A local volunteer is sharing how his role at homelessness charity Emmaus Gloucestershire helped in his recovery from mental health issues in a bid to inspire others to kick-start their year by volunteering to support the local cause.

Emmaus Gloucestershire provides a supportive home for as long as needed and meaningful work in its five second-hand shops for 31 people who have experienced homelessness and social exclusion.

Lewis Saunders, 56, started volunteering with Emmaus Gloucestershire in August 2017 as a driver’s mate after months of recovering from depression and anxiety:

“I live in a little village called Ebley, near Stroud, and in April 2017, I resigned from my job at warehouse logistics company after being employed by them for 25 years. I was struggling with mental health issues and went on to spend months recovering from severe anxiety and depression.

“The help I received from my partner, the GP and the NHS Let’s Talk team was invaluable and after a few months I applied to be a driver’s mate at Emmaus Gloucestershire. I thought it would be a good way to get back into mainstream employment and aid in my recovery.”

Lewis began volunteering once a week and quickly became part of the Emmaus community:

“The people being supported by the charity are like one big family all working to address the issues that led them to become homeless and recover from the effects that being homeless can cause mentally and physically. They live together communally, gain work experience in the charity’s five shops, and receive any support they need to help get their life back on track. They welcomed me into the community as a volunteer straight away, and I took to the concept of Emmaus immediately.”

After a few months as a volunteer driver’s mate working closely alongside people who had experienced homelessness, Lewis decided that he wanted to pursue a career in social work:

“During my own recovery, I learned various techniques which helped me to overcome and manage my mental health and I realised that these tools could not only help myself, but to help others too so I began to research how I could do this.”

On hearing of Lewis’ decision, Emmaus Gloucestershire offered him the opportunity to volunteer with the on-site support team once a week instead of a driver’s mate:

“I now have a few projects lined up to work on with the support team which I’m very excited about. I have also joined up with three other local charitable organisations to volunteer in their support teams to get even more experience working with vulnerable people in the areas of homelessness, mental health and addiction.

“To be given the opportunity work in the Emmaus support team means the world to me and shows that a volunteering role isn’t all about what you can give, but what you get in return. Every week that goes by makes me more certain that it’s the kind of work that I want to do and if I hadn’t started volunteering at Emmaus, I might not have discovered that I want to help people rebuild their lives.”

Emmaus Gloucestershire has several volunteer roles available including shop assistants, e-sales assistants, drivers, driver’s mates, and jewellery and bric-a-brac sorters in its five charity shops. All volunteers are offered the opportunity to use and develop their skills, experience and knowledge while working to support the community.

If you have been inspired by Lewis’ story and want to find out more about volunteering at Emmaus Gloucestershire, please email [email protected] or visit www.emmaus.org.uk/volunteer for an application form.