I was checking whether March’s corporation tax returns had been submitted on Sunday. I belatedly received an invite to a reception at Windsor Castle on Monday. By Tuesday, I was greeting and speaking to Her Majesty The Queen!
No, that’s not an unpublished (and rather incongruous) verse from Craig David’s R&B classic “7 Days” but rather sums up a memorable first week of April, which resulted from my role as Trustee and Treasurer of a homelessness charity, Emmaus Merseyside.
That said, I nearly missed the reception entirely – for two weeks the gilded invite languished, unopened, in Emmaus’ mailbox! Thankfully, though, the Royal Seal was eventually spotted.
The royal reception was organised to mark the centenary of the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, of which Her Majesty is Patron and of which Emmaus is a member.
On a hastily-booked train to London, my expectations were that I’d essentially have a behind-the-scenes tour of Windsor Castle and possibly be in the same room as our Monarch. But in fact, I not only shook hands with The Queen but actually exchanged words with her!
Thankfully exercising a prudent approach as all good (sycophantic) accountants should, I’d revised the protocol just in case, greeting her with the words “Your Majesty” as form dictates. More miraculously still, I didn’t even trip over any loose parts of the monogrammed carpet or spill any champagne on my best tie!
As well as speaking to Her Majesty, I also spoke to Princess Anne and explained how Emmaus Merseyside works. Emmaus communities (which I’d first encountered as a student living in France in 2003) provide not only safe accommodation to people who have been homeless but also offer training and meaningful employment in the charity’s re-use shops.
Giving companions a home is, of course, important but the offer of training and employment is potentially more significant as it enables formerly-homeless “companions” to build their skill set and, more crucially, their confidence. The ultimate aim is that companions get a “normal” job, re-engage with society and become self-sufficient, moving out of Emmaus’ sheltered accommodation.
At university I learnt the karmic maxim “You get out what you put in”. And, though I was actually spectacularly lazy at university, the message eventually sank in and, starting work in Liverpool, I first volunteered with Merseyside Young Professionals (an association which remains, even though people have been questioning my youth for years!).
Then, in 2015, I became a Trustee and Treasurer of Emmaus Merseyside, following the sudden death of my father the previous year. He had a strong social conscience and believed that everyone should give something of themselves for the greater good. Frankly, it never meant that much to me growing up. But when he was gone, the idea of volunteering resonated – though I don’t know whether this was to emulate him, an attempt to please him, or simply to feel closer to him.
There were other reasons, too. As a Chartered Accountant, the structure of the charity appealed to me. Well established Emmaus communities operate on a solid financial foundation with the sales of recycled, “big ticket” furniture with higher margins covering the costs of providing accommodation for companions. The principal is that Emmaus communities shouldn’t need to rely on cash donations – they should be entirely self-sufficient. Furthermore, having trained as an auditor, I was keen to find out what it was like “on the other side of the fence” as Treasurer, without having to leave my role in practice.
On becoming a Trustee, Emmaus Merseyside had one charity superstore in Seaforth. Now it has two further re-use shops (in Bootle and Old Swan) as well as a new, purpose-built residential building in Seaforth which houses 28 companions.
Looking after people with complex needs and comprising four different sites, Emmaus Merseyside is a complex organisation. The community still faces challenges on a daily basis, though it is becoming more and more self-sufficient. This is testament to the hard work done day-in and day-out by Emmaus Merseyside’s brilliant companions, volunteers, staff and Board of Trustees.
In fact, though it was a huge privilege to attend Windsor Castle and meet The Queen, I feel tremendously guilty that the unsung heroes of Emmaus – of which there are many – could not share the honour. Suffice to say that, as with most successful organisations, Emmaus truly is a team effort.
I would urge everyone to get involved with a charity in some capacity. It must be said that being a Trustee is also challenging. The onerous legal responsibilities put a lot of people off. And, frankly, after a hard day at the financial coal face, one doesn’t always relish the prospect of accountancy-based homework!
After a busy March, I must confess that I was not overly enthusiastic about producing the monthly management accounts as well as a budget for the forthcoming financial year. But now, having met The Queen, I’m absolutely reinvigorated and up for the challenge!
So, in summary (and at the risk of sounding totally uncool), I was absolutely thrilled to meet The Queen! Seven days later, I am still smiling and in a state of disbelief. I’m confident that, seven – or maybe even seventy – years later, the memories of that brief encounter with royalty will continue to inspire me to be involved in charitable organisations. And maybe it’ll even inspire you to get involved and volunteer, too?
Phil Adams, Trustee at Emmaus Merseyside