Married couple Dawn and Phil started volunteering with us at our superstore in Gloucester in January 2022. We sat down with the couple to hear more about their volunteering experience and what their roles involves…

How did your volunteering at Emmaus Gloucestershire start?

Dawn: We bought some donations round and they weren’t accepting any that day, but they had a big sign saying, ‘volunteers needed’, so we picked up some forms and were in the next week! It was very quick because we already had DBS checks so could start right away.

Were you regulars at Emmaus Gloucestershire before volunteering?

Phil: We visited a lot of different charity shops, not specifically Emmaus at the time. But we have visited all the Emmaus shops in Gloucester, Stroud and Nailsworth.

Dawn: Yes, we’ve done the lot so it was known to us, and we would always bring donations here. When my son moved into a flat in Gloucester last summer, he bought everything from here, and when he moved out he brought everything back!

Were you both already looking for volunteering roles?

Phil: I retired at the end of 2019, and Dawn two years after that. During that time, I was doing stuff on the house and when Dawn retired we started looking for different volunteering options, perhaps one or two days a week. Any more than that and we may as well be working again!

What do your roles at Emmaus Gloucestershire involve?

Dawn: Well, we do very different things. I do shoes, handbags, curtains, linen, some clothes, and talk to people when I’m out on the shopfloor. The people we work with are lovely, but what I love most of all is just starting up a conversation with a customer. Sometimes it’s very brief, but nine times out of ten they just pour their hearts out to you. I love that bit. Phil is more solidarity though… aren’t you?

Phil: I’m the total opposite to Dawn… I worked as an electronics engineer before, so I do different things here. I have worked on the till, helped Dawn in the clothing section and done deliveries and collections, but Emmaus sent me on a PAT testing course, so I started testing donated electrical items with another volunteer, Jeremy.

That’s kind of evolved into Jeremy doing most of the testing and I do a repair shop of sorts. For any electrical donations that don’t work, I try and get them working safely and if I can, we will PAT test them ready for sale. It’s great because for items that are going into the rubbish, there’s a good possibility we can turn them around. I enjoy doing it because as an electronics engineer, I haven’t done hands-on work for years. Rolling up my sleeves, getting my hands dirty and fixing stuff is really good. I absolutely love it. Sometimes we can fix items that are actually worth quite a lot of money and would have otherwise been binned. I recently worked on an Atari games console from 1977. I started fixing it at Emmaus, but realised I needed more equipment and time so took it home to finish. We got that working again, and it sold for £125!

What’s it like volunteering at Emmaus?

Dawn: We love coming to volunteer together because we worked separately for so many years. The people we work with at Emmaus Gloucestershire are all really lovely too and we’ve built up good relationships.

Phil: It’s a really nice atmosphere to work in, lots of smiley faces. Dawn is on the shopfloor more than me, but whenever I wander through everyone speaks to each other. It’s nice to do our volunteering separately but meet for a coffee and ask each other how it’s going. It’s a really nice thing to do.

Not many couples might think about regularly volunteering together, how did that come about?

Phil: Dawn started it!

Dawn: We took early retirement so we could do stuff together, and I wanted to do voluntary work. All I did was pick up the form at Emmaus and Phil said he wanted to do it with me. We just really enjoy coming to Emmaus together, volunteering and chatting with everyone.

Phil: It’s also using my skillset. We both volunteer for the Avon Navigation Trust too, which is good but Emmaus is using my skillset for repair work that might not otherwise get done. I’m doing things that I’ve been trained to do, and I thoroughly enjoy it.

What is your favourite thing about volunteering at Emmaus?

Dawn: It’s talking to the customers. The minute you say ‘oh it’s chilly’ or something small, they open up and talk for ages. Hopefully they’ll come back in because they remember that it’s more than just a shop; it’s a nice place to have a chat with someone. I do enjoy working with the companions too and understand that some of them are in difficult circumstances. Sometimes they’ll talk about personal things, sometimes they won’t and that’s absolutely fine.

Phil: For me, it’s fixing stuff and turning broken items into something. Volunteering at Emmaus gives me an environment that’s really pleasant to do this in. It’s worthwhile and the money Emmaus is making is going to a good cause. It’s a pleasure to do it.

How would you explain what Emmaus does to someone who had no idea?

Dawn: We do all the time! People have heard of Emmaus, but hardly anyone understands the relationship between accommodation, giving people work experience and supporting them to get back on their feet at the same time. All the money that Emmaus makes goes back into the charity, so it’s all local. It’s helping the community and that’s what we wanted to do; give back to the community we’ve lived in for twenty years. It’s really nice to do something local, get to know people and get to understand the wide variety of people that find themselves in such difficult circumstances. Homelessness could happen to any of us, and if it happened to me, I’d want somewhere like Emmaus.

Phil: As Dawn said, whenever anyone asks us where we’re volunteering, they get the whole Emmaus spiel. It’s not just ‘at Emmaus’ – they get everything about what Emmaus does, what we do, and why we do it. We’re proud to volunteer for Emmaus. I know that anyone volunteering for a charity is or should be proud, but this feels a bit different.

Dawn: We did a couple of craft fairs at Christmas too and brought Emmaus leaflets to spread the word. We’re also involved in our local church and talk about Emmaus a lot there too!

Do you think your perception of homelessness has changed since volunteering at Emmaus Gloucestershire?

Both: Absolutely, one hundred percent.

Phil: It really has. It raises your awareness, and we now try to carry money with us all the time for people we see on the streets.

Dawn: It’s the awareness of the variety of different people, ages, genders, and circumstances that they’ve been in. I had never considered that before. Homelessness could happen to anyone at any time.

What would you say to someone thinking about volunteering at Emmaus Gloucestershire?

Dawn: It doesn’t matter what skills you’ve got or none at all, there’s plenty here for everyone to do. Just have a go!

Phil: Absolutely, yes. There’s such a diverse selection of things you can do at Emmaus Gloucestershire. I’d say give it go and see what you think. It does cost us a fortune to volunteer here though… whenever we’re wandering around the shop, we spot something we want and most weeks, we end up buying stuff!

To find out more about volunteering at Emmaus Gloucestershire, visit here.