12 February 2021

Emmaus, Portslade

Judy Middleton 2002 (revised 2021) 

copyright © G.Osborne
This fine photograph was taken in the 1950s when St Marye’s Convent still occupied Portslade Manor
(With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph from his private collection) 
 
copyright © National Portrait Gallery, London
Father Henri Antoine Groues (1912-2007)
by Howard Coster, print, 1954, NPGx10673
It was Father Henri Antoine Groues, better known as Abbe Pierre, who first came up with the concept of Emmaus, founded as a direct result of his concern because there was no adequate provision for people made suddenly homeless. One very sad case he heard about was that of a woman who froze to death on the street with an eviction notice in her hand. The first Emmaus community was founded in 1949 at Neuilly-Plaisance, near Paris. The movement has spread to around 44 different countries, and by 1998 there were seven Emmaus communities in England including Cambridge, Coventry, Dover, Greenwich, and Manchester.

The name ‘Emmaus’ is taken from the wonderful story told in St Luke’s Gospel (chapter 24 verses 13-35) when Jesus appeared after his resurrection to two men and accompanied them on the road to Emmaus, discussing the events in Jerusalem along the way. They failed to recognise him until he broke bread with them at the inn.

Emmaus comes to Portslade

Cherry Mares and Clive Hewitt shared Abbe Pierre’s vision of helping the homeless after they had visited an Emmaus community in France. They also disliked the profligate way everyday items were discarded, and thought re-cycling might be combined with helping the homeless. They launched their idea at an event at Brighton in June 1995, which was attended by many influential people, including the director of Emmaus UK, and, providently, Sister Margaret O’Shea, mother superior of St Marye’s Convent, Portslade, who suggested the soon-to-close convent would be a suitable site. 
 
copyright © D. Sharp
A section of Barrie Huntbach's 25-ft mural in Emmaus

In November 1996 there came news that Sussex Emmaus was negotiating to purchase the convent for around £500,000. It is heart-warming to record that Sussex churches stumped up the magnificent sum of £20,000 to go towards such a worthwhile cause. Portslade Emmaus opened its doors on 4 February 1997. It was the fourth Emmaus community to be established in England, and it is the largest.

The aim of the Emmaus organisation is to provide homeless people with a community where they can learn useful skills and earn their keep. There are few rules, but people who are accepted are expected to keep clear of drugs, alcohol and violence. The residents are known as companions. Some will stay for six months or so, while others remain for as much as twelve years, becoming something of a backbone to the community. Joel Lewis, business manager, stated that the underlying principle is to ‘serve first those who suffer most’.

In February 1998 Emmaus celebrated its first year at Portslade. In honour of the occasion the popular actress Dora Bryan unveiled a 25-ft mural by Portslade artist Barrie Huntbach. Dominic Dring, community leader, said that 70 people had already passed through Emmaus and ‘have been able to find a new direction and purpose’. The Portslade community was limited to 30 people, and it was hoped that the community would be self-supporting by 2002. The only funding from external sources came from housing benefit.

copyright © Paula Wrightson
Barrie Huntbach's mural in the main hall of Portslade Town Hall

On 14 March 2007 Cherie Blair, wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair, visited Emmaus as part of its 10
th anniversary celebrations. She is a supporter of Emmaus.

By 2019 there were 53 companions at Emmaus, both men and women. Also in 2019 it was stated that Emmaus had supported the soup run for twelve years – this service provides welcome hot soup for those still living out on the streets.

copyright © D. Sharp

The largest enterprise at Emmaus was the furniture re-cycling scheme, and it advertised itself as a second-hand furniture superstore. On 9 September 2006 there was a ‘Rags to Riches Day’ to emphasise the value of re-cycling with the claim that between 50 per cent to 60 per cent of the articles sold at Emmaus would otherwise have gone to land-fill. In 2006 Mathieu Delarue was community team leader.

Terry Waite

Terry Waite is president of Emmaus UK. He became famous, when as a special envoy of the Archbishop of Canterbury, he was taken hostage in Beirut and endured a gruelling time in prison. Terry Waite has visited Portslade Emmaus on two occasions – on 3 November 1998, and on 1 May 1999. On the second occasion he planted a Japanese maple in the grounds in memory of Jed Rule who died at the age of 49 in March 1999. The Japanese maple was Rule’s favourite tree, and the unfortunate man had spent twenty years sleeping rough, including three years in Preston Park. When he came to Emmaus, he enjoyed gardening there, and had met Mr Waite on the previous occasion. Also with Mr Waite was Mr Roddick, co-founder of the Big Issue.

The Statue and the Mary Garden

 copyright © G.Osborne
The statue of the Virgin Mary can clearly be seen in front of St Marye’s Convent
(With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission to reproduce this image from his private collection)

The statue of the Virgin Mary and Child has stood in the grounds for a hundred years. It was therefore dis-heartening to learn in October 2002 that vandals had attacked it and toppled it over, leaving the lovely face badly damaged. Remedial work was expected to be expensive, but happily the statue was restored to its former glory, and looking at it today you would never know it had been treated with such indignity. There is also the fact that parts of the Emmaus 6-acre site is open for the general public to enjoy, which somehow makes an act of vandalism seem worse.

copyright © D. Sharp
This lovely photo captures Our Lady of Lourdes in a ray of sunshine
 
The Mary Garden was planted with flowers associated with the Virgin Mary. There is also a small replica of the Lourdes Grotto complete with the familiar Lourdes statue.

Cafe Revive

copyright © D. Sharp
Cafe Revive and the companion's accommodation above the cafe

There had already been some facilities to serve food and drink to the public but the idea of the new cafe was to provide a more varied menu. Cafe Revive was opened on 6 April 2011, and can now provide breakfast, lunch, and cream teas.

An added bonus for the cafe is that in fine weather you can sit outside on the sunny terrace, and enjoy a spectacular view over the ruins of Norman-built Portslade Manor, a rare historical site, and St Nicolas Church, which has been in continuous use since the 12th century.

copyright © D. Sharp
April 2019 view of the ruins of Portslade's Norman Manor House from the tables of Cafe Revive
 
On the floor of the terrace there is a mosaic featuring a motif of hands, which was funded by Arts Lottery money.

copyright © J.Middleton
St Nicolas Church is seen from the north side with a wall of the
ancient Portslade Manor on the left, and was sketched on 26 June 1993

The Tunnel

Open Days are popular with the local people as well as being a fund-raiser. A popular activity was to venture through the tunnel under Manor Road leading to the garden on the other side. The tunnel has now been closed for safety reasons. The tunnel was lined with large stone flags, with gaps between them to allow for water drainage. The walls were constructed of massive flints and not much mortar. 

copyright © D. Sharp
A view of the access path to the entrance
 of the tunnel from the east side of Manor Road

Trees

At least twelve trees have been cut down on the east side of the gardens, but a magnificent flowering chestnut tree remains. After a storm in June 2008, one of the great branches of an old holm oak tree near the chapel broke off and fell to the ground. The tree surgeon reported that the tree was rotten inside because it had been injured by lightning many years ago causing decay and rot. It was therefore in a dangerous state and ought to be felled. Emmaus informed the council of the situation, and the tree was taken down after a lifespan of around 150 years. But the trunk remained as a resource for wildlife, and it was stated that a new tree would be planted.

Fireworks

A very popular occasion for Portslade people was the celebration of Guy Fawkes night on 5 November when tickets were eagerly sought because numbers were limited due to health and safety concerns. There was always a massive bonfire with an appropriate guy on top of it and it was set up in the grounds east of Manor Road. Then the firework display took place. The ground was usually wet and boggy at that time of year, but it was a great event for the many children lucky enough to attend. Unfortunately, the event can no longer take place. This is because the garages nearby the grounds have been demolished, and housing built there instead. Therefore, it is no longer safe to have a bonfire and fireworks close to new houses.

Nuns’ Cemetery

copyright © D. Sharp
The well maintained Nun's Cemetery within the gardens of the east side of Manor Road
 
This is located as a separate plot within the gardens on the east side of Manor Road. A picket fence has been erected around it.

The Greenhouse

copyright © D. Sharp
The vegetable garden

A vegetable garden was established in the early days, and it is interesting to learn that a fruit cage was constructed out of old iron bed frames. The gardening side developed into the Greenhouse that opened in March 2013 and it is where you can buy all sorts of items relating to gardens from planters of all sizes, tools, and books, to furniture and ornaments.

copyright © D. Sharp
The Greenhouse, where indoor plants are sold and to the left is the furniture store.

Goodwill Co-op

This enterprise was launched on 18 October 2008 and sold a range of hand-made goods such as knitted hats and gloves, peg bags, crochet work, patchwork quilts, and many other items. They were created by a group of ladies using re-cycled materials. The photograph in the Newsletter showed some fourteen ladies including Denise Bennett, a long-time resident of Mile Oak Gardens. She was an excellent needlewoman making her own hats and clothes, and producing beautiful embroidery such as the spectacular piece displayed in a frame at her house of a bluebell wood. She used to visit the Goodwill Co-op every week. She met her Polish husband Bruno during the Second World War at a dance in Brighton to entertain Polish soldiers. They were married for 60 years.

Terry Waite had this to say about the group. ‘The Goodwill Co-op enables people to use their energies and talents to help those less fortunate than themselves.’

By 2011 the group contained 25 volunteers. One of their number, Monica Crowe, had the brilliant idea of creating a knitted model living room with their knitting needles. There was a piano, a striped sofa with a contented cat on it, pictures, and a table with mug and vase of flowers. It was put on public display to raise funds for Emmaus. One of the enthusiastic volunteers was Denise Bennett, then aged 82, who said that she was knitting all the time for the project.

Today, hand-made items are to be found in the Emporium.

