John's story

14052019 Herts CEO John Chesters web

"I have always been interested in doing something that isn’t just for the bottom line, which is why I’ve spent most of my career in various third sector organisations before taking on the role as Chief Executive at Emmaus Hertfordshire in December 2018.

My experience is in grounds maintenance, horticulture, waste management, and a range of social enterprises. One of my recent roles was in an organisation where we were helping ex-offenders find their way back into long term jobs, and the companions living at Emmaus face a lot of the same sort of issues, which is one of the reasons I applied for the role here.

I didn’t know much about Emmaus before applying for the job, but straight away liked how the model worked in not just giving a hand-out but giving someone the opportunity to do something for themselves. If you give someone the chance to better themselves, that’s going to last far longer than if you were drop something in somebody’s pot.

What I’ve enjoyed most so far is the culture of Emmaus – everyone is very open minded and keen to develop. I’m enjoying getting to know the companions living at the community which I think is very important. My door is always open (all too often, too open!); companions are in and out all the time and I make sure that I regularly go and see what they’re up to. I have also spent time visiting other Emmaus communities to see how they work and this has helped in getting to know my staff team and where their strengths lie and how we can combine our skills to make the community that much better.

Emmaus Hertfordshire was left in a very good position by the previous Chief Executive and I want to continue building that. I’ve have spent my first few months working on our business plan looking at what the possible opportunities are for us in the face of changes to housing benefit, which accounts for a sizable chunk of our income and allows us to help as many people as possible. There are also significant challenges to high street retail and our shops are finding it as hard as everyone else. When I first met with board and the staff team, everyone seemed to be thinking the same way I was – there’s more we can do, and there’s more we should do – which makes a huge difference as we begin to expand.

In the next 12 months I would like to see that we’ve got everything set ready to build. Short term, we are looking to increase the number of rooms at Hill End and we will be turning three rooms back into accommodation. Long term, we want to double the number of rooms we can offer across Herts. Our St Albans community of 39 people rebuilding their lives and our second-hand shop all on one site works so well and it would be fantastic if we could re-create what we do in St Albans somewhere else. This would mean we can expand and offer even more people a home and a reason to get out of bed each day.

We are also looking more in depth at companion move-on and training and hope to offer even more opportunities for the people living with us to learn new skills, gain professional qualifications and move back into employment. My background is in getting people back to work – a lot of the companions I meet here day after day are work ready, but some don’t believe they can do it. Providing the move-on support so they feel ready is a priority for us. To help with this, we have started to grow our local network too, and the response has been great. We want to work with local organisations and people who are at risk of homelessness, so we can help even more people and increase the amount of training courses we run here for both residents and non-residential people.

Homelessness is such a big issue and growing and I am looking forward to taking Emmaus Hertfordshire to the next level in the future."