The Emmaüs movementAbbé Pierre, a Catholic priest, is behind the international solidarity movement Emmaüs, which aims at fighting poverty and homelessness.
In 1949, Abbé Pierre met a former convict called Georges who had lost all hope and said to him one of the founding sentence for the Emmaüs movement: "I have nothing to give you, except my friendship, and my plea to you to help me so that together we can help save others".
Thus, Abbé Pierre created the first Emmaüs community in 1949 near Paris and Georges became the first Emmaüs companion, "companion" refers to those who live in an Emmaus community and work in the social enterprise. The community was then joined by more people: the first companions built accommodation to re-house numerous families and worked as ragpickers, to transform and reuse the waste of others.
More communities have then been created and more companions joined, giving them the opportunity to regain their dignity thanks to the welcome they received, and through collaboration and working.
The movement has consolidated and the French movement now gathers 288 groups, including 115 communities and many others structures carrying out social actions and rehabilitation programs.
The values of Emmaüs are:
- solidarity: by running income-generating activities at local level, the Emmaüs structures can perform solidarity programs, at local and international levels
- unconditional welcome: any person arriving at an Emmaüs structure will be welcome regardless of his personal history, his origins or his administrative situation (documented or undocumented immigrant, ex-convict, person with psychological weaknesses...)
- autonomy through activity: when arriving in a community, any person requiring to become a Companion will be asked to actively participate to the community and its economy, by using his skills and adapting the occupation to his capabilities: by working for the community, the companion can start over while helping others.
- sustainable development: by collecting, reusing and selling outdated objects, the Emmaüs movement has positioned itself as an important stakeholder in the waste reduction.
Several Emmaüs organisations were formed in different countries and it became evident that an international organization was necessary: a meeting with all the Emmaus organisations was organized and Emmaüs International was then set up in 1971 by Abbé Pierre, gathering 410 member organisations in 41 different countries in Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe.
Village Emmaüs Lescar-PauIt's when each of us waits for the other one to start that nothing happens, Abbé Pierre
The Emmaüs community of Pau was created in 1982 and was situated in a former textile factory close to Pau. After a few months of works, the first companion was welcome and the bric-à-brac activity has then been developed.
In 1987, the community was installed in Lescar, at its current location and, in 1990, Abbé Pierre inaugurated a building with 27 rooms to accommodate the companions and several new workshops.
In 1995, the Emmaüs village is created: 25 mobile homes are installed, a community centre and a grocery are built.
The Emmaüs village of Lescar-Pau is now the biggest Emmaüs community in France with around 130 companions, 20 employees and tens of volunteers who join the community for a day or more.
The village covers 11 hectares, including a farm covering 4,5 hectares. 25 more hectares are owned by the community for breeding and agriculture.
Food production from organic agricultureThe Emmaüs ecovillage has bet on a wholesome food for everybody and, in that sense, has set strong objectives called "From farm to fork". The same department of the community is thus responsible both for the production of raw products in the farm, and for the transformation of the production into food: it leads to a really coherent community policy in terms of food production, enabling the village to be self-sufficient at 50% in term of vegetables and agricultural products and at 80% for meat.
On the farm side, the village is committed to perform a food-producing agriculture which can feed everybody while creating jobs and recreating the connection between humans and nature. Thus, the following activities are performed in the village:
- the market gardening has been significantly developed during the last years, using sustainable approach based on living soils.
- cattle farming of laying hens, chickens, ducks, pigs and sheep: 6 pigs are slaughtered every month and their meat is prepared as saucisson, sausage and ham by a traditional butcher. All the food waste produced in the canteen or the restaurant are used to feed the animals.
- a slaughterhouse has been built in the farm, to directly slaughter and prepare the fowls in the farm: every week, around 100 fowls are prepared and sent to the community canteen, the restaurant and the grocery where they are sold roasted or ready to cook.
