“I felt like my life was over before Emmaus. Life didn’t mean anything to me anymore and I was just waiting to die.

From the age of 6 I spent hardly any time at home. I went to boarding school and was there until I left at 16. All my life, things never seemed to work out and I always felt like I was the odd one out or didn’t fit in anywhere.

A year after leaving boarding school, I got a job on a dairy farm and spent 30 years there. I had my own flat for 22 of these years, and in 1998 my son Reuben was born. About four weeks later, I’d come home from work one day and my son and his mum weren’t there. I had assumed she’d gone out with him, but it got later and later that night and I was waiting and waiting. I started to contact everyone we knew, but no one had heard anything.

Three months later, social services turned up and said that his mum had left him at the hospital. He had been taken into care because they didn’t know what was going on. I went through a big court case to try and gain custody myself, as you of course do, but they refused.

Social services did set it up that I could see him for a couple of hours every month, but they eventually had to put him up for adoption because his mum never came forward. When it was time to say goodbye, I couldn’t. Instead I said, ‘take care’. Goodbye felt like I was saying it forever.

My support worker at the time, Tim, who is now a good friend, arranged that I could send letters to Reuben every year. When he was 18, he decided that he would contact me. We met up, got on great, and started to make a relationship after all those years.

Things started to look up until suddenly Reuben’s phone calls and texts stopped. I started to wonder what was going on, when out of the blue, I got a phone call from his adoptive parents telling me he had died of natural causes.

That hit me hard and I went into a severe depression. I felt as though my life was over, it didn’t mean anything to me anymore. I was in my flat at the time but having problems with my benefits being accepted. I left, and technically made myself homeless. At the time I was just waiting to die so it didn’t matter.

Throughout that time, Tim kept calling me until one day I decided to answer. He told me to come and see him so he could try and help. I agreed and the next morning Tim got me into temporary accommodation. That’s when he started talking about Emmaus, suggesting it could be a good place for me to sort my life out.

I interviewed for Emmaus Norfolk & Waveney in 2018 and moved in a week later. Since then, everything has been much better.

I started counselling sessions with Stacey from Heart of the Matter, which really helped to sort my head out. Stacey visits our community regularly to have sessions with companions. Before I started working with her, I would get wound up by a lot of things.

There was a time that I was struggling with how health and safety conscious I am. I hadn’t realised how much I had let it build up or how bad it got. From Stacey, I’ve now learned that it’s a matter of seeing things differently and reacting in a different way. It’s now a lot better to manage.

I’ve gained a lot of skills since being at Emmaus too, but I’ve also had the chance to brush up on old ones that I’ve not used in years. My main work responsibilities are on the grounds of our site doing all the gardening, maintenance jobs and other random pieces here and there. I like being outside working, but occasionally I’ll go out on the van to help with deliveries and I’ve even worked in the café for a while, which is something that I had never done before.

I’ve done my food hygiene qualification, will soon be doing my NVQ in manual handling, and hope to learn more about gardening in the future. I don’t know much about planting, more about chopping things down, but I want to create a memorial garden on site where other people, if they want to, can put a plant of their own and it can be somewhere to go on your own to think.

Around the site, I enjoy looking after the four feral cats that showed up a few years ago. I feed them every day. They’re not as scared of people as they first were, and sometimes they even come to supervise me while I’m on the grounds doing jobs. I also enjoy walking the Community Support Manager’s dog, Bess. She’s a bit of a monkey sometimes but she’s really good.

Sometimes, I go out on the van when we’re delivering items to people through the Norfolk Assistance Scheme. We deliver furniture, white goods and other items to people who recently got their home after being in difficult situations. This has had a big impact on me. There was one time, I could see a customer was struggling and I got quite emotional at that because it reminded me of my own situation. Another time, we delivered items to a single mother with several children. They didn’t have anything other than what we were delivering, so we wanted to do something. We came back to the community and put some toys and food together for them.

I find it really good helping other people that are in the same situation I used to be in, and sometimes in even worse situations. It really is amazing to be in a position that I could help somebody, and Emmaus has given me that opportunity.

I’ve also started to feel more comfortable in groups and crowds since coming to Emmaus. Most recently, I went to a restaurant with the other companions and staff. It was technically the first one I had attended since being here. I say technically, because I did attend a group meal before, walked in, and walked straight back out. I then waited outside until they had finished eating.

In 2019, I attended the Emmaus UK assembly too, where all communities meet up for two days. There were a lot of people there, but what made it easier was knowing that most of them had come from similar situations to myself. Even though we had all come from separate walks of life, it felt like we were one big group.

I’ve started to share my story more now that I’m at Emmaus, which is something that I would have never done before. I’ve even gone out to talks and presentations with the director and shared my story in person. I did this after hearing another companion’s story. I knew bits and pieces of it, but when he shared his full story, I thought that if he can do it, so can I.

Emmaus is the one place where I feel like I do fit in. Tim saved my life by suggesting I come to Emmaus and the staff, companions and Stacey have helped that process ever since.”