On the road to Emmaus

I’ve visited Emmaus in Leeds twice now and find their approach to ending homelessness unusual but inspirational. So I thought you might appreciate a look around at what they do.

“At Emmaus we’re working together to end homelessness.

We know that overcoming homelessness often means more than a roof over your head. That’s why Emmaus supports people to work their way out of homelessness, providing meaningful work as well a stable home for as long as someone needs it.”

Emmaus Leeds.

Emmaus Leeds, one of 25 Emmaus Communities across the UK.

Each time I’ve visited I’ve been with people from social enterprise bus company HCT Group, showing them the breadth of potential activities for social enterprises. And Emmaus are very much a social enterprise. The people who live here also work here and elsewhere in Leeds, selling the stuff they make and repair, as we’re about to see.

Ali Ward, manager of Emmaus Leeds talks us through how they work and the philosophy behind what they do.

Ali Ward, manager of Emmaus Leeds talks us through how they work and the philosophy behind what they do.

“The main business activity here, like all Emmaus communities is collecting donated furniture and household goods and selling them in our shops. Some items are refurbished or, in the case of electrical items, PAT tested for safety.

We also run Emmaus cafés, house clearance businesses, gardening projects and clothing shops. Many Emmaus communities also “upcycle” old furniture, re-painting and re-upholstering it to give it a new lease of life before it is sold on. This gives Emmaus companions the opportunity to gain new skills, or use their existing creative flair to bring something back into use.

Everyone at Emmaus plays a part in keeping the community and the business running smoothly.”

The formerly homeless people here are called ‘Companions’ and a few of them show us what they do. The ones you’ll see were happy to be photographed but I’ll preserve a degree of anonymity by not naming them.May 15 Emmaus - 34

First we looked round outside.

First we looked round outside.

Their pick up and delivery vehicle.

Their pick up and delivery vehicle.

The allotment they're just starting here.

The allotment they’re just starting here.

Then inside where all they pick up is stored and worked on.

Then inside where all they pick up is stored and worked on.

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Into their workshop.

Into their workshop.

Where extremely skilled and delicate restoration work is done.

Where extremely skilled and delicate restoration work is done.

May 15 Emmaus - 17 May 15 Emmaus - 18 May 15 Emmaus - 19

Then upstairs to where all the Companions have their own rooms.

Then upstairs to where all the Companions have their own rooms. Here’s the communal laundry.

We here about how it is living here. Practical and peaceful.

We hear about how it is living here. Practical and peaceful.

The Companions' dining room.

The Companions’ dining room.

Two Companions Cooking.

Two Companions Cooking.

Preparing food for the Community, and also for the café they run in the shop downstairs.

Preparing food for the Community. They also run a café downstairs in their shop.

They also have a recreation room.

They also have a recreation room.

With computers too.

With computers too.

Then some of us go to the café.

Then some of us go to the café.

While others shop!

While others shop!

May 15 Emmaus - 40

Raksha and her new Buddha!

Raksha and her new Buddha!

Emmaus in Kirkgate Market.

Emmaus in Kirkgate Market.

As well as this shop and café Emmaus run two stalls in Leeds Kirkgate Market and are part of the group of organisations who run the Revive Recycling Centre in Seacroft. This place works, on every level you can think of:

In 2012, a group of researchers talked to companions and staff members in seven communities across the UK, trying to establish the main outcomes of Emmaus’s work.

Their research found that for every £1 invested in an established Emmaus community, £11 is generated in social, environmental and economic returns.

The benefits included:

  • Keeping people out of hospital, and helping them to be safe and well, saved the Department of Heath £1,478,506 for NHS and emergency service costs;
  • Emmaus saved local government £2,447,612 which would have been spent on hostel accommodation, drug and alcohol services and landfill;
  • Keeping people in work and out of prison saved the Ministry of Justice £778,435.

The report found that Emmaus communities successfully provide a place for people in vulnerable housing situations to rebuild their lives by offering them meaningful work and support. Significant benefits were linked to substantial improvements in companions’ physical and mental health, including reductions in substance misuse.”

The Communal life lived here and at all the other Emmaus Communities might well not suit every homeless person, but for those willing to give it a go, and there are now 600 Emmaus Companions in the UK, it seems to work very well, provides real work and skills development, regular pay and even a savings fund for when you decide to move out and move on. Well done Emmaus.

Watch their new film here.

And find your own nearest Emmaus Community here.

Much more details, background and their history from starting in France at the Emmaus website.

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