The Warehouse

copyright © D. Sharp
Emmaus' main shopping hall
 
This is where donated goods come in and are sorted. It is gratifying to know that even clothes or linens that are not good enough for re-sale, can be sold on as rags, and whereas they used to fetch fifty pence a bag, by 2008 the price had risen to £3 a bag.

Another source of money is scrap metal. For example, between January and December 2008 there were over 150 tonnes of scrap metal.

Sometimes, there are valuable donations. For example, should quality paintings arrive, they would be sent to auction to achieve the maximum price.

One companion, called Mike, enjoyed working in the warehouse. In a way, working at Emmaus was like coming home because thirty years previously he had been a local lad, and with friends used to go scrumping for apples in the convent grounds. If the nuns saw this happening, they would try and chase them, but the boys were never caught. Mike said his interest in antiques started when he was in prison and used to watch Bargain Hunt on TV whilst he ate his dinner. He also found Antiques Roadshow a good source of knowledge. At Emmaus there were reference books on antiques where you could check things.

Some donations are not at all welcome. For example, in November 2010 Emmaus suffered a bad case of fly-tipping. Companions woke up one morning to find that during the night over 80 tyres had been dumped in the grounds. The strange part was that nobody heard or saw a thing, although it must have been a substantial vehicle to carry that number of tyres; but the street lighting was out of order. Fortunately, the council was sympathetic to their plight, and because Emmaus is a charity, they arranged for the tyres to be removed, stating that such fly-tipping on private property was a criminal offence.

The Chapel / Shop

copyright © D. Sharp
The former Chapel, now the Emmaus clothes shop

Probably few people who come to Emmaus can remember this shop when it was a lovely, and peaceful chapel.

It was not perfect as a shop because it was somewhat draughty. By 2008 Emmaus had raised £22,000 in order to install new windows, but more money was needed. It was also hoped that two internal glass doors could be forthcoming, which would be a great help in keeping the place warmer in winter.

Clothes

There are of course many bargains to be found under this heading but recently Emmaus has gone up-market and there are brand-new clothes on sale, some proudly displaying designer labels, and others donated as end-of-range goods. Accessories and jewellery are also on display there.

Emporium

This rather grand term is where you would go to find retro or vintage furniture, collectables, up-cycled objects, or other items called ‘pre-loved’.

Emmaus, Preston

This new Emmaus was opened in 2008 with just three companions, but eventually it was hoped there could be twenty. The premises were formerly an Old People’s Home. There was no space for a shop, and so this is located around half a mile away in a former garage.

In view of there being an Emmaus, Preston, it is rather a shame that there is no Emmaus, Portslade, which instead is known as Emmaus, Brighton and Hove. Since it is situated in Portslade Old Village, you have to wonder why Portslade is not a good enough name.

Another Shop

In July 2013 an Emmaus shop opened in Southwick on the coast road. As well as a varied stock, the shop also provides coffee and snacks.

HRH the Duches of Cornwall

The Duchess of Cornwall is a patron of Emmaus UK. Apparently, she was going to visit the Portslade Emmaus in person in 2020, but the pandemic put paid to that. Instead, she despatched a hamper of treats for the companions, and conducted a Zoom meeting in November 2020 with five members, plus Christine Squince, chief executive, and David Pilkington, support worker. Christine Squince said she was thrilled to speak to the Duchess, and it provided a memorable curtain call as she comes to the end of her 17-year career with Emmaus.

Famous Fan

Angel Strawbridge is a famous fan of Emmaus. She is the talented and energetic lady with bright red hair who starred, with her husband Dick, in TV’s Escape to the Chateau. Apparently, there is an Emmaus a mere thirteen minutes drive away from their chateau. Angel is amazed at the variety of goods on offer at such bargain prices. She has sourced all sorts of treasures there from a kimono to solid dining-room chairs made of oak that cost around three euros and were needed for their wedding guests. This French Emmaus is usually crowded, which is not surprising because opening hours are somewhat brief, being only open on Wednesdays and Sundays. In their part of France, there is the obligatory two-hour lunch break, and so that also curtails the time for purchases.

*******

Information on how you can help and support the work of Emmaus and the opening times of their superstore and cafe see their website :- Emmaus Brighton & Hove

copyright © Sussex Emmaus
Drove Road, Portslade, BN41 2PA

See also St Marye's Convent and The Manor of Portslade

Sources

Argus (11/10/02 / 20/9/06 / 15/3/07 / 4/11/10 / 3/2/11/ 30/3/13 /28/3/15/ 28/11/20)

Emmaus, Brighton & Hove, Newsletter (Winter 2008 / Spring 2009)

Emmaus, Brighton & Hove, Newsletter (2017)

Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade

Internet searches

National Portrait Gallery, London

Strawbridge, D. & A. A Year at the Chateau (2020)

Viva, Issue 73 (March 2019) article by Joel Lewis

Copyright © J.Middleton 2021
page layout by D.Sharp