Former homeless team up with school to help pupils with invisible disabilities

Pupils from Lexdon in Emmaus Colchester workshop

Pupils from Lexdon in Emmaus Colchester workshop

Pupils from Lexden Springs School, Colchester, have created bespoke birdhouses with the help of formerly homeless people at Emmaus Colchester as part of an ongoing partnership between the local school and homelessness charity. 

The Emmaus Colchester upcycling team, which is made up of companions (formerly homeless people) currently being supported by the local charity, have met weekly with pupils from Lexden Springs for the past two years at the charity’s workshop on Arthur Street. The school specialises in supporting pupils aged 3 – 19 who have complex learning difficulties and those on the Autistic spectrum continuum. The ongoing partnership provides the pupils with the opportunity to learn the skills needed to upcycle and restore unused items and materials, as well as providing them with experience within a busy workshop environment.

Emmaus Colchester provides a home and meaningful work for up to 31 companions who have experienced homelessness and social exclusion, offering them an alternative route out of homelessness within a supportive environment. Companions volunteer full time while they are at Emmaus selling second-hand furniture and household goods at its two Emmaus charity shops on the High Street, an Emmaus Works shop on Osborne Street and a warehouse at Arthur Street.

Throughout the partnership, Emmaus companions and pupils from Lexdon Springs have upcycled cabinets to be donated to the school, created Christmas decorations for the Emmaus community house, and restored old chairs for the new Emmaus shop and café that will open this summer on Crouch Street, Colchester. The latest creations to come out of the partnership are the bespoke birdhouses, which will be sold in the Emmaus Works shop on Osbourne Street for £5. Customers will receive a hand-made thank you card from the Lexden Springs pupils with each birdhouse purchased, and all proceeds will be donated to Emmaus Colchester per Lexdon Springs request.

Bird houses upcycled by Lexdon Springs pupils and Emmaus companions.JPG

Billy, one of the chief lead up-cyclers at Emmaus Colchester, has been coaching the pupils. He said: “We work with the pupils from Lexdon Springs every Tuesday, and each school term we give them a new project to work on that revolves around upcycling, painting, priming and using power tools. Each student has varying abilities, so it’s important that the rest of the upcycling team and I make sure to supervise them in a way that suits them.

"It’s not just about the practical skills that they learn though – at first the kids arrived at the workshop slightly dubious, but throughout the term, I have seen their confidence grow, they are more trusting, and they take ownership of the workshop – it’s brilliant to see. When the students finished the birdhouses, I was so proud and pleased for them and I really do look forward to working with them every week.”

Nicky Peters, Post 16 Teacher at Lexden Springs said: “This partnership has exceeded all expectations and has benefited all the students in many ways, particularly in building up their trust and confidence at working alongside unfamiliar adults in a workplace environment. Staff have noticed a big improvement in the communication skills of the students and in their self-esteem, as they are tremendously proud of the work they do at Emmaus. It is a definite highlight of the week for both students and staff.”