Emmaus in Cambridge offers reasonably-priced household items
Founded in Paris in 1949 by Father Henri-Antoine Grouès – better known as Abbé Pierre, an MP, Catholic priest and former member of the French Resistance – Emmaus sought to find homes for people on the streets in the French capital in the aftermath of the Second World War.
The first Emmaus centre in the UK opened in Cambridge in 1992 and there are now 28 communities spread out across the country – as well as four Emmaus groups currently working on opening new communities, such is the growing demand.
The charity currently supports more than 750 formerly homeless people, known as ‘companions’ (38 live on site at the Cambridge branch), by providing them with a home for as long as they need it and by offering them meaningful work within the organisation.
Diane Docherty, originally from Manchester, is the community director of the Cambridge branch. The dedicated community-minded leader, who is very experienced in working with the homeless, presides over the running of the charity in Cambridge and also deals with the mountains of furniture, pictures, clothing, washing machines, ornaments and more that are brought to their Landbeach headquarters on a daily basis.
Mrs Docherty explained that the charity depends almost entirely on material donations, which are then sold on at a reasonable price, and that two vans full of objects that people no longer need or want go out and come back to their sprawling premises every day loaded with objects.
The amount of housing-related stock they have out on the ‘shop floor’ is staggering, from sofas to dishwashers, from tables to wardrobes, from framed paintings to an astonishing display of all sorts of weird and wonderful objet d‘art. There really is something for everyone in this Aladdin’s Cave – the ideal place to visit for anyone who has just bought their new home and may be a little short of cash. Also, any customer who can prove they’re on benefits gets 25 per cent off anything they buy.
“It’s a thriving business,” said Mrs Docherty, “but every penny we make is ploughed back into supporting us as a community and, in solidarity, supporting other people. We give at least 10 per cent and sometimes more of our money away to other charities. We support the Romanian community, we support other Emmaus communities and a good number of local charities as well.”
Mrs Docherty continued: “We pretty much sell everything – I never cease to be amazed at what people donate to us.
“Anything from sofas, bedroom furniture, beds, tables, chairs, all of that sort of stuff.
“Probably 50 per cent of our sales are around furniture, things like dressing tables, side tables, pianos – we get lots of pianos.
“But the other 50 per cent is kitchen equipment and bric-a-brac and vases and glasses and pans and knives – everything you can possibly imagine.
“We had the most amazing chest of drawers come into the shop,” recalled Mrs Docherty, “and we often do what everybody does these days and Google what things are worth. We put it out in the shop for £700 and we sold it for £700, so that’s a piece of furniture that somebody has donated to us.
“We quite often work with antique dealers and friends who come and shop here and tell us what sort of price we should be putting on things.
“Shabby chic is very popular at the moment and we upcycle some of our stuff – people quite like to buy old things. The range of customers is massive and, personally, I’ve furnished my entire house from Emmaus because we get some beautiful items.”
Emmaus also delivers the furniture to the buyer’s home, and Mrs Docherty is very clear on the charity’s philosophy when it comes to selling: “It has to be affordable. Emmaus’s ethos is about the alleviation of poverty; we don’t sell things for an astronomical price, we sell things for a fair price.”
If funds are tight and you’re looking to furnish a recently acquired home from scratch – and would like to help out a worthy cause – maybe Emmaus should be your first port of call.