- a hatchery is installed where several types of fowl are produced (chicken, turkey, duck, goose...).
- the Emmaüs community owns several fields, located around the village: wheat is cultivated to produce floor for bread making, corn and fodder for the animals feeding.
- honey production: around sixty hives are installed in the village and on a field owned by the community and situated closed to the buckwheat field, as the buckwheat is particularly melliferous. A honey house has also been built with all the necessary equipment to harvest honey. The production is sold in the community grocery and workshops are organised every week for all person interested in learning more about the bees.
On the cooking side, several activities are run in the Emmaüs village:
- a community canteen prepares the lunch for all the community members (around 130 meals per day). More than 80% of all the products used are ecological and local, and many of them are directly produced in the farm. Around 30 community members who have no kitchen in their accommodation also take the breakfast and the dinner in the canteen: for the dinners, leftovers are often served to reduce the waste.
- a restaurant serves local and ecological food for a really limited cost.
- a creperie serves buckwheat pancakes and crepes, made with products made in the community.
- a transformation workshop is now built in the village: all surpluses of fruits and vegetables are cooked and sterilized for a better preservation (jars of squash, courgette, aubergine, cauliflower, plum jam, apple jelly, paté...). This workshop can also be rented to independent persons, in exchange of a rent or a part of the final production.
- a bakery enables the community to produce and sell every day its own bread, made with the community wheat.
Construction of sustainable buildingsThe village Emmaüs has first been built using mobile homes which are really poorly insulated making them really uncomfortable for their inhabitants and an important energy leak: indeed, the inhabitants of mobile homes need to use low efficient heating system during the winter to keep a comfortable temperature. Conversely, the mobile homes get really warm during the summer and ventilation systems are commonly used, wasting a lot of energy.
In order to limit the electricity consumption of the village, the first and main consuming item to handle is the insulation of the buildings: all the mobile homes are little by little substituted by real houses. These houses are designed by a retired architect who works in pairs with an energy efficiency engineer: the new houses whose design is unique and often eccentric tend not to require any heating system.
Several elements of the buildings (doors, windows...) are directly retrieved from the waste dropped-off in the recycling centre, and all the houses are equipped with reused electrical appliances, repaired in the village workshops.
The wood used for the construction is from local forests and the insulation is performed with cellulose wadding made from recycled paper.
Reduction and reuse of wasteThe main activity of all Emmaüs communities is to collect, reuse and sell outdated objects and the Emmaüs Lescar-Pau village is not an exception: huge quantities of waste are received in the village, then sorted, and finally sold, reused or recycled.
The first step of the waste cycle in the Emmaüs village is the collection of all waste: every day, between 300 to 700 vehicles drop off waste in the recycling centre of the Emmaüs village. Before entering into the recycling centre to throw away their waste in the different skips, all the vehicles are first asked to stop in front of the entrance of the village workshops: all the waste will be scrutinized, sorted and all what can be reused, either directly or after repairs, will be redirected to the appropriate workshop. After this first stop, vehicles can join the recycling centre where they will throw their waste in the right skips. It's thus quite common that some people, arriving with a car full of waste that, in their opinion, will be completely directed to the skips, have finally nothing to throw in the skips, as all their waste has been retrieved to be reused.
Moreover, five 3.5-tons lorries collects directly at home the waste that people cannot bring by themselves to the village.
In total, the quantities of waste received each day are insane: for example, around 30 m3 of clothes and around 5 tons of books are received every day.
As indicated above, the objects retrieved to be reused are sent to the different workshops of the village. All clothes, shoes and fashion accessories are sorted, depending on their quality and conditions. The most damaged clothes are sold 0,5€. All other clothes in good condition will be repaired, if necessary, and then sold for more expensive prices. Around 25 m3 of clothes are sold in the store every day.
The companions have also the opportunity, once a month, to take for free all the clothes that they need in a store reserved to them.
