Wednesday 5 February 2014

The value of community


By Arvinda Gohil, Chief Executive of Emmaus UK

What makes a community?

This is one of those conversation topics that always ignites a debate. Everyone has a view, a story to tell and an experience to share.

For the older generation, community is a distant memory of knowing your neighbours, falling in love with the boy next door and street parties on special occasions. For the younger generation it's online networks and cyber contacts

For us at Emmaus, feeling part of a community is essential to who we are and what we do. Our communities provide a home, meaningful work and opportunities to people who have experienced homelessness and social exclusion. It's a place where you can find shelter, support, solidarity and friendship, but also somewhere where you are enabled to play a part; to make a contribution. We all have  a contribution to make, from cleaning the shared areas, cooking the evening meal and making sure the shop is running well, to collecting and delivering furniture, being at a particular meeting with trustees, or raising funds for the next project or group.

We know how well our Emmaus communities work.  For many people who have experienced homelessness, it is the feeling of being excluded from society that is most difficult to overcome, often acting as a barrier to ending their battle with homelessness. Emmaus offers something to overcome that, it's a place to belong; the chance to not only be part of something, but to play an integral role in its success. We know that involvement at all levels is key to the success of any community. No-one really becomes part of a community by just sitting idly by; they do this by getting involved, by taking part. 

At Emmaus we know the impact this involvement and participation can have on people's lives. We see the benefits every day. Often when people arrive at our communities they are at their lowest ebb. They've lost their confidence, self -esteem and, in many cases, their place in society. It doesn't take long to see a change. Within weeks that same person will often regain their confidence; they get their spark back.

So what's changed? Well, it's simple, they've become part of something, they're receiving support but more importantly, they're making a contribution by working in our social enterprises and supporting one another.  Our research shows that for 82% of Emmaus companions, the opportunity to work is the most important part of their Emmaus experience. Playing a part, having a role in society, and being valued as an individual are essential to all of us.

Community, whatever its form, is vitally important to all of us. However this community manifests itself - online, in a small village, or in an Emmaus community - feeling part of something and making a contribution to something makes a real difference to our lives, as well as the lives of those around us. 

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