My name is Gary Ferguson and I’m 64 years old this year. I have been volunteering at Emmaus Leeds for around 12 months now by helping in the kitchen. I have been in catering since I was 15, up until 2015.

I was the catering manager at a private school, catering for around 1000 pupils spread out over three kitchens. In 2015 I was made redundant and then went on to be a café/bar manager at a well-known gym/spa. I stayed in that role for around three years but to be totally honest I wasn’t really enjoying the work. At that time, I was approaching 60 and started working in the NHS in the kitchens, but again I wasn’t really enjoying the work. My wife said to me ‘You’re not happy’ and suggested I retire, which I did.

Soon after retiring Covid started and I felt really bored. My wife knows someone who works at Emmaus Leeds, so I asked her to ask if they needed any help and they did, so I started volunteering one day a week. I really enjoy coming in and helping in the kitchens. Gradually I upped my hours and now I’m volunteering two days per week. It’s a good way to get out of the house and you feel like you’re giving back. A typical day of volunteering for me, is coming in and starting at about 9 am and preparing the lunch meal, then prepping the evening meal so that when I leave at around 1.30 pm it’s all good to go for later.

At the beginning of 2023, I helped to set up the weekly food menus. When I first started volunteering, we used a food surplus distributing company but we found that we were getting items that didn’t work well for the sort of food we cooked. We now order chosen ingredients, and we know everything we have ordered is going to get used because it’s all part of a planned menu, which has helped us to save on food waste.

I enjoy helping the companions to learn new cooking skills. There’s one guy who is a trained chef, so I work with him a lot, but I also work with people who are not confident in the kitchen and it’s amazing to see them learn skills.

Coming into volunteer at Emmaus Leeds is great because you’re doing something worthwhile without the big pressures like some jobs can be. My favourite thing about it all has to be the enjoyment and sense of fulfilment I get from doing it. If someone is considering volunteering at Emmaus Leeds, I would say give it a go! It doesn’t have to be kitchen work, you can help in many other ways such as sorting the stock, whether it is skilled or unskilled work there is something for everyone.


If you’d like to volunteer like Gary, take a look at our current opportunities here.