In the workshops woodworking, electrical appliances and computers, all the retrieved materials will be tested, repaired and, when necessary, redesigned.
All the dropped-off waste which cannot be reused and repaired in the village workshops will be stored in several skips and sent to recycling organizations. For instance, all the newspapers and books collected by the Emmaüs village which cannot be reused and sold are bought by a local company, Ouateco, which turns them into an insulating material called cellulose wadding. This material can be used to perform the insulation of houses, and is for example used in all the houses of the Emmaüs village.
All this activity of waste treatment is done for free by the Emmaüs village, without any public subsidy. Thus, by reprocessing the waste of the local community, the Emmaüs village does a huge favour to the local authority, which has not to handle these amounts of waste. Moreover, on the scale of the local council community, the quantity of waste processed by the Emmaüs village are substantial: this gives an important political influence facing the local authority whose waste management in completely dependent on the Emmaüs village.
The Emmaüs village has been built-up with reused objects: all doors and windows of the village buildings have been retrieved, repaired and reused. Other objects have also been distorted from the initial function: all fences in the village are for example realized with old skies.
Protection of biodiversity and regeneration ecosystemsBy promoting a local and an ecological agriculture, the village preserves biodiversity of life. A seed house is also installed in the village: managed by a farming federation, it promotes conservation of ancient and local seeds and raises awareness of the loss of diversity provoked by human selection.
Besides, the village also does breed conservancy with local breeds: sheep "brebis lourdaise", donkey "âne des Pyrénées". The village especially hosts 3 cows "vache béarnaise": in 1970, there were only 72 cows of this breed left, and with several conservancy measures, the cow population could now reach around 250 cows.
Support of personal growthThe Emmaüs movement, through its solidarity activity, welcomes people in difficulties: the companions hosted in the community have often experienced homelessness, hard relationship breakdown, problems with drugs and alcohol or mental health issues.
Finding a way out of that situation is not simple, particularly when the only options available are temporary solutions. The Emmaüs village provides a home for as long as someone needs and ensures a stable living environment so that all companions can find a long-term way to overcome their problems. This gives people the opportunity to take stock of their lives, deal with any issues they might have, and often re-establish relationships with their relatives.
Providing an occupation to all companions for 40 hours a week in the social enterprise is important to restore feelings of self-worth, to demonstrate to the companions that their actions make a real difference, both to their own life, and the lives of others.
Help others to help oneself is the raison d'être of the Emmaüs movement. That's the reason why the Emmaüs village criticizes the welfare allowance as proposed in France: although it provides people with no resources a minimum standard of living, it does not encourage people to invest themselves in a specific project, leading to a vicious circle with a reduction of their socialization and a detachment facing the community action. The Emmaüs movement, through its activity, proposes an alternative to this system.
The Emmaüs village also proposes to the companions courses and qualifications (some of the companions can thus have professional training to become a chef or a carpenter). Other companions have also the opportunity to develop their skills directly while working, as they work with professionals who are employed by the community.
These opportunities can help companions to develop new skills (or develop on existing ones), increase their confidence, improve mental and/or physical health and well-being and increase employability.
Respect of cultural traditionsThe community has put in place a strong partnership with Bolivia. In 2015, the former president of Bolivia Evo Morales came to the Emmaüs village to inaugurate the house dedicated to Latin America.
Several cultural exchanges have also been organized with the Bolivian communities: many members of the Emmaüs community could visit Bolivian communities and several Bolivians could come in France to meet the Emmaüs community: it's the opportunity to make an exchange between different traditions. 3 Bolivians could, for instance, work in the restaurant for 3 months and have learnt several receipts to the French chefs, who now propose every Fridays a Latino meal.
Involvement to protect communities and natureThe Emmaüs village supports several citizen's movements, when it comes to solidarity, equity, ecology, etc. For example, Emmaüs supported Alternatiba, a French movement which intends to mobilise the society to face the challenges of climate change. In 2018, the association organized the Alternatiba Tour, a tour of France by bike aiming at presenting the citizen's initiatives in order to raise people's awareness. The village has provided to Alternatiba a truck to help them to organize the tour and several companions joined the tour to prepare the meals and participate to the organisation.
Many conferences are also organized in the Emmaüs village: François Ruffin, Olivier Besancenot, Pierre Rabhi came in Emmaüs Lescar-Pau to discuss several topics and discover the village.
The Emmaüs village is also a strong supporter of Palestine: several conferences have been organised to present the current situation in Palestine and a house of Palestine has also been built in the community to illustrate the support of the community for Palestine.
Celebration of life and diversity through artFirst of all, the village is beautifully decorated: many houses are painted with powerful colours, several paintings can be found in the village: art is definitely encouraged in the Emmaüs village.
As soon as we arrive on the village's parking, we can find a long fresco which has been installed in 2015: around 50 silhouettes hung-up on a 100m long metal structure are arranged at a 6 meters height. This fresco, called "On the way to utopia" can be seen from the motorway, to encourage drivers to stop in the village. All the silhouettes have been made during participatory workshops from recovered objects.
Every summer, the village organises a festival which gathers concerts and conferences. Around 6.000 visitors come each day to participate to this festival which lasts 3 days and promotes an alternative society.
In 2017, the village hosted during 2 months the shooting of the film "I feel good", a French comedy satire directed by Benoît Delépine and Gustave de Kervern. In this film, Jacques, played by Jean Dujardin, is an ambitious man who decides to become rich and famous by developing a business in low cost cosmetic surgery in Eastern Europe. To create his business plan, he visits his sister Monique, played by Yolande Moreau, who is director of the Emmaüs Lescar-Pau village. Jacques then tries to recruit a group of companions for his business, which will lead to culture shock between 2 worlds, capitalism and solidarity.
From 1995, a quarterly newspaper called "Cairn" is published and presents articles related to the community. Cairn is an Irish word which means pile of stones: in Les Pyrénées, the closest mountains, cairns are used to guide hikers and shepherds. This newspaper illustrates perfectly the community's project: a construction which does not move the mountains but resists to time and prevailing winds.
Reconnection with natureThe Emmaüs village benefits from a very natural environment, although the housing is quite dense. The close presence of the farm always reminds the close contact between humans and nature.
Guarantee of equitable resourcesAll the site where is installed the Emmaüs village is owned by the association created to hold the activity of the village. The village is therefore the property of the collective and not of specific individuals.
All companions of the village earn a community benefit, in exchange of 40 hours of work per week (from Tuesday to Saturday, from 8am to 12pm and from 2pm to 6pm). This benefit, called "pécule" (savings in English), is calculated as follows:
- an evolving weekly basis of 45€/week, depending on the experience in the community, reaching 55€/week after 1 year of experience
- a budget of 30€/week to be spent in the community grocery
- a monthly bonus, which evolves depending on the experience of the companion, reaching 180€ after 1 year of experience
- a yearly bonus
- several financial aid for holidays, driving permit, ...
In total, a companion earns around 700€ a month, including the state aid for activity of 220€/month. This benefit is only spending money as all companions are fed and housed.
The companion has, since 2010, a legal status in France and is now considered as a social worker for an organism carrying out community reception and solidarity activities. This status enables a better protection of the companions, who can benefit from the national health care system, pension fund and a community benefit.
Conversely, a companion is not considered as a real worker and is not covered by the employment law: the companion status is, in some aspects, precarious as there is no written contract signed between the community and the companion, and a companion can be excluded from the community without previous notice.
Wealth creation through sharing and collaborationEvery week, from Tuesday to Saturday, from 1000 to 2500 people visit the bric-à-brac area. Thousands of objects are stored and exposed to the visitors on a more than 6000m2 area, making this Emmaüs village the biggest in France.
