I joined Emmaus Norfolk & Waveney in April 2021. I had previously worked for a Suffolk based charity for 11 years as the Operations and Estates Manager but following redundancy I was looking for a new challenge.
I saw the job of Site Development Manager at Emmaus Norfolk & Waveney advertised, after researching the charity, its aims and purpose I was hooked, specifically the part about working alongside people who had previously experienced homelessness. I loved the prospect of having a job that really made a difference to other people’s life’s and created a lasting impact. My first impression of the community comprising of staff, companions and volunteers is the sense of camaraderie, everyone has the same focus, you don’t need to look far if you need a hand with anything, the community has an amazing diversity of skills and knowledge, it is a really friendly and warm place to be.
The issue of homelessness resonated with me ever since I was a child. My father served in the British Army and I was very aware that some service members leaving the forces did so with very little support and found themselves homeless. Further to this, as a student in Norwich in the 90s, I met a lot of young people, mainly men, sleeping rough and others selling The Big Issue, we used to chat in the college canteen and what became very apparent was that relationship issues or bereavement were a big reason for many people to find themselves without anywhere to live. Without an address it was impossible to get a job or support, and so they got caught in a vicious circle often turning to alcohol as a form of dulling the intensity of the situation they were living. As a consequence of becoming homeless these young guys would lose their self-esteem simply because they felt like they didn’t have a purpose anymore.
It was hard-hitting to my soul to think it was possible that, through the breakdown of a relationship or the sad loss of a loved one the implications would be to lose your home and find yourself sleeping on the streets or in your car. There aren’t many steps between the two things happening.
My job at Emmaus Norfolk & Waveney oversees the responsibility of the conservation and preservation of our fabulous convent buildings and onsite maintenance while also developing the site for the future so that the charity can continue to support formerly homeless people. We are working at developing the site to attract more people to visit our shop and café, but also developing it in terms of being more of a home for the companions who live here and giving them more opportunities. This includes building an outdoor gym and a woodworking workshop.
This job is not without its challenges! Recently, BBC Countryfile came to film at the community, and we had spent a lot of time getting the site ready for their arrival. Unfortunately, right as they were in the middle of filming, and in the middle of a hailstorm, our drains started overflowing due to a blockage. So, while Matt Baker and the team were filming in our forge, we were hiding round the corner with drainage rods trying to clear the blockage. Very glamourous!
Our former convent building is beautiful and full of character. However, it was built in the 1860s and being an older building there is the challenge between preserving the building and its character and ensuring it provides everything our companions need from a home and workplace. There are a lot of electrical needs, plumbing and communications requirements that come with housing people, some of those facilities were not in place when the convent was first built, so that is keeping me very busy.
It’s hard to say what part of the job I am most looking forward to getting stuck into as we have so many exciting projects going on around the site, installing an outdoor gym and woodworking workshop, reinstating the former refectory and the opening of our B&B.
But mostly I am enjoying just having the opportunity to work alongside my colleagues and the companions in the community; it’s an inspiring place to be.