WeNo Insiders Guide To…Emmaus Lambeth!

Winter rain and cold; but the FEAST team has regrouped to pre­pare for the year ahead. And so our intrep­id report­er is back pound­ing the streets of West Nor­wood to meet more local traders.

Present­ing; Emmaus Lam­beth, a home­less­ness char­ity with a cluster of shops along Knights Hill selling a vari­ety of second hand goods. Its not hard to notice Emmaus vans, with their bright green sides and white logo, bust­ling around the area. But how the char­ity works is maybe less famil­i­ar. Our report­er headed to a large res­id­en­tial build­ing, known as Bobby Vin­cent House, to meet Glen Ferns, formerly liv­ing there and now Fun­drais­ing and Com­mu­nic­a­tions Officer. This is the beat­ing heart of the Emmaus Lam­beth com­munity. Seated on a sofa in the lounge with the waft of cook­ing from the kit­chen, Glen explained the unique ethos behind Emmaus. They tackle home­less­ness by provid­ing a home and mean­ing­ful work for people who have been home­less. Its the work bit that’s cru­cial; that giv­ing someone a pur­pose is vital if they are to avoid end­ing up back on the streets.

There are cur­rently 29 Emmaus com­munit­ies in the UK, but each com­munity oper­ates inde­pend­ently. And the goal of a com­munity? To become self suf­fi­cient and sup­port itself with rev­en­ue gen­er­ated by its busi­nesses. Emmaus Lam­beth does this by selling donated goods. In 2005 it opened two shops, num­ber 9 and 11 Knights Hill. Then two years later Bobby Vin­cent House was pur­pose built along with the fur­niture out­let on the site of an old tram­shed. The house has 27 ensuite rooms and is usu­ally full, with a wait­ing list. There is even a spill over room, where in an emer­gency they can offer someone shel­ter. Its a bit like a cor­ridor space but as Glen points out; it is warm and safe and bet­ter than being on the street. In return for a bed and food, res­id­ents, who are known as com­pan­ions, help run the local social enter­prise. This involves col­lect­ing unwanted fur­niture, white goods and bric a brac, pre­par­ing items for resale and serving cus­tom­ers.

Glen turned to his own per­son­al his­tory to give an example of how life chan­ging the work of the char­ity is “I was born in Dover, Kent and by the time I was 24 I had been in pris­on a few times”. He explains he had got in with the wrong crowd, his rela­tion­ship with his par­ents had broken down. He even­tu­ally ended up rough sleep­ing in Brighton, before find­ing a night shel­ter. YMCA Brighton man­aged to get a refer­ral to Emmaus.  By this stage of the inter­view the smells from the kit­chen were becom­ing mouth water­ing and com­pan­ions were gath­er­ing for their lunch break. Glen con­tin­ues ” The day I moved in I knew I had a choice — make the most of it or go back to pris­on”. He spent five years liv­ing as a com­pan­ion in Bobby Vin­cent House in return for help­ing in the shops and on the vans. Emmaus arranged for him to do a fun­drais­ing intern­ship with anoth­er char­ity. Fast for­ward to today. Glen lives in Cam­ber­well and is part of the Emmaus Lam­beth staff team work­ing full time in his role. In this capa­city he often gives talks about his own jour­ney.

It was time to leave the warmth of the lounge for a whistle stop tour. On the way to the nearby fur­niture ware­house (aka out­let), there was one of the all so famil­i­ar vans. Five vans col­lect fur­niture from across South East Lon­don and Sur­rey (Emmaus Lam­beth is respons­ible for Sur­rey out­lets too). Glen men­tions on aver­age the vans go out to four jobs in the morn­ing and three in the after­noon. So what kind of items do Emmaus accept? Well the whole range really. Num­ber 9 Knights Hill focuses on elec­tric­al goods (microwaves, lights, wash­ing machines, com­puter mon­it­ors). And num­ber 11 con­cen­trates on preloved clothes (and is cur­rently dis­play­ing a fine col­lec­tion of stilet­tos in the win­dow). Then there is the corner shop next to Maddison's, nick­named “lofty” (because it used to be a loft con­ver­sion busi­ness). This has great win­dow front­age to show­case their high­er end home­wares. And if it’s gen­er­al bric a brac you are after, then head to the fur­niture out­let for a rum­mage in the ground floor space. Prob­ably unbe­known to most of us West Nor­wood folk, there is also a Brix­ton premises. This opened in 2013 on the Angel town estate and is where they provides fur­niture to fam­il­ies in crisis via Lam­beth Council’s Emer­gency Sup­port Scheme.

