Before Emmaus

I’ve been with Emmaus for three years and at this St Albans community for coming up to a year. Before Emmaus I hadn’t worked for a long while, I wasn’t getting the support I needed, so I lost purpose. I just didn’t believe in myself at all.

I went through domestic abuse and this led to a lot of upheaval and moving around as he kept hunting me down, so I kept moving from place to place. I ended up in emergency temporary accommodation and had broken my ankle, but day turned into night and night turned into day. The curtains were just closed because I was drinking incessantly.

And then someone said, “come to Emmaus” and I did but I didn’t settle in the first community, so I moved to another community. I was there around a year and a half and then I was beginning to mend bridges with my family, so I came back down south from Merseyside.

Coming to Emmaus Hertfordshire I’ve learnt new skills, regained skills I lost, and my life now has structure and a reason to get up in the morning.

Previously I worked in the pharmaceutical industry for 10 years and I managed a customer services team. My degree is in zoology with physiology which is not a vocational qualification, but I trained in customer services.

I never thought I’d be doing things again after all my problems, so for me what I enjoy most is customer interaction. I enjoy doing retail because it’s customer-focused, but when I need a bit more space I work in the kitchen. You give something back in the community as well, which is important.

Life at Emmaus Hertfordshire

You get a broad spectrum of things to do here as a companion. I’ve been working in the workshop, something I’d never done before, and we go to Recover, the up-cycling social enterprise once a week, and that’s taught me stuff I never dreamed I’d do. Before I came to Emmaus I couldn’t sew on a button or paint a wall but they’ve really encouraged me. At Recover you’re allowed to express yourself in ways you may not have thought possible before and the people who run it are brilliant.

I think it’s about finding the right community for you and the support you get as well. Here I get counselling and support from the staff which really helps me.

It’s also taken me down avenues I had no experience in, like the kitchen. I could do van crew work too if I wanted to, but it’s not really for me.

Importance of boundaries

You can have a go at everything here and find out what you enjoy, but you have to work on yourself before you worry about trying to please the whole world. I think it’s important you learn how to put boundaries in place and when to say no; it’s something I was never able to do. It enables you to build foundations and then you can start building on the walls. I’ve learnt to slow down a bit and Emmaus is an environment where you can take stock, unlike in a normal nine to five job, which can be hard.

Here you’re part of a community, whereas if you work in some of these offices in London, you often don’t even know the person sitting at the desk next to you. Because you live and work together here, you get to know people and you recognise what they’re good at. I knew nothing when I started in the workshop, so I’d go up to the other companions and say “what paint do you use?” or “I don’t quite know how to do this”, and they’d always help me. It’s quite a small group, whereas you could have 500 people in an office and you don’t know anyone’s name.

There’s always going to be people in any group that you don’t get on with because you haven’t chosen to live together, but everyone brings something to the party.

Flexibility and understanding

Everyone comes to Emmaus with baggage as well, so if I said to my manager, “I can’t work in the shop today, so could you put me in the workshop? I can’t ‘do people’ today”, she’ll understand. People understand as well if you get your dinner and go up to your room because you all have issues. They might say the next day “are you alright?” and ask how you are. It’s a caring environment which gives you space to find yourself again.

Safe space

Before Emmaus, my drinking had got out of control because I was fleeing domestic violence and I was constantly looking over my shoulder and couldn’t put roots down. When you’re finally somewhere safe, you can start to think about what you actually want from life.

Where else could you work nine to five and attend counselling and support sessions throughout the week? In an office you’re just fighting fires all the time, but Emmaus gives you a chance to build yourself up and think of future plans.

There’s all different work options available within the many different Emmaus communities – it doesn’t have to be retail or customer-facing. Every community needs a housekeeping team.

It can be quite daunting joining a community with so many different people living and working together, but you have to remember you’re all in the same boat; you’re all here with something in common, you’re all formerly homeless and you’ve all experienced the same thing. At the end of the day everyone’s got two eyes, one nose, one mouth, so there’s more similarities than differences, which I think is important. Everyone’s so welcoming when someone new joins a community.

Looking to the future

I’m hoping to learn British sign language at college. You can learn Maths and English skills here, take a night course or learn a language; staff here signpost you to difference courses.

I’m looking at doing a different type of counselling because I’ve nearly done my 30 current sessions. I’m just thinking about what I want to do after Emmaus. I don’t really know yet but it’s nice that it gives you time to think about where you want to go, what you want to do and how you can move forward constructively.

Looking for a job is a full-time job in itself but the staff can help with all that here. They also support you with moving on and it’s not going completely into the unknown because you’ve still got all that support behind you.

While it’s still probably an eight-hour day, you know you’re not going to go home to an empty flat and think “I can’t cope with this”, so it is nice like that. I think it’s important to remember not to be afraid to ask for help. It’s good to be open to help – it’s not a weakness, so that’s why I think Emmaus is brilliant because they provide you with that help.