Cecile's story

Norfolk Director Cecile 0918

"When I first looked at the job description for Director of Emmaus Norfolk & Waveney it was as though the role had been created especially for me. I was so enthused about applying and accepting the job because it is everything that I want to do – support people with complex needs, run a community, and drive and develop a social enterprise. I caught the Emmaus bug immediately, and to be part of an international movement with all of that history and variety is just like magic to me – it’s brilliant.

My career began in catering, where I worked my way up from a pastry chef to head chef, working across France and London for many years. At 26, I was Head of Department for a college in London teaching food studies, but began to focus on food operations when I moved out of the city, and went on to run an organic farm and respite centre for people with complex needs. I moved into the charity sector with an Autism charity as a Development Manager where I transformed a traditional day service centre into a vibrant set of social enterprises including a catering business making and selling cakes, a textiles and soft furnishing business, and a ceramics business which were all run and led by people with Autism and Asperger’s. My most recent role before Emmaus was as the interim Director of Fundraising and Development to set up the Mobo Trust - which is the charitable arm of the Mobo organisation who, amongst other things, present the Mobo Awards.

A friend of mine told me about the job opening at Emmaus Norfolk & Waveney as I was looking to work closer to home and I was becoming tired of the commute to London. I didn’t know about the Emmaus model before applying, and I had assumed it was just a shop selling second-hand furniture. I read everything I could while preparing for the interview and realised that I really wanted to work for Emmaus. Had I not got this job I would have sought to work in another Emmaus – it had that big an effect on me.

My Dad’s family are from Algeria and, although I have no personal experience of homelessness, my dad grew up in Algeria during the time when the country tried to take their independence back from France. My family had to flee and leave all of their businesses and farms. They went to France on a banana boat and had no home. By chance, they arrived in St Tropez where my granddad found a job, they built a home, and their fortunes really changed. They arrived with absolutely nothing apart from what they could carry and faced a lot of stigma. I thought of this when reading about a companion in the Brighton community who said that homelessness isn’t just an issue with housing, but also about how you feel inside. For a long time, I think there was a sense of homelessness for my family because their home was in Algeria. The same can likely be said for other people who have experienced homelessness and the uncertainty that goes with it, and to be working in a place that helps people to eventually move on from that means a lot to me.

The best part of working at Emmaus is the people. I’ve really bonded with the companions at Emmaus Norfolk & Waveney, I feel confident working with them and they’ve embraced me completely. I can be quite driven but everyone has been really great and so responsive. I can see that they are people who have had a really difficult time, and who are still going through a difficult time, and I’m honoured to be in the position to help them. I have started baking with the companions weekly, and within six months I hope that they will be making all of the cakes for our café independently. The staff team have been really welcoming too, and the Board of Trustees have just been brilliant. They are so dynamic and travel all across Norfolk to come to meetings and stay in constant communication – I have never known a board like it.

Coming up, I have big plans for Emmaus Norfolk & Waveney. My experience has taught me a lot about managing big sites and growing businesses, which is something I am looking to do here. Our site in Ditchingham is in a rural area, and to drive our retail we need to increase footfall. Yes, we are in a remote area, so that could mean less people come through the door, but on the other hand, there is less for the wider community to do in the area. The plan is to develop our site as a destination venue and we are focusing on our stock, expanding our catering enterprise, and looking to partner with local artists in the area to improve the customer offer.

I am excited about taking Emmaus Norfolk & Waveney to the next level with the help of companions, staff, and the board, and I would like to invite anyone in the local area to come and see us, learn about the Emmaus model, explore our beautiful site and watch this space."