We welcomed our first companions to Emmaus Norfolk & Waveney in 2011, although there has been Emmaus communities in the UK since 1991, and our fundraising and planning for our community here in Ditchingham began in 2009.
We are based on the site of the All Hallows convent, and when the Sisters of All Hallows kindly offered our community a long-term base and premises set in several acres in the tranquil convent grounds we jumped at the offer.
As a former convent, the buildings have great character and are deeply embedded in local heritage. The first job for our companions was to decorate and refurbish the smaller former junior school and artist colony to provide initial living accommodation and retail space for the community.
On 3rd March 2012, an event was held at Norwich Cathedral, where Emmaus UK President Terry Waite and local writer Louis de Bernieres spoke to an audience of potential supporters to raise the profile of our organisation in Norfolk and encourage involvement. Soon after our shop opened for business.
Over time, we refurbished Holy Cross House, which is the residential area of our site, upgraded Abbe Pierre House, which houses our second hand retail outlet, and opened The Old Orchard Cafe, which serves light refreshments.
In 2020 we renovated part of the site to create ten new bedrooms, meaning we can now support up to 32 companions at once. This development includes a female only living area so that we can offer our female companions a space in which they can feel completely comfortable.
Not a charity to do things by halves, at the same time we also opened our new store in Norwich’s Castle Quarter. The interior of the shop has been created by our companions using reclaimed and upcycled materials and is proving to be very popular, both with our customers and our companions who form part of the staff team there.
If that wasn’t enough for 2020, Emmaus Norfolk & Waveney also proudly opened the Orchard Forge at our Ditchingham site. This forge provides companions with the opportunity to learn new skills and upcycle some of the items donated to us
The first Emmaus community was founded in Paris, in 1949, by Father Henri-Antoine Grouès, better known as Abbé Pierre. He was an MP, Catholic priest and former member of the French Resistance who fought to provide homes for those who lived on the streets of Paris.