“I feel like I have come full circle by volunteering at Emmaus Norfolk & Waveney. All of my life, I have lived a mile away from The Community of All Hallows site, which is now the home of Emmaus. As a child, I swam in the pool that was part of the senior school and 30 years ago my daughter attended the nursery, which is now the bric-a-brac room.
Emmaus Norfolk & Waveney had only opened one year before I started volunteering nearly seven years ago in 2011. I’m the president of the Ditchingham WI and we had a stall at the local fete where I met Cathy, who was about to start her role as Director at Emmaus. We got talking and I soon found out that she was hoping to open a café, which is now the Old Orchard Café, so that the companions could learn new skills. As this sounded like a great idea that the WI could get involved in, I visited the community and my group ended up making the cakes when the café opened. During that first visit, I saw that Emmaus was looking for volunteers and I have been volunteering ever since.
I alternate between one and two days each week and I love coming down here. My area is sorting the clothes, and I like to think that I help out by making sure that the staff don’t need to worry about organising clothing donations, or about the way the area will be left at the end of the day. I feel like I have a purpose volunteering here, responsibility, and a sense of ownership.
I do lead a busy life; my husband and I are gardeners, I’m still president of the WI, and I am a qualified hockey umpire for a local hockey team. Some people ask how I find the time to volunteer, and the truth is that I miss Emmaus when I don’t come here.
The best part of volunteering here is seeing the companions move on to a place of their own and to a job. There were only eight companions when I started volunteering, and now that number has risen to 23. I really get on with them all, and they know that if they ever wanted to talk I would listen without prejudice. At first, I found it hard to work with the companions, which was nothing to do with them being homeless, but because they were so helpful and would always try to do any lifting for me. One time in particular was when I started clearing out the bric-a-brac room. As soon as I would lift a box, a companion would be straight over to help me. I found it difficult as a farmer’s daughter as I have been used to getting on with things myself, but now I accept their help.
Having been here for many years, I would like to see the community grow and companion numbers increase so that Emmaus can help even more people. I would also like to see more awareness of the great work they do within the wider community. When I tell people that I volunteer at a homelessness charity called Emmaus, they imagine buskers on the streets, or the stereotypical versions of homeless people. They don’t see the people that had a house, a mortgage, a family – they don’t see the people that were living a life just like them before they lost their job, couldn’t pay their mortgage or lost their home. I now keep leaflets in my car so I can explain to people what Emmaus is and I like to tell them that Emmaus gives a person a bed and a reason to get out of it in the morning.
I would like to tell anyone interested in volunteering at Emmaus to definitely go for it. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here, and I have no plans to stop volunteering. Ten years ago I would have never seen myself as a regular volunteer at the same place for so long. Now, I feel like part of the community, I have made great friends with the companions, staff, and other volunteers, and my daughter and grandchildren visit the shop and café regularly. Emmaus is not only a home to its companions, but to the volunteers and staff too.”