Real Lives: From homelessness to the board in two years
Richard Williams joined the Emmaus community in Gloucestershire to get off the streets, less than two years later he's helping to run the charity
I first joined Emmaus as a companion in June 2015. Companions live together in a community and get a room, food, clothing and a small allowance in exchange for working for the organisation's social enteprises. I'd been introduced to the charity a few years before, when I went to a talk hosted by a companion from another Emmaus community. He spoke about how he lived and worked within an Emmaus community, which sounded really interesting, and to be honest I was hooked. From then on I kept an eye on the charity and when I found out about the chance to join Emmaus Gloucestershire in 2015, I knew it was something I had to do.
When I was sleeping rough in London I'd often wander the streets during the day with a real disconnect from those around me; to the extent that I felt as if I was walking amongst a different species
If you had told me five years ago when I was at my loneliest and most desperate, that I'd be sat here now as a trustee I'd have laughed. If Emmaus had given up on me –as wider society had – then I truly don't know if I would be sat here today. There really is some amazing support staff here at the community that offer critical support to companions when they join. Every person is different, and each person needs the time and support to overcome their own challenges; Emmaus recognises that.
I really love being part of a community again. When I was sleeping rough in London I'd often wander the streets during the day with a real disconnect from those around me; to the extent that I felt as if I was walking amongst a different species. Now you'll find me bouncing around the community interacting with everyone, because I've got a purpose again.
Emmaus has helped me turn my life around, which I am truly grateful for. Now I'm in a much better position and I want to help others that find themselves in my shoes. I want to dispel the myth that one boot fits all when it comes to explaining the different causes of homelessness. That’s what drove me towards applying to become a trustee, I want to use my own experiences to make a difference on an even greater scale.
Being a trustee gives me a greater opportunity to help make a difference to those in need of our support. Before becoming a trustee I'd worked on a number of committees within the charity, as I was keen to be involved in shaping its future. I'm hoping to act as a voice for those that have or are currently homeless.
I'm the first companion to become a trustee at the community; as a result I'm going to be balancing both perspectives. Whilst representing the views of companions, I'll have to be a lot more objective. Given that this is a completely new experience I'll be learning the ropes somewhat in the first few months, which will be challenging, but equally exciting.
Living as a companion in the community, I appreciate first-hand how hard charities are working on a daily basis to make a difference to those they support. As a result, it's great knowing that trustees are there to support us, and help us grow. Their support is invaluable.
My main tip for people considering becoming a trustee is to just go for it, if you believe in it. Boards of trustees should be diverse. For me becoming a trustee isn't just about the work experiences you've had throughout life, the thing that truly matters is that your heart is in it. I've thoroughly enjoyed being involved with Emmaus as a companion, and now as a trustee, and whilst I've never done something like this before, I truly believe it works.