A HOMELESSNESS charity which allows people to transform their lives, by giving them a roof over their heads and a purpose, is celebrating its 15th anniversary.

Emmaus Hampshire was the 19th community to open in 2009, expanding the work of Catholic priest Abbé Pierre who founded the charity in Paris in 1949.

Residents, known as 'companions' at the community in Bar End Road in Winchester have said they may not even be alive without the support of Emmaus.

Alison Thompson, honorary president of Emmaus Hampshire and former chair of trustees, said: “I can honestly say that our Emmaus Community today comes as close to the vision of 15 years ago as I had dared to hope.”

The Bar End site, which houses up to 37 companions, has a second-hand store, repair shed, café and recycling centre.

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Hampshire Chronicle: Dariusz gets his provisional licenceDariusz gets his provisional licence (Image: Avril Robinson)

Marketing manager Avril Robinson has been involved since the start of Emmaus Hampshire, helping the original team to raise around £3m for Hampshire County Council to give the green light on the project.

She said: “It’s a place to live as well as work. It’s very much the companions’ home. We really come alongside people and help them flourish. For some people it’s a springboard. We can help people move towards independent living.

“A lot of people see us as just a store and that is how we generate most of our income. On the whole we are not going out to the public to ask for money. It’s essential that our community can support us through donating their unwanted items. There really is something for everyone here, we have such a range of things brought in.

Hampshire Chronicle: Phil and the bird box he madePhil and the bird box he made (Image: Avril Robinson)

“Companions build up their expertise over time, developing knowledge of what might be more valuable and able to generate a bit more income.”

The repair shop allows companions to develop carpentry skills, with the charity building up the ‘Made by Emmaus’ brand.

Meanwhile, the recycling centre means donations that are not up to scratch can still be re-purposed. The community saves around 500 tons of items from going to landfill every year.

John S, 56, has been at Emmaus for nearly five years and prides himself on his customer service skills that he’s developed by working on the desk and on the shop floor.

Hampshire Chronicle: John SJohn S (Image: Adele Bouchard)

John lived at Elderfield in Otterbourne before the hostel permanently closed, leaving him homeless. After hearing about Emmaus, John moved in three days later and said he has “never looked back”.

He said: “I’m a people person so I like being on the shop floor. It’s the best job I have ever had.”

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Hampshire Chronicle: Ant and Rhys raise £175 for Royal British LegionAnt and Rhys raise £175 for Royal British Legion (Image: Avril Robinson)

Rhys, 25, was recently voted by his fellow companions to be the Emmaus Hampshire representative, to voice their views and ideas at meetings.

He also won most improved companion at the annual awards ceremony last year. With weekly counselling sessions, provided before by Emmaus, Rhys believes his mental health is in the best place it ever has been.

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Hampshire Chronicle: RhysRhys (Image: Adele Bouchard)

He said: “I look for everything and anything to challenge myself in a new way and to be that voice for people who maybe can't do it themselves, it is important to help those who find it hard.

“I was homeless for two years before I came here. I was completely on the streets and it was hard. I had never heard of this place until one of my friends saw it on Facebook.

“It’s a whole new mountain to climb at Emmaus in terms of adjusting to life here, it’s such a different complex. You are all living, working and doing everything together.

“The support from the staff has been brilliant, I can’t thank them enough. Without their support, I probably wouldn’t be here. To be given all these opportunities is amazing. There is no charity I have found that does what Emmaus does. Any training you want to do, you can.”

After completing his term as companion rep, Rhys hopes to move on from Emmaus and is training for a career in event security.