In January 2020, I celebrated my five-year anniversary as the Catering Coordinator at Emmaus Cambridge, managing Joan’s Coffee Shop and overseeing all the meals for the 44 formerly homeless people who live at the community.

When I first started at Emmaus, Joan’s Coffee Shop was losing money, serving bought-in sandwiches and instant coffee, and not offering any cooked food. I had never run a coffee shop before but with the full support of the Director, Diane, and the Board of Trustees, I started to make small changes which eventually got bigger and saw Joan’s Coffee Shop expand and become a standalone part of the social enterprise.

The first lot of changes I made were small but made a lot of difference to the experience we offered to visitors. I got the cakes in order, working out what we were selling and how long each cake lasted. I cut down on the sandwiches, bought in quiche and sausage rolls, and altered things like getting a fridge for the cans and a sandwich fridge so items were presented nicely.

As we started to get more customers, we leased a better coffee machine and in March 2017 big changes started to happen. We refurbished and installed a cooker, meaning we could expand even more and sell hot meals. We also re-decorated used lots of the unusual and quirky furniture and nick-nacks that had been donated to the shop. All those original items have now been sold but it’s nice because every time someone comes to Joan’s, it always looks a little bit different!

Fast forward to 2020 and we have had a very big kitchen extension, an outdoor seating area, and a full main menu with separate versions for children, vegetarians, vegans and gluten free, with exciting plans to introduce a dog’s menu. Companions are really involved – expanding our menus and focusing on homemade items provide an opportunity for them to learn on the job how to be a Barista and present food to a high standard, as well as gain their Level 1 and 2 Food Hygiene and Customer Service training certificates.

We are now serving hot weekly specials made by a companion, cakes and sweet treats by another, and making homemade soup using produce grown in our on-site garden. This saves so much money for our charity and means companions are gaining real life work experience helping to run a busy coffee shop and can get a reference from us saying as much.

Our customers are very supportive of our work and the element of chaos that can come with Emmaus too. Things do go wrong in the coffee shop, but our customers always say not to worry because they know that we’re not just a coffee shop and it’s not always going to be smooth sailing. We are part of a bigger social enterprise working to give people who have experienced homelessness the opportunity to rebuild their self-esteem and confidence while learning new skills through work.

One of the biggest highlights working at Emmaus Cambridge in Joan’s Coffee Shop is the companions. Every day they make me laugh and I love how enthusiastic they all are – they take such a pride in what they do, whether it’s helping in Joan’s, going out on the vans, or organising donations. I love the whole madness of Emmaus. Like everyone, some mornings I wake up and think I really just want to stay in bed! But within half an hour of being here I’m laughing non-stop – it’s a brilliant place.