“I was a shell of a person when I came to Emmaus South Wales in February 2020. I had spent two years sofa-surfing, was on anti-depressants, and didn’t care about myself. I was at rock bottom. Now, Emmaus has helped me to change my life.

I began sofa-surfing with friends after I lost both my parents and sister. My mum died first, in 2014 of cancer, then two years later my sister died, and my dad followed a few months after that.

Up until my dad passed away, I lived at home with him in Cardiff. I was also working as a full-time carer; a job that I had done for nearly 30 years and loved. When my other sister wanted to sell our dad’s house, I would have dealt with the situation differently looking back now, but I was struggling with the grief.

I had nowhere else to go and should have said that it was my home too. Silly me just said okay and packed my stuff up to stay in my brother-in-law’s flat because he wasn’t living there at the time.

After a couple of months, he returned so I had to leave, and I ended up staying with someone who knew my dad. They were both army veterans and he was an old friend of the family. He was in his 80s and it worked well with me being a carer as I was able to look after him. Then he fell ill, bless his heart, and died too, which was another blow.

During that time, I had already put myself on the waiting list for a council house. My doctor had requested that I be moved up the list because of my mental health, so I was almost at the top. This is when I messed up my chances though.

With nowhere else to go, I jumped around friend’s houses before ending up in Barry. Leaving Cardiff, even temporarily, meant that I was taken off the list. By this point, I had lost my job as a carer too because I wasn’t mentally fit to look after people anymore. The uncertainty of sofa-surfing had started to take its toll. I was always down but I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to act on it and get proper help.

In Barry, I was living in a summer house in my best friend’s garden. Don’t get me wrong, it was summertime and lovely, and I was so grateful, but it was basically a shed.  I couldn’t face staying there in the winter months, and once again moved to another friend’s before finally finding Emmaus South Wales.

I had heard of Emmaus before, and I only wish I had got in touch with them when I first started sofa-surfing. I met the Community Manager in a café, we chatted and filled in forms. To join, I had to give up my little dog, who had been with me for 13 years and all through my time homeless. I was devastated and it felt like another bereavement for me. I needed to get my life back on track though and was happy to hear she had been rehomed by the Bridgend Dogs Trust.

A week later, the Community Manager picked me up in the community work van and I joined Emmaus. I didn’t know what I was walking into and was terrified. It was winter, and I can remember this big house looming in front of me in the dark.

I used to work in supported living environments as a carer, and at first, I thought, ‘crikey, I’m an inmate now instead of a staff member’. I wouldn’t say boo to a goose to begin with, but quickly settled in well.

I was the third female in the community at that time, and the two others made my room absolutely stunning. The bed was made lovely, and there were even chocolates. I was made to feel so welcome.

I was given a week to settle in before starting work, but I just wanted to get on with it and get a routine back in my life. I started working in the Tremains Superstore and now I’m like a completely different person. I had never worked in a shop, used a till, or even knew how to switch a computer on. Now, I have my own tablet, use the computer all the time, have Facebook and do online courses.

A typical day for me when the shops are open is to get up, shower and have a cuppa. I care more about myself now and like to do my make-up and hair before walking to the Tremains shop. I could get the Emmaus work van, but I enjoy the walk and exercise is a big thing for me.

I then do my bit in the shop and really enjoy talking to all the customers. Our community wouldn’t have the money to run without them, so I always make sure to thank them for supporting us. At the end of the day, I walk home to eat with the other companions before chilling out and getting ready for the next day.

During all of the lockdowns, the shops have been closed. Jemma, the Chief Executive, has been amazing at finding us things to do. Some of the companions and I have started a book club too. I’m an avid reader so I enjoy that, and we also do a quiz every week. I’ve even learnt how to make beeswax wraps, which we will soon be selling to customers who prefer not to use clingfilm.

Emmaus has helped me overcome my grief and I have been anti-depressant free for almost a year. When I first arrived, the support team put me in touch with a counsellor, so I had a nice Irish man ring me every week for an hour. Eventually, I didn’t need that service anymore, but I always know it’s there if I need it again. I do still get down days, even now. When anniversaries come up, I sit down and have a little cry, but I know that’s normal.

I’ve met some great people here. I never feel lonely, and there is always someone to talk to. Sometimes there are disagreements and people fall out, but that’s expected when you’re all different characters. I lost my family, but here at Emmaus, I now consider all the other companions as family and that means the world to me.

I don’t want to be here forever, but at the moment I’m very happy. The good thing about Emmaus is that there is no rush. You don’t come in and get told that you have a certain amount of time. I’m refreshing my skills as a carer with the help of Emmaus, and my goal for the future is to get working again and find a little flat or bedsit of my own in Bridgend.

To anyone thinking of joining Emmaus, I would say go for it. It’s the best decision I ever made. Emmaus isn’t just a roof over your head, it’s what you make of it. If you come in with an attitude and you’re not interested in helping yourself, then it’s not going to work for you. But if you want to change your life and you’re willing to put in the work, then you can do that here.

Emmaus South Wales saved my life and I will never forget what this place has done for me.”

Hear Michelle in her own words: