Cheers Thatcher! Tameside homeless charity ‘ironically’ salutes former PM at 20th anniversary reunion

A Tameside homeless charity has ‘ironically’ thanked Margaret Thatcher on its 20th anniversary – for causing the homelessness it works to eradicate.

Emmaus Mossley, a social enterprise that houses homeless people as well as giving them full time voluntary jobs, was set up in April 1996 by Richard Darlington – a man who helped establish the original Emmaus UK in Cambridge.

But President Richard explained to MM that if it wasn’t for Thatcher’s policies introducing deposits and first-month-rent advance payments – the catalyst for which came in a 1987 housing benefits scandal – the problem of homelessness may not be as severe today as it is.

“The scandal in Oxford caused Mrs Thatcher to stop giving help to single homeless people if they had found a flat,” he said.

“So, by winter 1989 you had people who had found somewhere to rent, but if they couldn’t get the deposit and one month’s money in advance then they weren’t allowed to stay there. They found themselves on the street, and that was how it started.

“Ironically, you can thank Mrs Thatcher for the growth of Emmaus in this country.”

And grow it has done.

In an event on April 22 marking two decades since its humble beginnings, Richard welcomed back those who helped get it off the ground and reflected on the impact it has had.

“We have 24 ex-homeless people, and some of them will tell you that their lives have been saved by Emmaus,” Richard told MM.

“They enjoy being here. It is just simply a good idea that allows a group of enthusiastic people to learn how to refurbish things, or collect them in a van.

“It is the idea of self-sufficiency. We have a skeleton staff, but they couldn’t run Emmaus without the 24 companions working their socks off.”

‘Companions’ is the word Emmaus use to refer to their residents – former homeless men and women who are given a place to live and work as they get their lives back on track.

These companions, like the hundreds of others living across 25 UK sites, work to keep the house clean as well as collecting, repairing and selling items donated by the public.

Some may stay for a few months while others make Emmaus their permanent home, helping to set up more sites as Richard did 20 years ago. In total, over 400 people have had the support of Emmaus Mossley.

The concept is the brainchild of the late French Catholic priest Abbé Pierre, and was brought to the UK by former volunteer Selwyn Image.

Along with Richard, who was working for Cambridge City Council’s housing department, Selwyn set up Emmaus UK in 1991. Richard then moved to Oldham three years later, and laid the foundations for the Mossley site.

Although not a religious venture, Emmaus relied upon the generosity of the church in its early years and some representatives were present at last Friday’s reunion.

“I call [the founding members] the Old Originals,” Richard said.

“A lot of problems came from things like pigeon droppings and a leaky roof – it was in pretty poor state, so we worked very hard to restore and convert it.

“It is growing and improving all the time. It really is a joy for me to go down there, and a joy to talk to the companions who are just so relieved that Emmaus is here.

“The awful thing is the need is growing, so Emmaus really is going to have to grow more.”

“There is always stuff being thrown away, so as long as there is a market we have need for a labour force.

“Because of homelessness we have a labour force, but of course that is not the right way round.”

Emmaus also has local sites in Bolton and Salford. For more information on what they do, click here. 

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