a lot of people here don’t need that; they need somewhere safe to be after they’ve been through that initial trauma. I think that’s what Emmaus Cambridge has done really.

We’ve had some companions who have lived here for years and years and I don’t see a problem with that. Helping people to move on from our support is a thought process that is focused on people having their own front door and independence, but some people are interdependent, and some people do need community. Move-on shouldn’t be a bedsit on your own and being bored. I think that’s a really important part of Emmaus that we can support people without a time limit.

It’s been incredibly sad to lose companions over the years and we have a memorial garden and people remember them like they are family. Companions come and go, and many people don’t stay very long but lots do. Lots change their lives in a way that isn’t always obviously apparent, I’ve known people who have been here, and I bump into them on the street, and they say, actually living in Emmaus was the best they’ve ever been. We’re supporting people who are chronically excluded from services or people who have no family or support network when they can no longer be resilient. That’s who the Emmaus model really works for.

It’s been a real journey and I have to say I am incredibly proud of where the community is now. I love the way the place looks and feels, the way people behave, the support people get her and the way social enterprise is flourishing.

Working here is more complicated than you can imagine, I’m not a traditional CEO, I don’t sit behind a desk, you’re managing a million different relationships at one time, and everyone is differently interconnected.

It’s been a real privilege and joy to work here for so many years. What I’ve really learnt is that everybody has the ability to love and be kind, absolutely everyone. Most people have a glimmer and if you can catch them when that glimmer is the brightest, they have a really good opportunity to put the past behind them and achieve great things. Sometimes people think that I’m really naïve in that, but you have to look for the good in people.

There’s such a core team here and I know they are going to be amazing, and I can’t wait to see how the community changes over the coming years. I look forward to supporting Emmaus as a customer for many years to come.

And finally I need to say a huge thank you to the amazing people I have met, all of whom have enriched my life in some way.

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