I first became involved with Emmaus Leeds in 2001, well before there was a community or building. I helped to mentor the project manager who, after raising all the funds we needed, oversaw the acquisition of our building and establishment of the Emmaus Leeds community. After a while I was asked to join the board of Trustees.
Several things motivated me: from being frustrated at the number of homeless people sleeping rough in Leeds and the lack of existing facilities to really turn people’s lives around rather than being a revolving door from street to temporary relief and often back to the street; the chance to work with and learn from excellent skilled and committed staff, volunteers and trustees; and the desire to give something back to a city and society that’s been very good to me. The same things have kept me involved, together with feeling my time is never wasted and that I was playing a small part in enabling other people who have faced far greater difficulties that I have, to not only survive but thrive.
I do like the fact that the Emmaus model equally appeals to people from a broad range of backgrounds and political persuasions, which certainly helped with our early fund-raising. We are constantly striving to be self-sufficient through our second hand shops, just as the companions are striving to be self-sufficient too.
Being the Trustee of a relatively small charity involves overseeing the governance of the charity – basically decision-making, ensuring decisions are carried out and funds correctly used to further the declared charitable aims. You do need to commit a certain amount of time, ensuring that you read Board papers, attend quarterly meetings and are occasionally available to be consulted on a range of matters that can’t wait till the next Board meeting.
People sometimes say to me “you are so good doing charity work” but I’ve always felt that I get far more out of it than I could ever put in – interesting debates, problem-solving, visioning, seeing staff and companions (as Emmaus calls formerly homeless people who join the community) develop and feeling part of a national and indeed international movement.
Possibly not but Emmaus is helping people who have fallen through the cracks in our welfare system to get back on their feet on their own terms. One of the most moving speeches I’ve ever heard was when a companion described how joining Emmaus had literally saved his life and enabled him to re-build relationships with his children and siblings. Even if he had been the only person we’d helped – rather than one of hundreds in Leeds and of course thousands across the UK, I’d have felt my time was well spent. After all, what else would I do with the relatively few hours I spend at Emmaus – read another book or newspaper, watch more telly or spend a bit more time with friends and family that I’m lucky enough to see regularly?
There’s only one reason: The Charity Commission’s recent guidance is that Trustees should serve for a fixed period of around 3-5 years to encourage new perspectives, guard against complacency and ensure greater challenge amongst Trustees. As I have been a Trustee for about 18 years, it’s time I stepped down to bring new people onto the Board.
If you think you might be interested in this opportunity then it’s a good idea to look at the Charity Trustees role on our website. I would encourage anyone interested to go in and meet our Chief Exec, attend a Board meeting as an observer and then apply – it’s a simple, friendly process.