I’ve always had an interest in helping people. I think it’s either in you or it’s not, it’s not something you can learn through a textbook. I’m originally from Brixton so I got into this kind of work by volunteering at my children’s school in the Tulse Hill estate. A lot of the children there were from disadvantaged backgrounds and had difficulties in their home life, so I would volunteer and help them with their reading and writing. Then in 2001 I moved to Dover and there was a job advertised at an EBD (educational behavioural difficulties) school. Due to my background in volunteering with disadvantaged children, they welcomed me on board. That was my learning ground and from there I went on to do NVQs in support work, and eventually ended up working in supported housing. Initially I was working with young people aged 16-24 and the job largely focussed on making sure they were equipped to deal with everyday life. I did that for seven years and then I went to work with adult services. Most of the clients were ex-offenders, alcoholics and drug users, so they had a lot of complex needs.
I didn’t know a lot about Emmaus before starting the job. I sometimes used to come to Emmaus in my old job when clients needed furniture when moving into independent living. They used to get KSAS (Kent Support and Assistance Service) vouchers for essential furniture. We would come to Emmaus because they accept the vouchers. I then saw the support worker job advertised and luckily I got shortlisted for an interview. I went back to work afterwards and said to my colleagues ‘I want that job!’
The only thing I really struggled with is that in my previous jobs the clients were there all day, every day because they couldn’t work and they would just chill in the building. Here at Emmaus, if I want to do a review and meet up, I have to plan it well in advance because all the companions are working in the shops or on the vans. But that’s what I love about Emmaus – I love that the companions have a purpose and a reason to get up in the morning because that’s what people need. It gives people their confidence back which they often lose when they become homeless.
I love everything about Emmaus; the atmosphere, the ethos, everything! Solidarity is so important here. The other day we had a Fareshare delivery, and our fridges and freezers were full. Debbie boxed up a load of food and asked me if I wanted to take it to the place that I used to work. It’s those acts of kindness that makes Emmaus so special. What I also love is that it’s hard to determine who is staff and who is a companion; I think that’s how it should be. I like that we all eat together, and everything is done as a team. That dividing line isn’t there and we’re all in it together trying to get through each day. It’s a chance for people to start again, and I love that. More people should know about Emmaus because it just makes so much sense.