I’m in the wonderful position of having been involved in Emmaus in multiple ways – and all have been rewarding, inspiring and great fun (most of the time)!

My first contact was in the really early days of Emmaus Leeds, when a church group and a student, Peggs Hutton, had just completed a research project into why there was still so much homelessness in our city, and what could be done differently to address this problem.

I was asked by a friend to chat to the steering group about fundraising. I’d just finished working as Head of Development at Leeds Playhouse and was having a pause and a ponder about what I wanted to do next – the stars really lined up for me when I came across this opportunity to help out. After doing so much groundwork, the then-new trustees of Emmaus Leeds decided that they wanted to employ someone to work full-time with them on spearheading the creation of an Emmaus community for, and with, Leeds.

My job was basically to ‘raise the money, make it happen, make it healthy and make it sustainable’. But I got the easy bit. The hard work has been for the trustees who have held it all together through thick and thin over the last fifteen years; the companions who have committed so much to supporting each other to make the heart of the community so true; and the staff who have embedded the Emmaus values and model into the DNA of the life of the Emmaus Leeds community.

Getting the foundations right is so important. Starting with mission, vision and values (the heart); then ensuring strong governance, rigorous compliance, and strategic leadership (these are much quieter, tricksy, un-sexy, un-seen and ongoing); and then you can have some fun and really make a difference.

One of the catalysers for being able to attract very large grants (eg from European funding and regeneration funding from Leeds City Council), was the fact that all the volunteers had worked so hard to achieve hundreds of small donations: from churches, schools, businesses and local Trusts. There was a will, and a way.

The Emmaus model is very compelling. A strength of our work at that time was grasping the opportunity (and the funding) to buy our own building. With this, the Leeds community not only has an asset in terms of being part of the Emmaus movement, but also a solid and owned home which helps bring stability and sustainability.

Having helped to get the community up and running, I then fledged from Emmaus. I kept up with friends from that time (including the then-chair, Graham Smith, and trustee, Cath Follin. I kept up my tiny standing order donation, and was kept up-to-date with activities and events.

And now I’ve come full circle! I spent ten years as Chief Executive of the Community Foundation in Wales, and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Business Administration for my work in promoting philanthropy. But really all I was doing was living up to the principles espoused by Abbe Pierre: one definition of philanthropy is ‘love of humankind’, and ‘serving those worst off first’ is how we show that in Emmaus. The first thing I did when I moved back to Leeds was apply to be a Trustee of Emmaus Leeds, and I’m thrilled to be involved again in a very different capacity. So Emmaus has stayed with me as a value, a principle, and a focus.

Now I’m setting up another charity: Trust Leeds. We’re working in multiply-deprived communities, helping people to change their lives by building self-reliance, confidence, enterprise and financial independence. We do this in two ways: Self-Reliant Groups (SRGs) which are peer groups who want to do something more for themselves, their families and their communities; and micro-finance loans. Replicating the work of pioneering charities in Glasgow and Pontypridd, the SRG movement started in Bangladesh as a means of addressing poverty and financial exclusion.

Thinking about it as I write this blog, it’s absolutely clear that the driver for Trust Leeds is the fundamental understanding I gained at Emmaus Leeds: that given a supportive framework based on friendship, purpose and sharing, most people can find their own confidence and way ahead.

And I wouldn’t know this if I hadn’t volunteered for, worked for, and been a Trustee of, Emmaus Leeds.

Blog written by Liza Kellett, trustee of Emmaus Leeds