I joined Emmaus Bristol during the week it opened as one of the very first companions. That was a long time ago now, in 2003, after I had spent two years street homeless and sofa-surfing.
At 17, I went into the RAF and I was there for ten years. I enjoyed it and I do think a military background helped me to survive on the streets, but like many ex-military personnel, I got used to not having to pay bills and having all meals supplied for me. It hit me hard when I came out.
After the RAF, I worked in a hotel for 13 years and that’s when my drinking got bad. I found the work very stressful and lost the job and my accommodation. That’s how I ended up homeless in Bristol.
I didn’t want anyone to know I’d become homeless and it was a difficult time. I didn’t get much sleep at night because I never felt safe or was in fear of someone pinching my stuff. I used to get food and clothing from churches, day centres and soup runs. There was a night shelter I got food from too, but I didn’t like staying there. I felt safer on the streets, as weird as that sounds.
When someone from an outreach organisation explained everything Emmaus does and that there was a community opening up in Bristol, I thought it sounded too good to be true. But I spoke to an Emmaus staff member, moved in as the third companion and the rest is history!
When you’re on the streets, you get tunnel vision looking out for number one. I remember thinking when I first arrived at Emmaus that I didn’t have to worry about that any longer. I suddenly had my own room, support from the staff, and friendly faces.
I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years, obviously companions have come and gone and the staff team has completely changed from when I first joined. A new Emmaus community has to grow and learn, and we have definitely done that!
We didn’t have a shop when I first joined. When we got our first showroom near the community house, we thought there was no way we were going to fill it. As soon as we put the word out for donations and started doing collections though, we thought it wasn’t big enough! Since then, we have opened our Stokes Croft, Bedminster, and vintage shop on Gloucester Road. I feel proud that I have been here through all of it and played a part in making it happen.
What I like about Emmaus Bristol is that we are a working community, where people help and support each other. It’s not like a hostel, we have work to keep us occupied which gives us meaning and a sense of purpose. I’ve worked in all areas but my favourite thing to do is work in the shops and I help to show new companions the ropes. I’ve also done my First Aid and Fire Warden training and completed a management course which I got high marks on and was happy with.
At Emmaus Bristol, I’ve been able to get my self-esteem back and it’s given me a sense of purpose again. To me, Emmaus means caring, supportive and meaningful.