I joined Emmaus Greenwich just a few months ago and my role as Retail Manager is to support our social enterprises.
We have one large furniture store in Plumstead, where our companions (formerly homeless people now supported by Emmaus) are mainly based, a store in Poplar which sells furniture and clothes, a smaller shop in Lee selling furniture and bric-a-brac, and our art gallery. We’re also involved in e-commerce and sell lots of great stock on eBay.
It’s my job to look at the opportunities that exist in our current portfolio and see how we can move things forward. It’s about creating a better environment for all of our companions, while sustaining the profitability of our social enterprises.
Drawing on experience
I’ve worked in retail for roughly 18 years, managing stores for brands like Levi’s, Diesel and Habitat. About 12 years ago, I made the decision to stop doing what I was doing and focus on looking after my family. That gave my wife the opportunity for her career to expand and also gave me the chance to get more involved in charity work. Since I made the switch from the corporate world to working with charities, I haven’t looked back.
Charity retail has changed dramatically over the years. Before, the aim was to build a shop with as much stock as possible and now it’s more about creating a shopping experience, while serving the community at the same time. As consumers, we’re also much more conscious about the amount of waste that goes to landfill, which means charity shops get a huge amount of donations in and it’s my job to thrift through it all to find the gold. I think it’s important for charities like Emmaus to adapt and look at the way we present our stores to embrace people’s shopping habits and make sure we’re responding to the changes in society.
The key thing for me is having the opportunity to work with people, and that’s what attracted me to Emmaus. Companions are actively involved in running our stores, so I work with them on a daily basis and get to see how their roles help them progress with their lives. It’s so rewarding. Many of our companions have been through some very traumatic experiences, so you’ve got to appreciate that and listen to their needs. It’s the nature of my job and I feel privileged to be in a position where I can offer some support.
We’re turning a new page as a community at the moment, coming out of the pandemic, and that’s what I’m finding so exciting. The lockdowns hit us hard and we’re still understaffed, but we’re working through it and forging a new path to move forward. The companions know our stores inside out, so it’s great to get their input and work together to inspire different ideas. We have that hive mentality; we’ve all got our strengths and we’ve all got our weaknesses, and we have to support each other. It’s collaborative and I love that.
I’ve always had a side of me that wants to make things better, so having the chance to make a difference each day is more than enough of a reward for me.
Looking to the future
Coming into this role, my long-term goal is to get more involved with Emmaus International. I spent six years working with an educational charity called Starfish Malawi. I was building websites for them, doing graphic design, and helping with fundraising and marketing campaigns. While I was there I got the chance to travel to Malawi, and it changed me. Everything started to look completely different. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, but the culture shock actually came when I arrived back in the UK. It made me realise that there’s so much more to life and helped me see the bigger picture that we’re all here on this planet together as one.
That’s why I’d love to expand the work we do locally to help other Emmaus communities around the world. It would be fantastic to see a future where each Emmaus community has an Emmaus International representative, so we can learn more about what’s happening with the charity on a global level. At Emmaus, we don’t work in isolation, we all work together for a common goal to help end homelessness, and that’s what inspires me.