To celebrate thirty years since homelessness charity Emmaus was established in the UK, Head of Support of Emmaus in Lancashire Karen, attended a lunch event at Clarence House, the royal residence of the charity’s Royal Patron, Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cornwall.

Karen was one of thirty people who have been supported by Emmaus communities across the UK to be invited to the lunch with The Duchess, and to share with her how the charity has made a difference to her life.

Each of the primary guests was also able to invite someone who was part of their journey at Emmaus to attend, and Karen chose to bring her husband Dave, whom she met while they were both being supported at Emmaus Preston.

Karen’s story

Karen joined Emmaus Preston in 2012 after spending 15 years homeless and in temporary accommodation.

With the space and stability to continue rebuilding her life, Karen was able to progress through several training courses, which resulted in her gaining a support worker role at Emmaus Preston in 2015. In November 2021, Karen was selected as Head of Support, managing Emmaus staff across the whole of Lancashire.

During her time with Emmaus, Karen has been to the Houses of Parliament and Downing Street to lobby Lords and MPs to call for better support for people who want to break the cycle they are in. She also married Dave, whom she lives with outside of the community.

Karen said: “When I got to the official residence of the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, it was just wow! It was amazing seeing Clarence House and imagining what it’s like to live upstairs. When I went in and they showed us around and greeted everyone, there were family photos all over the place, of their kids and the Queen and Prince Philip taking pride of place.

“It’s not the sort of opportunity that comes along every day. It has been absolutely amazing. Her Royal Highness was so welcoming and kind.

“When I was talking to Her Royal Highness, I said, who would’ve thought someone who was sleeping in toilets and on the streets is now meeting royalty in Clarence House, and she smiled at me.

“It was also great to see everyone from different communities within Emmaus. It’s been an absolutely amazing day and one that I’ll never forget.”

Speaking from experience

On returning back to Preston, Dave went on a night shift for his job, while the night after Karen went out with Emmaus’ outreach service, Free Streets, which provides assistance and advice to people sleeping on the streets through the evening and into the early hours.

Karen said: “Because I was one of these people, it’s good to go out with the outreach team. Whether it is giving clothes, a sleeping bag or signposting them to services. It could just be someone to talk to.

“When you are homeless, people imagine you as a non-entity. I’m poles apart from where I started; I didn’t think there was light at the end of the tunnel. To have my own home and my own work, that’s thanks to Emmaus. Through this meeting with Her Royal Highness, I hope my story shows, homeless people can turn their lives around.”

Reaching more people

Charlotte Talbott, Chief Executive of Emmaus UK, said: “We are extremely grateful to Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall and the staff at Clarence House for hosting a fantastic 30-year celebration event.

“Countless lives have been transformed in Emmaus communities and groups over the past 30 years and it was important to be able to bring some of those people together, along with their guests, to mark this important point in our history. It was a great day and a fitting tribute, and I look forward to seeing Emmaus reach even more people over the next 30 years!”

Due to the pandemic, the event on Wednesday 10 November 2021 was the first in-person event celebrating Emmaus’ milestone anniversary, reflecting on what the charity has achieved in the past three decades. Emmaus was brought to the UK from France in 1991, and there are now 29 communities supporting more than 850 formerly homeless people by providing them with a safe home, training, tailored support and meaningful work in a social enterprise.

Karen was invited to meet Royal Patron, Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall as one of 30 people who have been supported by Emmaus