I started working in ecommerce for Emmaus Preston in January 2022. I spent a year and a half shadowing an ecommerce staff member as a companion, before applying for the role. You could say, getting the job was the result of a growing evolution for me.

I had been homeless on the streets of Brighton. That was what originally brought me to Emmaus. When I was very young, I contracted the disease hyperthyroidism. My thyroid would just shoot through the roof. I would wake up in the morning and have a bout of anxiety and a panic attack for no thought-related reason. Chemicals would just bound up and down in my body, so I was signed off work completely. I was on disability benefit; I wasn’t expected to work. This was for a period of about 10 years.

Then, due to a relationship breakdown, I was street homeless. I had no drink or drug addictions, so I would spend all my money to make sure I wasn’t street living. I could afford backpackers and hostels. I could access food services and have a roof over my head this way. I would access those services and all the money would go on trying to stay in some sort of shelter. At my worst point, I would be in a tent in the hills somewhere.

Room for recovery

Then a friend of mine told me about Emmaus Brighton. The community leader at that time discussed Emmaus and I was attracted to the concept pretty quickly. The community leader and support staff gave me the flexibility to approach them on days when my mental health was low, and take either light duties or time off.

It was in the last year in Emmaus Brighton that I had my thyroid removed thanks to a contact I made through the charity there. I was supported after my operation by the community. I didn’t have to work, was regularly checked in on and any dietary needs where given. Three months later, my life was like it was before. I was able to sustain work. I was able to remain in a positive frame of mind. I had a positive outlook on life. Then I could focus on what to do next.

At that time, I was living in Emmaus Brighton’s move on accommodation. A house that was still attached to the community, but for more independent living. I was sharing with one other person. After about a year I took the chance. I just woke up one day and thought I’m going to have a try. I moved into shared accommodation. I tried to find work wherever I could in event photography. I used to do it for free around my roles at Emmaus Brighton for three years. These included helping create the Emmaus greenhouse project, facilitating volunteers, running art/craft/music courses for companions and facilitating outside groups on the grounds. That’s how I started working.

My business was called Photo Horizon. I post many of my photos on Viewbug. The platform has lots of competitions that I used to enter, and I came second in the Women’s International section for my photograph on the theme ‘mermaids’ showing a picture of a shell. I got that from a festival I attended about ocean awareness.

When Covid hit I had to stop all event and related photography. Literally it was a dead end. I ended up selling quite a bit of my stuff just to be able to pay my way. Then it got to the point where I couldn’t pay my way. I contacted Emmaus Preston and asked if they had any rooms for me.

Emmaus is a place to give back

I found Emmaus Preston lovely. It’s a smaller community so you know everyone. There’s a great sense of camaraderie and community here. Emmaus Preston is also very professional. In terms of the approach and the people around you. By people showing respect and respecting others. I got on well with this and tried to help the community bind by offering little bits and pieces, such as helping create Facebook post and making video content for the community.

When the shops closed in 2020 due to Covid, ecommerce was a huge thing for Emmaus Preston. While I was still a companion, I was helping run various sections of ecommerce. We got the furniture ready, offered click and collect. It was a case of masks on, gloves on and keep going. Emmaus Preston was very successful at that.

Finding employment

At Emmaus Preston, I’ve gained so much knowledge. In terms of management, punctuality, and my ability to run an ecommerce business.

I have enjoyed all the roles I’ve had as a companion. I have always enjoyed working with companions. I like sharing knowledge and listening to try to learn. Even now, while I’m working in the retail business, a lot of my time is spent with companions.

Working in ecommerce, I’m on and off the shop floor and I know the processes in the shop because I’ve done it. I also know the people well enough for them to turn around when I’m not in and say I’ve got this for ecommerce.

I process 1,000 items per week. I’d say, research work is 75 per cent of the job and 25 per cent is photos and processing.

I get excited about the historical items. I don’t necessarily get overly excited about ceramics from Clarice Cliff or Wade [leading UK ceramicists], but a while ago I sold an 1870s miners’ lamp in full working condition. It’s a lamp every other miner would light their lamp off. Then there was an 1820s Walker and Hughes grandfather. That’s something that has survived two world wars and was still in working order. I get excited by items where I get a sense of people’s lives.

The sustainability aspect of Emmaus drives through into ecommerce. The make, do and mend is a human facet. The amount we must save from landfill must run into hundreds of thousands of items over the years.

Stable space to grow

The support and the community are the biggest things that keep me in Emmaus. It’s the stability Emmaus Preston offered that has helped; that I was able to be stable in my home. Emmaus gives you the time and space to explore what want to do. If I go all the way back to having hyperthyroidism in Brighton, it’s given me that encouragement. Emmaus has given me space to grow.

Emmaus is the best model in the country when it comes to homelessness. We are holistic. We don’t just put people in accommodation and don’t deal with issues that come with it.

When we’re selling a teacup, we’re not just selling a teacup. You’ve got to have a wider view of what we are doing as a charity.

For me Emmaus is about ending homelessness, but more than that, it’s about joining the working world.


To find out more about our homelessness charity, please visit the Emmaus Preston home page here.