The Power of Empathy & How You Can Help

Amongst the chaos of papers and magazines on my desk are three framed photos of my son. I bought the frames at the Emmaus shop on Dales Road, just up the road from the Mansion House Publishing office, but my knowledge of Emmaus was limited to say the least.

When I heard how Emmaus Suffolk has been helping to alleviate Covid-19 loneliness with mental health/boredom packs, I decided to look a little deeper and I would like to share what I have learned. Creating positive outcomes through the creation of a sense of community and belonging is what drives Emmaus, so I know you too will share their ambition and want to support their efforts.

Emmaus Suffolk is an independent local charity offering a new and different way of increasing the chances for the homeless and long term unemployed in Suffolk. In the words of Chief Executive Claire Staddon,

“At Emmaus we help generate self-esteem by giving people the chance to make a difference for themselves through meaningful activity that will benefit both themselves and others.”

Emmaus does this by providing work opportunities and experience to those who have been unemployed for a long time and those that are homeless or at risk of being so, and by offering volunteering roles within the (not-for-profit) business.

There are three Emmaus shops in Suffolk, on Dales Road and in Sailmakers Shopping Centre in Ipswich, and in Great Eastern Square in Felixstowe. The shops are run by volunteers and offer an extensive range including donated good quality clothing and household goods along with ethically sourced and recycled products. The charity is passionate about helping vulnerable people and reducing waste by upcycling whilst offering low income families more choice of affordable goods whilst encouraging domestic recycling in the local community.

Emmaus volunteers up-cycle donated furniture at their workshop in Sailmakers, using recycled chalk paint.  Volunteers are central at all levels of the business, including donation collection, sorting, repair, up-cycling to customer service and retail experience. Through providing occupation, people gain experience, training and transferable skills and self-respect and personal empowerment.

Since opening in 2016, the charity has supported over 300 people in work ready volunteering roles, whilst giving back to the community they live in. Each volunteer has their own development plan, enabling Emmaus to identify progression and future skills support required.

The challenges and risks faced by those who Emmaus works, many of whom have very few resources, were significantly exacerbated by the impact of the pandemic.

“The lockdown was extremely difficult for the people we work with, many of whom have mental health issues,” says Claire.

“The structure and routine we had provided was so abruptly stripped away, and with it, all social contact with the colleagues and staff they had come to trust. That’s why, in addition to regular phone call from our team of volunteers, we came up with the idea of mental health packs, made up of supplies such as CDs, DVDs, books, puzzles and clothing, to help alleviate some of the issues around boredom and loneliness, and to encourage them to stay at home when needed to protect themselves and others.”

With support from the Covid-19 fund managed by Suffolk Foundation, Emmaus Suffolk expand this offer to support people that have been in vulnerable situations throughout the pandemic and are highly susceptible to anxiety, mental health issues and further social isolation. This includes people previously sleeping rough who have been housed in temporary accommodation as a response to Covid-19, people in hostel accommodation and those that are shielding with pre-existing conditions that make them highly vulnerable to Covid-19.

Current partners and referrers include: Ipswich Borough Council (Housing First, rough sleepers project and young people’s housing), Felixstowe Town Council, IHAG Chapman Centre, Cavendish Lodge (emergency bed hostel), Notting Hill Geneses Housing, Housing First project run by IHAG, ACT outreach service, Withipoll Lodge (female only homeless shelter), Genesis Housing Felixstowe, Talitha Koum (female only shelter), Home Start, Stowmarket Food bank, Turning Point, Suffolk Refugee Support, GYROS and Flagship Housing Group residents. All partner organisations have seen a significant increase in engagement on receipt of a mental health/boredom pack.

A further grant of £31,000 from The National Lottery Community Fund has enabled Emmaus to provide these packs until Dec 2020 to even more people.  They would like to hear from any local/grass roots organisations working with vulnerable or socially excluded people or from individuals who would appreciate a pack for themselves.

Simply get in touch by emailing [email protected].

Packs can be collected by prior arrangement from Emmaus Suffolk sites in Ipswich or Felixstowe, or, with our support, from identified sites across the county.

To assist Emmaus in its effort to reach as many people as possible, Mansion House Publishing is helping to deliver packs to local sites where they can be picked up by prior arrangement.

Every month, we deliver magazines to towns and villages across Suffolk and our Boswell Office Supplies delivery van is on the road every day. When Claire mentioned the difficulty of getting packs out to people, we considered how we could help and we’re now working with Emmaus to find local, easily accessible drop-off sites, such as shops and libraries, where we will drop off packs at least once a month. We’re also planning to donate stationary products which will be especially popular with children.”

If you would like to donate items for packs or can assists will deliveries in areas we can’t cover, please contact Emmaus at [email protected].

If you’re in any doubt about the impact the project is having, here is a small sample of the feedback received by Claire.

I have been having contact with a young man at Christchurch House who is really struggling with his mental health and finds it extremely difficult with the lockdown, he probably has ADHD among other issues. A boredom pack made a big difference.” Johnathan Dixon, Rough Sleeper Project NSFT

“Really good idea, people have been grabbing them and they are making a huge difference to peoples mental health” Rob Wragg – Assertive Outreach Worker

“Thank you so much. I’ve already lit the candle and started the puzzle. I surprised myself with the puzzle and its really helped with my anxiety.” Donna

“Thank you so much for my boredom pack. I can’t express how grateful I am and thank you for your kind service in these circumstances.” Julie

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