Organisers of a homeless project being set up in South Tyneside have vowed to be good neighbours.
Dozens of people went along to the Customs House in South Shields to hear more about the latest Emmaus scheme set to open in the town.
The charity, which has bought a former children’s home in Stanhope Road, provides a unique place for homeless people to get back on their feet, providing them a safe place to live in return for working every day.
Most of the organisation’s communities strive to be self-sustaining by upcycling donated goods in workshops and reselling them.
Emmaus is also in negotiations to rent a shop in the town centre where the goods can be sold.
Humanitarian campaigner, Terry Waite, who was held captive for five years after going to the Lebanon in 1987 as a peace envoy, is president of Emmaus and spoke passionately to the audience at the Customs House about the charity.
He said: “We believe very strongly that we can make an impact for good on the situation facing homeless people.
“We want to enable people to regain their dignity as human beings. There’s no dignity in sitting on a street with a cap in your hands begging.”
Mr Waite said there is a concept that a homeless house will be some sort of doss house, but with Emmaus that couldn’t be further from the truth.
He said: “When an Emmaus community is opened in an area, it gives so much back and in so many, many different ways.”
Current and former colleagues, which is what residents of the Emmaus communities are called, also spoke at the meeting about how they had become homeless and how the organisation had transformed their lives.
Sue Wilson, chairman of Emmaus North East, said since making the decision to open a community in South Shields they have had fantastic support from groups and organisations in the town and added that people have been very generous.
She said it is hoped the transformation of the derelict building will be completed by the end of the summer.
Sue said: “The public has been so fantastic already, donating through the website and coming up with all sorts of imaginative activities to raise money.
“We do promise that we will try and be the very best of neighbours.”
She said not only will the project benefit homeless people, eventually it will be have a huge impact on South Shields by putting an estimated £200,000 into the community.
Residents said the meeting had helped to address any misgivings they might have had about the scheme.
Tim Griffiths, 67, who lives in Reading Road, which is right next the site, said he was pleased with what he has heard at the meeting.
He said: “I was a bit concerned about the idea of a hostel, but its not like that. We will have to wait and see how things turn out, but it has put my mind at rest.
“It is also marvelous to see the old building coming back to life.”
Annette McStea, 53, from Whitburn, said she went to the meeting because she was keen to find out more about the charity.
She said: “It sounds amazing, just the sort of thing we need in the region. I’m sure a lot of the fears of residents will have been allayed.”
John and Karen Lambton, who are members of St Michael and All Angels Parish Church in Houghton, which works with helping people with a variety of problems, said they were very impressed with the work of Emmaus.
Karen said: “Hopefully this will be another place where we can direct people to for help.”