And what state do dona­tions have to be in? Well donated items have to be in reas­on­able con­di­tion with a fire label where rel­ev­ant and white goods work­able — but they do do minor repairs, steam clean uphol­stery or wash cov­ers. Some­times they go to a house clear­ance. This can throw up some unusu­al dona­tions; the oddest being a mor­tu­ary table equipped with drain­age hole! The big tick­et items, which gen­er­ate an income to sup­port their work, are the sofas and fridge freez­ers. And you can book one of the vans to take large goods away for free.

It was nearly time to meet James Hayes, CEO. Back in the res­id­en­tial build­ing, the entrance way has a large slightly incon­gru­ous black and white poster of a man in a beret. Glen com­ments “That’s our founder, Abbé Pierre. He set up the first Emmaus com­munity in France”. Abbé Pierre it tran­spires was a former res­ist­ance fight­er, MP and French priest, which explains the bib­lic­al name, Emmaus (although the organ­isa­tion is non reli­gious). And on the Emmaus web­site, it recounts the inspir­ing ori­gins of the move­ment; how Abbé Pierre was work­ing to relieve des­ti­tu­tion in post war Paris when he was intro­duced to a home­less man, named Georges, who had tried to com­mit sui­cide.

So on to meet­ing James. James’s office is on an upper floor of the res­id­en­tial build­ing. James joined Emmaus in 2009 with a back­ground in retail bank­ing. He had heard about Emmaus from volun­teer­ing with Crisis. His pas­sion for Emmaus is infec­tious. “The peer sup­port is incred­ible; the com­pan­ions really look after one anoth­er”. He men­tions how the organ­isa­tion encour­ages an aware­ness that there is always someone worse off than you. If you read the life stor­ies on the Emmaus web­site — then that is a truly hum­bling state­ment. James proudly points out that com­pan­ions often do addi­tion­al volun­teer­ing. Over Christ­mas 2017 seven com­pan­ions volun­teered at Crisis. The com­munity also piloted a new scheme open­ing a tem­por­ary night shel­ter in their own premises from Decem­ber 30th to Jan 9th. James com­ments how caring the com­pan­ions were; organ­ising bed­ding and mak­ing food for 10 rough sleep­ers. It was so suc­cess­ful they plan to do it again this year. James also brings up the topic of mean­ing­ful work. “Work is the second ques­tion people ask about, after your name, on first meet­ing you”. He expands, say­ing that by giv­ing com­pan­ions the oppor­tun­ity to build their skills, they gain dig­nity and self respect which helps them recon­nect with fam­ily or build new rela­tion­ships. This is fun­da­ment­al. He muses “Many people end up at Emmaus because they don’t have a sup­port net­work”. He believes every­one has a back­ground in some­thing; has skills they can offer. Part of a companion’s stay often involves train­ing — they’ve had people do account­ancy, build­ing courses. He laughs, and adds “Even learn­ing to horse ride; any­thing that pro­motes self con­fid­ence”. And the highs of the his job? Without doubt, when a com­pan­ion secures employ­ment, even bet­ter when its with Emmaus. The lows? He hes­it­ates. Some clearly not to be men­tioned. “Its hard when a com­pan­ion moves on because it doesn’t work out — but the door is always open”.

So how is the busi­ness side of things going? Well dona­tions are steady. James revealed they are gen­er­at­ing an income of £70,000 a month from their shops. Which seems quite incred­ible — the stock is reas­on­ably priced so there must be a big turnover of goods. Any plans for the future? Well indeed there are and they are mighty excit­ing. James explains that com­pan­ions who do get a paid job often can’t find afford­able accom­mod­a­tion. An archi­tect is look­ing at ways to ration­al­ise their premises so they can cre­ate three move on units. These units would enable com­pan­ions to live for up to two years at a reas­on­able rent whilst get­ting estab­lished.

And on that optim­ist­ic note, our report­er left, pon­der­ing how amaz­ing it was that second hand goods sup­port such work.

Emmaus Lam­beth

Fur­niture Out­let and Boutique
9 Bead­man Street
Mon-Sat 9.30–5pm
FEAST Sunday from 11am

Elec­tric­al goods/Clothing and Home­wares
9–11 Knights Hill and 88 Knights Hill
Mon-Sat 9.30–5pm
FEAST Sunday from 11am

https://www.emmaus.org.uk