Founding trustee of Emmaus Leeds Amanda Beresford shares her story about how she was involved in setting up the charity, way back in 1999.

Amanda is still a trustee today and recently received an inaugural Founders Medal from Emmaus UK to thank her for work and dedication.

I was one of the founding trustees of Emmaus Leeds and way back in 1999, I was approached by the then Rector of Leeds, Graham Smith, with a request to help set up Emmaus in Leeds. Graham had been asked by Emmaus UK to set something up in Leeds and then he approached me.

It started with a conversation in my office in Leeds City Centre and we agreed that we would progress this. We had nothing; no money, no office, no premises. But we grew a network of Trustees, volunteers and we gradually built that network up. Then we set up a small office behind what was then Leeds Parish Church (now Leeds Minster).

The first thing I did was the legal work to actually set the charity up; getting the constitution and the company sorted out. Then we set about fundraising and building a network to get the thing going.

We launched Emmaus Leeds with a Christmas carol service in 1999 in Leeds Parish Church, which Terry Waite CBE attended. That was the official launch in the city, telling everyone about what we were aiming to do. That was how it all started. I’ve remained a founding trustee ever since the first conversation with Graham Smith.

Facing Challenges

The biggest challenge for us was finding the right premises for the Emmaus Leeds community. For a while we were looking and fundraising. We looked at a lot of premises but they weren’t quite right. The St Mary’s Street premises, which we still have today was originally St Giles School. It was empty, on the market and in the right location. We had some Trustees who were in the architectural and design professions. They had a look at it and we thought it would do so we bought it and got planning permission to convert it from a school to the Emmaus facility it is today. I think that would have been around February 2003.

Beyond Emmaus Leeds

I’m a solicitor and a partner in a law firm in Leeds called Schofield Sweeney. I am the partner who heads up the planning practice so my specialist area is planning law. I’m also currently the president of the Leeds Chamber of Commerce. So those are the two other hats I wear as well as an Emmaus trustee. When I have free time, I like to be at home with my family.

Receiving a Founders Medal

Hearing the news that I had received a Founders Medal was a complete surprise. I understand that it’s an inaugural medal and I didn’t even know it existed. It was a real pleasure and honour to receive, and it was a nice warm feeling.

I’ve spent my whole career in Leeds, I’ve always been a lawyer in Leeds. I’ve done all my charity work in Leeds. I am very much someone who supports the city and wants to see it succeed.