I’m Gina, the Retail and Operations Manager at Emmaus Leeds. I look after the social enterprise which supports the community of formerly homeless adults known as companions. I’ve been here over seven years – it’s funny how things have worked out, looking back.
I worked in banking for 18 years, following which I took a career break to bring up my children. Once they were all at school I was looking for something to do. I knew I didn’t want to go back into banking, but I wasn’t sure what else I was suited for. I started volunteering with Leeds City Council and through that I met someone who told me of a part time job going at a charity he was involved with. He described it as ‘paying the invoices and ordering the loo rolls’. I’d never heard of Emmaus, but I was intrigued when he told me the basic set up so I rang to apply. I started the following Monday, working four mornings a week.
I’d never worked anywhere remotely like Emmaus before and as my knowledge grew, so did the role. Within six months I was working full time and it’s just been an amazing experience ever since – from part time administrator, to office manager and now my current role. My motto – which I’m sure people get tired of hearing me say is ‘every day’s a school day’ but it’s true – there’s always something new to learn about the business, the people here, and myself.
The best thing for me though is that every day is different – sure there are some routines that have to be followed when running a business, but you never know when you walk in the door what the day has in store. Not long ago, within five minutes of arriving I was up to my ankles in rain water, mopping out a flooded warehouse alongside companions and most of the staff including our Chief Exec – I never used to get that in banking! Team work is essential as there’s only a small number of staff so when things go wrong we really are all in this together – companions, volunteers and staff alike – and that makes for a great working environment.
I’ve seen a lot of changes in seven years but the core business remains the same – we still rely on donations of items we can sell to generate income so we can continue to provide a home and work for our companions, without whom the business could not function – we are all cogs in the wheel that keeps gathering pace.
We’ve recently started providing a new service – House Clearances, which is working well, and we also have two companions trained and certified to be able to test and repair white goods which is a new venture for us. I’m proud that more people recognise the name Emmaus Leeds when I tell them where I work, rather than the blank looks I used to get, but we’ve still got a long way to go before we are as readily recognised as some other charities.
Looking to the future is exciting as we strive to expand the social enterprise whilst still providing an excellent service to our loyal regular customers, many of whom have supported us since day one. It would be great to have an Emmaus shop in every corner of Leeds and even more of our vans out on the road every day, so that’s what I’m working towards – but even so, I still sometimes find myself ordering the loo rolls!