I’m 53 years old, Kentish born and bred, and I worked in the same job for over 25 years before I was made redundant. I grew up with the same kind of people all my life, and when everything suddenly ended, I wasn’t able to fully come to terms with that.

I also went through some childhood trauma which made it very difficult to not be able to talk about what I went through. I turned to drink as a way out and, as the drinking got worse and worse, I struggled with depression. I also went through a divorce around this time, although we’re still on good terms to this day.

I moved in with a very good friend and her partner. I planned on moving on, but COVID hit and I went from job to job not really settling down. My mind was all over the place, and although I never used drugs, drink was always my ‘go-to’ to cope with everything that was going on inside my head.

It came to a point when the person that I was staying with said that this couldn’t go on the way it was and I had to get help. And then one Sunday evening I was watching TV and, at the end of an episode, Emmaus popped up on a sign with a little tagline saying that if you know of anybody that’s going through a similar kind of trauma please get in touch.

My friend gave them a call, and on the Tuesday I went to take a look at Emmaus Dover, what the setup was like. On the Wednesday, I emailed saying that I was up for this, and I moved in on the Friday. This was in June 2021, and that’s it, I never looked back.

My mental health journey

I love Emmaus, and I’m viewing it as a stepping stone to help me move on to the next stage in my life. So I’m doing as many courses I can get my hands on. I’ve got a special connection with physical fitness and mental health, so I’m doing everything I can to get all my physical health training qualifications. At the moment, we’ve got our own little community gym, and I help train the companions and staff and also help them with nutrition. I help out wherever I can really.

To take care of my mental health, I take a very mild anti-depressant and go to counselling every week or so. I got funding from the Wellbeing Fund to also go to the gym as often as I can. It’s only about five minutes away, and it’s my safe space – when I’m in the gym and I’ve got my weights, I’m on my own, I’ve got my music, I’m happy. I’m in my safe space.

I don’t suffer with depression as much as I used to thanks to all the coursework and the training I’ve been doing, as it’s keeping my mind busy. I’m not over processing, I’m not over analysing anymore. I’m just taking each day as it comes. I look forward to starting my day when I wake up in the morning, and especially to the training and the courses that I’m taking. Applying my mental health into something positive has really changed everything.

Part of a community

I’m very involved with the community at Emmaus Dover – I’m the Community Rep, I’m in the International Solidarity Committee, and I’m also Vice Chair for the Companions Forum. An average day for me will be getting up in the morning and training, first thing in the morning and in all kinds of weather. When I come back, my routine it really depends on the rota and where I’m needed. I work on the vans, in the shop, in the garden, and I also do a lot of book scanning and book research, which I absolutely love.

If you have a depression, being able to work in different things and make an impact makes a huge difference. You get to meet lots of different people while working in the shop, for example. Sometimes you get people who just come up to the shop to have a talk. They also have stories of their own. Maybe they’re lonely, maybe they’re also struggling with their mental health. I often find myself listening to their story and having a laugh and a joke, as the shop is a safe space for everyone.

What I like the most about Emmaus is the camaraderie. To put it bluntly, Emmaus has given me a second chance to improve myself. Now it’s about doing everything I can to help the community and the movement. I’m very passionate about training, and not just the training that I do, but also training for others. As Vice Chair for the Companions Committee, I work a lot to push for training opportunities for companions who want practical skills to get back into the workforce. We get companions that come out of prison or have left the army, for example. And now they’re homeless, and they have a passion for, say, mechanical engineering, or they want to do long-distance lorry driving. Online courses are applaudable, but sometimes practical courses are what’s really needed. So at the moment I’m really pushing for more in-depth, intensive training that will help companions become a better version of themselves when they leave. I’m pleased because it seems to be going in the right direction.

Solidarity: Local, Global, Vital

At Emmaus, we’ve got a very unique outlook as a charity. Looking back at our history, with the founding of Emmaus by Abbé Pierre, his idea was always that this would be a different homelessness charity that gives and gives back, all over the world. I believe Emmaus continues to stand by these values to this day.

Last year, I flew to Uruguay along with another companion to represent Emmaus at the 2022 World Assembly. Listening to all the stories from different communities from across the globe and their struggles and successes really puts things into perspective. Our problems in the UK suddenly don’t seem as big when you hear that other communities across the globe don’t have enough food or water. That’s why I believe that the ethos of solidarity at Emmaus, and its impact both locally and internationally, is so important. We need to keep that message alive and continue doing the important solidarity work that we do, locally and internationally.

A purpose and plans for the future

Emmaus has done the world for me, and most importantly, it’s given me a purpose. That’s really what you need: a purpose to get out of bed in the morning and see what the days bring you.

In the near future, I hope to get funding to get my Level 3 Physical Education diploma. From there, I would really like the chance to work across the different Emmaus communities in the UK, to help them with their fitness and mental health needs. If the community wanted to have its own gym, for example, or needed help with nutrition, I would like to support them in getting what they need.

Eventually, I would like to work in a gym or have a gym of my own, and focus on the mental health side of fitness. I would like to help people with anxiety, depression, anger issues, ADHD, agoraphobia, or any other mental health issues, and tailor my training for them. I plan to open a YouTube channel to offer help and advice not only to those living at an Emmaus community, but also to the big wide world.

For anybody that’s thinking about joining Emmaus, I would say this: do it. Whatever you do for Emmaus, they will give back to you a hundredfold.