We had the opportunity to speak with Claire Malcomson, who recently visited Emmaus Caterham to show support, to discuss her work and how it connects to the Emmaus ethos.
Can you please introduce yourself:
I’m Claire Malcomson. I’m a Liberal Democrat local district councillor for Mole Valley in Surrey. My position now is as a cabinet member for climate change and wellbeing, but I will be standing for the Liberal Democrats in East Surrey if there is a general election next year. My key areas of interests are young people, wellbeing, and climate change.
How were you introduced to Emmaus?
I was looking for local businesses and charities in Caterham (as this would be one of the towns I’d represent if I was MP) and Emmaus came up immediately. I wasn’t familiar with Emmaus at first but after doing some research I was very impressed. I found it interesting that Emmaus helped formerly homeless people by giving them jobs, as well as teaching them useful skills such as upcycling. Everything Emmaus does falls under my key interests.
I spoke to Sheriff (the manager of Emmaus Caterham) via the phone, and he invited me to visit the shop for a tour. I was given an in-depth look at how the shop and charity itself operates. I found it all very interesting. I wanted to find out how I could use my position to give back.
On Emmaus Caterham:
I was very impressed with the shop. Emmaus sells everything, books, clothes, electronics etc. I got some LPs for a pound each! The shop is sociable too. I spoke to some regulars who all seemed happy to be at Emmaus. Even if they were just there to browse, they still enjoyed being in the shop and talking to the workers.
I think the active communal aspect of Emmaus is very impressive and is something we should aim for on a larger scale in our local communities. We should all know our neighbours and be there to help each other when someone needs it. These days everyone seems so cut off which can relay affect our mental health.
Claire Malcomson with Sheriff (Manager) And Mel (retail worker).
At Emmaus we are aiming for a more co-friendly approach. You mentioned climate change was an area of interest?
Yes, I have worked hard to introduce my local council to reduce its carbon footprint. Work I have done includes arranging for a community garden to be set up close next to a playground in local a deprived housing estate. People were hesitant at first claiming that the area would just be ignored and left to fall apart. But since being set up in 2019 it is still there, and the local community is still maintaining it.
I have set up a community lottery where all the proceeds from ticket sale go towards supporting local charities. In future this could include Emmaus!
At Emmaus SLC we encourage upcycling, is this something you relate to?
I was brought up to understand the importance and benefits of upcycling. I take my things to repair cafes, I darn my socks and I sometimes make clothes for myself out of old materials. I also renovated and painted old furniture too. I don’t like waste, we should all be rejuvenating things.
I am happy to see that Emmaus encourages upcycling. This is a practice I think everyone should learn to do. I am impressed that upcycling is a skill you teach to your Companions. If you throw something away it is a waste. You can have an old worn-out jacket but add an edging to it. All my furniture in my house has been passed down my family and I have upcycled them. I have an old bicycle; I would prefer to repair it rather than throw it away.
You mentioned one of your key interests was young people and their place in society. Could you elaborate more on this?
I am concerned about young people’s accommodation especially in London where it is very expensive. I am impressed with Emmaus system of offering support and accommodation to those who are struggling with homelessness.
I have four children myself, so I worry about the economic circumstances faced by the younger generation, poorly paid jobs, income not aligning with outgoings, the rising cost of housing and student debt, These challenges create uncertainty and anxiety about the future and contribute to poor mental health. Many young people can't afford to move away from the parental home, leaving them feeling trapped and disenfranchised. Sadly, many end up on the streets, falling by the wayside due to lack of support, no money or misuse of drugs.
Our younger generation are often at the forefront of discussions around climate change and environmental issues. Like me, they worry about the state of the planet. The long-term consequences of environmental degradation can lead to concerns about how they can face these challenges effectively. On top of that, whilst getting over the pandemic, and witnessing the war in Ukraine, AI concerns have arisen about the impact on jobs, social skills, mental health, privacy, and the overall direction of society. As a result, in this time of fast changing generational differences in culture, political and society values, the younger generation feel insecure. They are disheartened by our leaders, who don't seem to listen or even try to hear them. 'Woke' is being used as an insult against individuals who are engaged and informed. Society being this polarised makes them feel misunderstood and disconnected so they see their future as uncertain.
Even though the digital age has brought about unprecedented levels of connectivity and access to information, it also raises concerns about the impact of constantly being bombarded by social media, and information overload on mental health, relationships, and overall well-being.
I believe our young people are well informed, strong, and resilient with so much potential and want to be included. They are a generation with access to so much information and have so much to offer, but a generation who has had insecurity and unique challenges thrust upon them. I am amazed by their inert wisdom and knowledge. To bring forward much needed positive change to our society the older generations should learn and engage with them