“I left school in July 1962 with no formal exam results. I was 14 years old. I’d had several pocket money jobs – milkman’s helper, paperboy, greengrocer’s assistant – then I started as a carpentry apprentice at Greenwich Council.
Between 1963 and 1968, I worked on most of the housing schemes in Woolwich and Plumstead, and actually worked on the estate where Emmaus Greenwich is now based. For the first two or three years, I didn’t take work too seriously. My fellow workers got fed up with me I think. I guess I was a bit immature.
In 1970, I left Greenwich Council to work for the construction company Wates. I did that for three years, then went back to the council and worked my way up to become Supplies Manager, looking after about 700 people.
I spent the last 15 years of my career at a private construction company called Apollo, and had just taken retirement when I found out about Emmaus Greenwich. One of the women at my local church said she worked there and told me all about it. I wanted to give something back to the local community, especially now that I wasn’t working, so I started volunteering at Emmaus one day a week.
Throughout my life, I’d always thought I’d like to mentor people. That’s what I’d had in mind when I planned to volunteer. But I soon noticed all the building work that needed doing at Emmaus, and decided I wanted to help. I contacted some surveyors I used to work with and they surveyed the site for nothing. Then we started looking at what we could do to modernise it, and that’s what my main focus is at the moment.
We’re going to do up 27 bedrooms and completely transform the accommodation. I’m hoping over the next few months we’ll see a massive improvement in the living standards for companions (formerly homeless people now supported by Emmaus Greenwich). It will be something I can look back on and think, I had a hand in that.
What I think is really good about Emmaus is that there is no rush to move people on. Some companions stay for a few months and others stay for years, and that’s okay. It’s not a conveyer belt. The companions are such great guys, a real cross section of society. A lot of them were in the building trade before, so we sort of gelled on that really. They’d often come to me for a chat or I’d go out on drives with them to pick up food and other stuff for the community. After about four or five months, I managed to gain their trust and they started opening up to me.
If someone wanted my advice about volunteering for Emmaus Greenwich, I’d say, if you’ve got something to give, do it. Don’t do it to fulfil something in yourself, do it to fulfil the needs of the community. That’s what’s so rewarding.”