Using a residential Work Based Social enterprise model to address Challenges of Poverty: The emmaus model with Particular reference to the UK

AutorCarmen Parra Rodríguez

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1 Introduction

This chapter1 sets out the form of social2 instrument represented by the Emmaus approach to issues of poverty. Emmaus is variously described as a social movement and as a social enterprise. The origin in France has subsequently led to Emmaus spreading worldwide but this chapter, after describing the nature and origin of the movement in France, moves on to explore the development in the UK. The means by which communities operate is discussed and the multi-facetted nature of the instrument encompassing accommodation, work, community and solidarity is assessed.

The nature of Emmaus with its focus upon recycling donated goods means that as an instrument it reaches beyond poverty but also

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into the environmental agenda. The limited reliance on public funding together with (in the UK) the assessed financial impact of an Emmaus community means that it is an attractive social instrument for government.

However the fact that Emmaus is a ‘movement’ and not a centralised or managed entity brings with it some key analysis of the nature of the governance of this form of social enterprise and social instrument. The missionary governance which it is argued is applicable to Emmaus means that development has to take place in a complex stakeholder setting. It cannot be determined by government or by managers or indeed by any single entity. It requires that development has to take place in keeping with the ethos of Emmaus which can mean progress is slow and subject to much debate and discussion.

2 Emmaus : The Foundation of a Movement

Emmaus (Emmaús in French) originated in 1949. The name is a reference to a village in Palestine appearing in the Gospel of Luke, where two disciples extended hospitality to Jesus just after his resurrection without recognizing him. However despite this religious reference to its creation and the founder being a priest Emmaus maintains that it is a secular organization. It is a social enterprise and also a social movement.

Like many of such organisations (for example The Salvation Army) Emmaus began through a charismatic founder, Henri Marie Joseph Grouès. An ordained priest, he became French resistance hero of World War 2 where he acquired the name L’Abbé Pierre by which he was subsequently known., Significantly for his later political impact, he personally carried the disabled brother of General De Gaulle across the Alps to safety.

In the aftermath of war he lived in the outskirts of Paris and was elected as a member of the National Assembly. He took on an empty house and welcomed destitute people into this house maintaining them on his politicians salary. There is an element of myth and truth in what happened to create the Emmaus concept. The account (based on a real individual) is that the first ‘companion’, Georges, came to the house and said he planned suicide. L’Abbé Pierre, unsure how to respond, said that he has nothing to offer Georges but suggested that Georges came and helped rather than taking his own life. This accurate account gave rise to a key tenet of Emmaus - no matter how much in need a person was the principle was to help those more in need. This concept of helping others

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stands in contrast to the conventional image of charitable works. The real beneficiaries of Emmaus are seen as those less fortunate than the direct beneficiaries (namely the companions).

The concept of Emmaus thus evolved as a living community which sought to sustain itself. Initially the funding came from L’Abbé Pierre himself but this quickly became insufficient so collecting and recycling goods became the means of raising funding. This initially was through collecting old clothes earning them the name ‘the ragpickers’. L’Abbé Pierre liaised carefully with the relevant trade unions involved in rubbish collection to ensure that this would not create any conflict.

3 The Emmaus Concept as Extended to Housing and Work

The original community near Paris evolved and the key concepts of Emmaus were established namely:

• Work – all should work to the best of their ability

• A home and supportive setting – the strapline in UK has become ‘ a bed and a reason to get out of it’

• A family setting with meals taken communally

• Solidarity with a commitment to ‘help those more in need.’

4 Emmaus as a Movement

In France the concept of Emmaus as a social movement and campaigning entity was probably set in 1954 during a harsh winter. L’Abbé Pierre went onto Radio Luxemburg with a broadcast appeal. In France the appeal became known as ‘the insurrection of kindness’ and the appeal raised 500 Million Francs. It made L’Abbé Pierre a household name familiar to all French people and was a shaping event in the evolution of both the movement and the man. He was a controversial figure who engaged in both direct action (such as chaining himself to railings) and failed in his priestly vow of chastity (a fact he acknowledged). He also made occasional inappropriate public statements and had some possibly unwise associations.

On his death in 2007 there was national mourning in France akin to that associated with the death of Winston Churchill in the UK. The

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then President of France, Chirac announced a day of national homage and noted «France has lost an immense figure, a conscience, an incarnation of kindness. In all of France, everyone’s hearts have been touched.»

5 Emmaus as a World Movement

From its beginnings in France Emmaus has now expanded to now encompass some 36 countries and over 300 communities (see Figure 1). The evolution of Emmaus has involved some variation in the concept. In some countries of Northern Europe (such as Sweden) where street homelessness is not an issue and where the welfare state adequately has addressed issues of poverty the form taken by Emmaus has been to focus on recycling and fund raising for solidarity. In the UK the form taken by Emmaus has been more focused on the aspects of a social business and the ‘campaigning and movement’ aspects have not been as pronounced as they have been in France. The sometimes controversial and outspoken approach of Abbe Pierre in France has not been replicated in the UK context. (Glemain et al 2011)

Figure 1. The Emmaus International Movement


6 Variations in the Model

In France, the mother lode of the movement, Emmaus has generally developed in accordance with the views of the founder. A large number of communities have been created and many of these are long standing. The strong social conscience of the founder is still very much part of the ethos and this

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is shown by the strong stand taken both nationally and locally in respect of support for asylum seekers or ‘sans papiers’3. However local accounts in French media suggest that communities may be moderating their stance and gradually accepting aspects of the quite severe law against assisting ‘sans papiers’.

One particular evolution has been the development of contracting with the state in the Paris area where Emmaus has taken on large publicly funded delivery of services to homeless individuals and families. It should be noted that these services are not provided in the form of Emmaus communities where those receiving the services have become ‘companions’ who work for the good of others. Rather they are in the form of traditional style homelessness accommodation generally staffed by salaried employees with no work component.

7 Emmaus in the UK : A Residential Work Model with a Social Business Focus

In the UK Emmaus was initially founded in 1992 as a Community in Cambridge by a businessman, Selwyn Image. He had experienced Emmaus in France and commented on the influence of Abbé Pierre as follows:

«I was an ordinary businessman excited by the power of the social enterprise he had almost inadvertently created and was convinced it could address some of the same problems in the UK as in France. I wrote a business plan and appealed to the good sense of enablers in the UK.»4Selwyn Image spoke of the process of creation of Emmaus in the UK as involving effort and activity on both sides of the Channel. Selwyn Image had been advanced some initial funding through Abbé Pierre.5:

«He (Abbé Pierre) preached. We planned. In both countries people responded with heart and head. Inevitably there are tensions when both ends of the

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spectrum meet and work together. The trick is to keep the tension creative and good humoured. I’ve learnt that even saints can be crabby when crossed»6In the years after Cambridge was established, work started to set up a Community in Coventry, and projects in London, Dover and Manchester followed closely behind. Emmaus Communities continue to be established in the UK, all based on the Abbé Pierre’s founding principles of acceptance, sharing, working for others in greater need, and self-respect.» In 1997 the Emmaus UK Federation was formed.

Emmaus in the UK has now grown to some 20 communities with further communities in the pipeline. (See Figure 2) Teasdale (2010) locates it within the models of social enterprise in the UK homeless field. He suggest the following models (Figure 3)

Figure 2. Emmaus in the UK


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