I joined Emmaus Bristol in February 2021 and I’m absolutely loving every minute of it. Emmaus has turned my life around no end, and I would sing from any rooftop about what a fantastic thing it is.

In 2017, I had a breakdown. I’ve lived with anxiety and depression for years and just got on with it. I was self-medicating with alcohol in my local pub, which wasn’t helping, and it got to the point that I just couldn’t go on. I left my job, shut my flat door, and had no contact with anyone for months.

During this time, the building I was living in got condemned and was going to be knocked down so everyone was getting evicted. I was already reclused and not well at all at this time and had started starving myself. I was found unconscious in my flat after a forced entry was made.

Richard setting out on the collection and delivery van

I spent three and a half weeks in hospital and was put into temporary accommodation afterwards, sharing a place with drug addicts and alcoholics which was unpleasant. During that time, my mother passed away and I received some inheritance. Mum’s death was incredibly painful for me, but the inheritance enabled me to get out of that environment and keep my promise to her to walk across Spain on The Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.

Taking her ashes with me, I started the 500 miles route on 1 October 2018 and finished the day before New Year’s Eve. I started on the French side of the Pyrenees, went over the Pyrenees, and walked right the way across Spain to Santiago de Compostela. That was walking every day, and I was fortunate to have some money so if I liked somewhere I could stay for a few days. I met people from all over the world, but it was important to me that I did it on my own.

The pilgrimage was always something my Mum wanted to do, but she never got around to it. I wasn’t very fit, and I had just come out of hospital quite unwell. As the walk continued, I just got fitter and fitter. It was the toughest thing I’ve ever done but also my biggest achievement.

I came back to England in February 2019 and although I had some remaining money left, I couldn’t get a job. Previously, I was a HGV lorry driver, but I couldn’t get a job because I didn’t have an address, and I couldn’t get an address because I didn’t have a job. When my money ran out, I had literally no where to go. That’s what made me homeless. I lived in a park for four months under a bush, hidden away, without a tent.

A typical day homeless for me was walking along the beach or in the park. I was fortunate to be rough sleeping during the summer months and knew where all the water taps were. I always tried to stay in the shade, but I did get badly burnt one day with blistered lips. It wasn’t pretty.

The only people I had contact with were the dog walkers and kite surfers, who were lovely and used to come over for a chat. The only items I had were the clothes I was wearing and a spare t-shirt and joggers in my rucksack. I survived by taking food from bins and items that were left on the beach. I didn’t have any handouts, didn’t beg, and I wasn’t on benefits. I had nothing. 

I was eventually found by a man named Karl from Outreach in Worthing. He had been looking for me for weeks and found my hiding hole, tucked under some bushes. Karl knew I was there because I used to get newspapers every now and again from people’s recycling bins to lie on, and he would check the dates.

A few days before I met Karl, some people were camping in the park one weekend illegally. It was raining on the Monday morning, and they left all their camping gear so I took a 2-man tent. I was in the tent for three days before Karl found me. I had planned to take my life and had pills ready. Karl was absolutely amazing and he, and Emmaus, saved my life.

Karl recommended Emmaus, and I joined the community in Brighton & Hove in August 2019. It was difficult at first. Brighton has the biggest Emmaus community in the UK, and I had just spent four months without contact with people. But I have a work ethic, so I got on with it. I had my own room, a bed, sink and a TV.

I made sure to involve myself with everything that was happening in the community from solidarity work and soup runs, to visiting other Emmaus communities to see how they do things. I even went to France for the Salon, where Emmaus groups from all over Europe join together for one weekend and sell items.

I grew a lot at Emmaus Brighton & Hove and learnt a lot through doing my NVQs in retail, warehousing, and yard work there, but I needed to move on. Emmaus Bristol was a fresh start and a new challenge for me. It’s a smaller community than the Brighton one, but so friendly. The people really make it. There are some great characters and people here and I am thoroughly enjoying myself. It’s a busy community right in the heart of Bristol with exciting and rewarding work. The support team at Emmaus Bristol is unbelievably incredible too and for me, that’s the highlight.

At Emmaus Bristol, I work on the vans doing collections, deliveries, and house clearances before coming back and unloading all the items and mucking in with the other companions in the yard. I enjoy dealing with the customers and it’s nice getting to know them. We always want repeat customers and bookings, so customer care is important to us.

Some people don’t know what Emmaus Bristol does beyond our shops, and once I explain that it’s a living and working community, people are fascinated and keen to know more – and always happy to make the donation. Being a companion that is face-to-face with customers, I get to tell them how grateful I am and that’s a great thing for me.

Emmaus gives people respite, a reason and a purpose. I’m feel like I’m receiving one hundred percent of the support I need from Emmaus and I’m a different person now. It’s just amazing really. I’ll be forever and fiercely loyal to Emmaus.