I joined Emmaus Colchester as a trustee in December 2019. I’ve always stopped to have a chat with people who are homeless, as we are all human, but it wasn’t until I visited Cardiff and saw the extent of the city’s visible homelessness, that I felt compelled to do something to help closer to home. We are a well-off nation and it’s not right that people are living on the streets.
After my experience in Cardiff, I started to do some research into homelessness, looking at statistics, discovering the main triggers and the best ways to help. Then I thought about finding a place where I could use my skills as I had time to offer.
I wasn’t aware of Emmaus until I found out about the charity from Alex Till, chief executive director at Menta, where I work as a non–executive director. It seemed like the ideal fit.
My expertise is in finding digital solutions to problems in the areas of marketing. I have a different mindset and approach to problems and wanted to bring that perspective to a charity, while working with a board of trustees who would challenge me and broaden my knowledge.
During my time on the board of trustees I’ve certainly learnt more about helping the homeless and the care and support that is needed, as well as the property and financial issues that go with supporting the community. What’s surprised me the most is the level of resources that are required to run Emmaus Colchester.
Giving the companions a roof over their heads is just one part. I was particularly naive about by the amount of support every individual needs, including help with mental health and physical health problems. We need to support not just their mental and physical health, but improve their education to give them skills to help them on their journey.
Emmaus is about caring for the whole person, giving them a purpose and an identity. It’s been really insightful.
It’s been a challenging time this year with the pandemic and a lockdown that was surprisingly swift. We’ve lost our primary income source, through the temporary closure of our shops. It was like starting from scratch on the day first day of lockdown.
The knock-on effects come back to the mental health of the companions – how they enjoy being part of the community, working in the shops, gaining skills and engaging with wider Colchester community. During lockdown they lost this, and it’s not always been easy.
For us as trustees, the second lockdown was easier, as we learnt from the first episode and were able to put things in place more quickly. From having meetings at the Community House in Colchester, we’ve swapped to online meetings, and held them more frequently to adapt to the challenges with greater efficiency.
As a board of trustees, we all have different skills that work together to help develop and strengthen Emmaus Colchester. I’d like to think my digital skills are helping the community develop its online offer. Looking ahead, I hope to support the growth on an ecommerce income stream, to extend our customer base beyond our physical retail offer. Lockdown and COVID-19 are forcing us to evolve the business model of how we get funded. And it’s brought the process forward, which would have otherwise taken another 2-3 years.
The effects of COVID-19 on people’s finances, mental health and homelessness are going to mean that our community need us more than ever before. For this reason, we need to be able to continue in supporting those people who need our services. But we also need to make people aware of who we are and what we do before they get on the streets. This way we can help reduce homelessness in all its forms, and support those who need us to get back on their feet.