“My name is Ian, and I think I am quite possibly the longest standing and oldest Emmaus companion in the UK. I am 73 and have lived in Emmaus communities for 23 years.

I left school in 1969 after growing up in Darlington and went to university in Bradford, but dropped out after a year because of mental health issues and went on to spend the next five years in psychiatric hospitals.

Throughout the 1970s, I worked in various office jobs in the North East, but in the 1980s I became unsettled and spent my time between bed & breakfast accommodation, the streets and government resettlement units. These units were large facilities for homeless people that have since closed to provide funding for hostels and smaller centres. For a short time, I was working a few live-in accommodation jobs too, but that wasn’t always possible.

I found out about Emmaus when I was in Brighton taking part in a mental health project in 1997. When I finished the project and had nowhere to go, I referred myself to Emmaus and was accepted straight away at the Cambridge community. I went to Cambridge when the community was still very small – there were only 10 companions. I spent six months there to begin with, left for two and half years to work, and returned to Emmaus Mossley before transferring back to Cambridge – where I’ve been ever since.

I have been with Emmaus Cambridge throughout a lot of changes and I’ve watched the community grow into a place that can now support 44 people. I think some of the new people look up to me, as one of the oldest companions. There’s a big age gap between myself and some of them though – there’s 50 years between myself and the youngest now. Bridging the gap between two generations isn’t always easy but I try my best to help if they need it.

Day to day, I help to sort out the bric-a-brac donations and price them up ready to sell. I like having something to do in the day, especially as I’m over retirement age. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, looking after my garden and, as an early riser, feeding and letting the hens out. I have my own self-contained flat within the community building too, and although I like being with the others, I enjoy my own space.

If I were to give my 20-year-old self any advice, I would say that you must make do with the baggage you’ve been dealt. You can try to offload as much as you can, but everyone will always be stuck with some. The best thing to do is to try and use it positively.

I’m happy here at Emmaus. My health is holding up, my mental health issues are more or less gone, and I would like to hopefully finish out the rest of my days at Emmaus Cambridge.”