Selwyn Image awarded the Legion d’Honneur
The man who brought Emmaus to the UK has been awarded France’s highest distinction, the Legion d’Honneur.
Selwyn Image was presented with the Chevalier de l’Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur at a ceremony at the French Ambassador’s London Residence on Thursday 12 January 2017. The award recognises his commitment as the founder of Emmaus UK, his efforts to extend Emmaus across the UK and his deep rooted ties with France.
Presenting the award to Selwyn, the French Ambassador, Her Excellency Sylvie Bermann, said: “Emmaus UK is the second-largest Emmaus organization, so it is clear that through your initiative, energy and effort you have embedded Abbé Pierre’s legacy on this side of the Channel. Your work is part of what unites rather than divides France and the UK, promoting principles France holds dear to the wider community of nations.
“It is therefore only natural that you should be a candidate for the Légion d’Honneur, which was established by Napoleon to honour those who make the most valuable contributions to the development and maintenance of a humane and civilized society.
Selwyn was joined at the ceremony by friends and family, many of whom he thanked for also playing an important role in developing Emmaus in the UK. He was also joined by a special guest, Eloise Blundell, a five year old who wrote a letter to her MP to express her own concerns about homelessness and to ask what she could do to help. Selwyn found out about the letter and invited Eloise and her mother to join him at the award ceremony.
Selwyn said: “It is an absolute honour to receive the Legion d’honneur. When I first looked to open an Emmaus community in Cambridge, I had no idea that it would lead to 28 communities across the UK. But I remain convinced that Emmaus offers something that is very much needed in this country.
“Once again, as was the case when I started to work to bring Emmaus to the UK in 1989, homelessness is on the rise, and there has been a noticeable increase in the number of people living on the streets. This shows that there is still so much work to be done to tackle homelessness in this country.”
It was an encounter while volunteering in a soup kitchen that led Selwyn Image to set up the first Emmaus community in the UK. He got into a conversation with a homeless man about what might help him to overcome homelessness, but the man shot down every idea Selwyn offered to help.
Increasingly frustrated, Selwyn asked: “Well, what do you want?” The man responded: “I would have thought that would have been obvious to an intelligent man like you. I want somewhere where I can work, where I feel I belong, and where I can recover my self-respect.” Then, in a sentence that would change Selwyn’s life forever, the man said: “And what are you going to do about it?”
Selwyn remembered the work experience he had done at Emmaus 30 years previously, and it seemed to provide just what this man was asking for. Not knowing if Emmaus even still existed, Selwyn contacted the French founder, Abbé Pierre, told him he would like to open an Emmaus community in Cambridge, and Emmaus in the UK was born.
The first Emmaus community opened in Cambridge in 1991. Since then it has grown from one community to 28, spread across the UK. These communities provide a home and meaningful work for more than 760 formerly homeless people.