On 7 November, UN High Level Climate Action Champions took a break from COP26 to visit Emmaus Glasgow’s charity shop and community building to find out how its recycling operations are benefitting the formerly homeless people who live and work there.
Chilean delegate Gonzalo Munoz and the UK’s Nigel Topping toured the site, where people with experience of homelessness gain a home, support and the chance to learn green skills, for as long as is needed.
Formerly homeless people at Emmaus learn how to repair and upcycle donations that might otherwise go to landfill, sorting items, testing products and stripping goods for valuable metal – processing thousands of tonnes of donations each year.
Next week, Emmaus residents will build on these skills with additional training from Glasgow community woodworking project Boomerang. Members of the community will learn how to restore old furniture and create new products out of reclaimed timber, such as coffee tables and decorative Christmas trees, which will all go on sale at Emmaus Glasgow charity shops.
Emmaus Glasgow Director Richard Allwood said: “We wanted to show the UN Climate Champions no matter who you are and what your past, with the right training, support and resilience, we can all make a contribution towards COP26’s aim to achieve carbon net zero.
“Emmaus Glasgow is a place where people as well as donations get a second chance. By teaching charity beneficiaries new skills, we’re aiming to help them take their next steps towards a better life.”
The charity’s partnership with Boomerang was funded by a recent Adapt and Thrive cash grant, which is part of the Scottish Government’s third sector response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The grant has also paid for in store improvements and new staff roles at Emmaus Glasgow.
Climate Champion Gonzalo Munoz, who leads a company running recycling banks across South America, said: “People living and working at Emmaus are the champions, they are the heroes, the Emmaus community is doing the job on the ground that is avoiding more climate and environmental damage, and, at the same time, teaching people that products need to be maintained in the system as long as they can.
“With me having been related to the circular economy for more than a decade and working in recycling, what Emmaus does in terms of promoting repair and promoting reuse, that’s the most important environmental role you can play as a citizen. Emmaus is doing an amazing job, and I really hope that everyone in the UK and in the world can follow your lead.”
A portion of Emmaus Glasgow’s stock goes to community organisations and people in need, part of which is distributed at the charity’s ‘soup kitchen’ outreach service that takes place on Cadogan Street in Glasgow city centre every Wednesday from 8:30pm to 10pm.
Gonzalo added: “The range of elements Emmaus is covering is fantastic, and then Emmaus is doing this by positing solidarity in the centre. That is such an important value so it’s not just about what Emmaus does, it’s also about how Emmaus is doing it. We are not consumers; we are users of the element. We are not just robbing, we are a human species, and we need to connect, and Emmaus provides that as well.”
Outside of COP26, Climate Champion Nigel Topping works with companies to take action on climate change. He said: “The self-reliant aspect of what Emmaus is doing, is really powerful. There’s no way we can get to net zero with just big companies, most of the jobs, most of the innovation and most of the hard work is done by small companies like Emmaus. Emmaus is part of the Race to Zero because of the very fact that Emmaus is recycling.
“For me Emmaus’ story is one of hope because Emmaus is working with people who have fallen on difficult times and then Emmaus brings them into a community. I love the fact that people living and working at Emmaus are called companions, which means ‘eat with bread’, so you eat together, you cook together, and you work together. People living at Emmaus have the dignity of meaningful employment and skills that can be applicable and will lead to employment beyond Emmaus. It’s a wonderful model of dignity and training for everybody who comes through Emmaus, to leave with their head held high to get employment and their own accommodation if they want to and be a productive member of society.”
Charity beneficiary Gary, who will carry out Boomerang carpentry training, said: “I’m looking forward to learning woodwork. I’m qualified in sport and have worked in the past as a roofer, but this is the chance for me to learn new skills, so I can work on building sites and move on with my life.”