My name is Darren and I have been the Business Manager at Emmaus Colchester since September 2016. It’s the first job that I’ve had that I really enjoy waking up for.

Before Emmaus, I reached a Governor Grade position in the prison service working with vulnerable men, women, and young offenders. For 20 years I watched the link between prison leavers and homelessness. I worked with the prisoners 40 hours a week, and saw their character coming out – they weren’t just a number. I think that’s why it was really disheartening to see them be released without a home to go to and sent to a bail hostel. More times than not they would find themselves in trouble again – the prison system was like a revolving door.

At first, it was easy to accept that as part of the job, but as I got older and wiser I began to see the cracks in the system. In 2013, I decided that I wanted to try something new, and I took voluntary redundancy from the prison service. However, I quickly found that I missed working within a community setting.

As the Business Manager at Emmaus Colchester, I am responsible for a team of up to 31 companions and for pushing our retail operation of three charity shops further. I have quite a disciplined approach, which I think is good for the companions so they have stability and structure. I’ve always managed teams, and seem to get the best out of them. The companions work so well and hard though – they run the shops and the community building and they make my job easy.

When a new companion comes in, I look at their abilities, strengths and weaknesses and try to find a role that best suits them.

Most recently, I did an induction with a new companion who arrived very quiet. I put him in the workshop for something practical to do, and he’s beginning to open up a lot now – that’s the bit I like, seeing companions come out of their shell and start trusting people.

I’m also responsible for 22 regular volunteers – they’re brilliant and instrumental to us. I do the inductions with them and then they find their own niche, whether that’s books, clothes or bric-a-brac. Our volunteers choose us because they believe in the work we do, and that makes all the difference. They work great with the companions too, it’s like a big family.

Long term, I want to make Emmaus Colchester grow. We’ve got every trade in the book here at the moment – companions that can do plumbing, carpentry, or woodwork. On paper, they are homeless, and people often forget that they do have skills and experience just like anyone else. Customers that come into our shops don’t realise that the people behind the tills, or working in the shops, are companions – they think they’re paid staff. That just goes to show how professional and good at their job they are.

Eventually, we’ll be able to provide more opportunities to companions with the expansion of our new shop and café – it will mean more work, more upcycling, and more training opportunities. All of the work on the refurbishment will also be done ourselves, and it’s great to be working with people that have the skills to pull that off.

The more you get involved with Emmaus, the more you see how amazing it is. I honestly believe that if we had more in the country, we wouldn’t have the problem that we have with homelessness. We’re all about getting people back on their feet, building up their self-esteem, and getting them back into work. We save money for each companion for when they decide to leave, and they are allowed to stay with us for three months after finding a job. That means they work towards a deposit and leaving fund to get them off to a good start – I don’t think there’s any government-run group that would do something like that.

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