I’ve worked at Emmaus Oxford for 11 years in the retail team and my favourite thing about the role has got to be the companions we support. I get up and come to work for them.
Before Emmaus Oxford, I was a Senior Retail Manager working for companies such as River Island, Matalan, and Monsoon. I was second-in-command to the area manager and my role involved spot and audit checks and training the management teams.
I was just going back to work after having my baby when I was made redundant, so I started looking in the charity sector. I wanted a work-life balance to watch my daughter grow up. I was working 70 hours a week before she was born and knew I didn’t want to go back to that.
A part-time Deputy Retail Manager role at Emmaus popped up, but I’d missed the deadline by one day. I contacted the current chief executive and within ten minutes of sending my CV I was offered an interview and then the job. I said to myself that I’d give it a year working in the charity sector to see how it goes… 11 years later and I’m still here at Emmaus.
I started as Deputy Retail Manager part-time in our old Northway branch before going full-time, and then took over as Retail Manager seven years ago. I’ve seen a lot of changes throughout this time, and the Barns Road store was the biggest. When I first started, I was told that we were fundraising for a new shop and that it was going to be purpose built. Watching it go from the blueprint plans to the first bricks being laid was great and I had input into how the shop was designed and organised too.
Before starting at Emmaus, I didn’t really know anything about homelessness. I lived in my own little bubble and didn’t think about the stories behind why people might be on the street. Each story is different and it’s amazing to meet people from all different walks of life and hear about their journeys.
In the 11 years that I’ve been here, I’ve seen some really motivating journeys. Working in the store gives our companions structure and that get-up-and-go in the morning, and then we’ve got all the support behind that structure as well. Seeing the change in companions when they come in, with not a penny to their name and nervous talking to customers after years on the street to then having a roof over their head and structure to their life is great. For me, it’s so rewarding seeing companions taking hold of their lives and achieving things for themselves.
The role does require a different management style than my previous jobs though. In retail, you usually do your team talk in the morning, give everyone a job, and that’s that. Jobs are done, extra tasks are completed, and no one asks what they need to be doing. At Emmaus, it doesn’t work that way. Sometimes I use 14 different management styles in one day because each companion has different capabilities. You constantly think, what is this person capable of doing today? Are they struggling mentally right now? Physically? You need to approach each day and each companion totally different. It did take me a while to pick up, but now it just comes naturally.
I’m looking forward to the next phase of where Emmaus Oxford is going. On the retail side, we’re really building up our online platforms. We’ve got Paulina on our team who is super amazing and really taking that forward for us. It will be exciting to see where that goes over the next year and develop it even further.
There’s lots of big changes happening in the community too; a new move-on house and more plans to support companions with training and progression. Seeing companions go into employment makes me really feel proud, so I’d like to see that happen more. Preparing companions for the outside world is part of my job, so seeing them get jobs means I’ve achieved what I set out to do.