The first Emmaus community was founded in Paris, shortly after WW2 when a man called Georges came to Father Henri-Antoine Grouès for help. Georges had just been released from a 21 year prison sentence and his family were unable to cope with the change. Inspired by George’s story and hardship Father Grouès asked Georges to help him build a sanctuary for homeless people like himself, first in the priest’s garden and then on land scrounged and bought.
Georges became the first Emmaus companion. He later said that ‘what I was missing, and what he offered, was something to live for’ and to this day it is a sense of purpose, beyond just sanctuary, that Emmaus offers to its companions.
Today Emmaus is an international solidarity movement made up of thousands of men and women whose work is motivated by the philosophy ‘Serve first those who suffer most’ and ‘fight against the causes of poverty’.
Set against the backdrop of beautiful and peaceful gardens, Emmaus Brighton is made up of a series of charity shops and a cafe, entirely run by Emmaus companions in an old convent. We visited on the eve of it’s 25th anniversary and it was a hive of activity with a warm and inviting atmosphere.
The bustling cafe offers food throughout the day, a vast emporium offers vintage collectables, the second-hand superstore is packed with bric-a-brak and preloved furniture and the greenhouse offers everything garden related including honey produced by the garden’s bees. The Old chapel has even been creatively decked out into a vintage clothing store by local charity Making It Out who work with people coming from the prison system in need of structured occupational support.
Unlike regular hostels, Emmaus companions work a regular 40-hour week. After three months a companion will get a long weekend off work and receive a week’s holiday after six months. Once a companion has been with the community for over six months they will receive a twenty day holiday alongside regular Public holidays.
Some companions choose to make Emmaus home for a few days and some stay for years. There is no limit and that’s what makes the model so different from other ‘homeless’ accommodation. Besides the training given in the shops and cafe, education and relevant training opportunities are also provided.
It is important that companions stay up to date and build skills to ensure the best chances of finding long-term ways to overcome homelessness and to manage their own lives by accessing health services and welfare benefits online, managing money and finding work. The computers provide focused, distraction-free tools for companions to achieve this.
Pictured is Emmaus’ companion Steve who was making use of one of the laptops funded through an Enjoolata Community grant.