Thus, from the collection, the reparation and the resale of all objects that people get rid of, the Emmaüs village has developed a market economy which enables to host more companions and to propose a true service economy. Indeed, having a global economy enables the community to propose services which are not profitable although they are indispensable for the community. For example, the market garden is currently not money-making as it's a new activity which will requires several years to be profitable: the community have nevertheless decided to develop this economy, as it's essential to feed in a healthy way the community members.
As every village, the Emmaüs village has its own stores:
- a community grocery, where you can find the products from the community and from local producers
- a restaurant which proposes cheap meals prepared with local and ecological products
- a bar proposing local drinks, takeaway food prepared in the community,...
- a bakery
Support of local economiesThe Emmaüs village intends to work and collaborate with local firms, when it's possible: for the procurement of various products and the implementation of partnerships, the Emmaüs village tries to support local and family businesses: that's one the reason why the village Emmaüs has chosen the company Ouateco in order to recycle the paper and clothes into wadding: by selecting a family company located only 85 kms away from the village, the community support the development of local economies.
Creation of alternative banking and exchange systemsA local currency called Tinda is available in Pau and its surroundings. In order to support this currency, all the stores of the Emmaüs village accept Tinda.
A reflection is currently carried-on so as to define whether it could be relevant to propose to the companions to get a part of their benefit in Tinda, which could be a more powerful way to support this local currency.
Responsible production, consumption and tradeAs already indicated, there is a firm will in the village to promote and support responsible and local productions: when available, the local, ecological and ethical products are put in the spotlight in the community grocery, the bar and the restaurant.
Every Saturday, a market is organized on the central area of the village and several local producers come to sell their production to the community members and the visitors: market gardener, beekeeper, brewer and farmer can be found on site with their productions.
Respect of diversity and development of a community visionThe Emmaüs village, as a community of the Emmaüs movement, follows the common Emmaüs missions of solidarity. However, the community tries to develop other activities, which are not the core business of the Emmaüs movement but are necessary to become more resilient. This is the case with the recent development of the farm activity: although it is not profitable at the moment, the farm is an incontestable advantage for the community to increase its autonomy.
The strength of this Emmaüs community is also that it does not only host people who have experienced important difficulties in their life, as the others Emmaüs communities: part of the inhabitants now intentionally join the community (or stay in the community after having recovered from their personal issues), sometimes with their family, so as to participate to the creation of a common life. It brings an interesting diversity of profiles of all inhabitants.
Guarantee of participatory leadership and shared governanceThe village has a very hierarchical structure: one person is responsible for the whole community and is assisted by several department managers, responsible for the different activities of the community (kitchen, restaurant, sales...).
This is mainly due to the fact that this community has been created and supported on the long term by only one person: Germain created this community in 1982 and, 38 years later, he is still responsible for the group. The accomplished work during these 28 years is incontestable. However, Germain's long experience of the community probably implies that he is the point of contact in many different areas and his word has, consequently, a higher power than any other. This can thus limit the common decision making as some inhabitants can keep quiet their ideas.
So as to be more resilient, it is important to dispatch the decision making on more people: a sociocratic model is currently being implemented in the community, in order to enable decisions to be taken more commonly. Every week, a meeting is organised in all the community departments, where all companions can share their opinions.
4 community councillors are also elected by the community and are responsible for:
- the reception and support of the newcomers
- the awarding and the monitoring of the accommodations
- the organisation of the community meetings, once a month
- the organisation of community works: realised twice a month, they consist in several works in the community (grass cut, works in the garden,...) and every community member should participate at least once a month.
Equal access to holistic healthcareAll companions are, through their official status, covered by the French state medical cover: most of their health expenses are covered by the cover, and the rest of them are paid by the community.
Use of communication skills, conflict facilitationThe community relies on several specialists in order to improve the communication in the community and analyse their functioning. One of these specialists is thus in charge of assisting the community to implement the sociocratic model.
There are lot of ways to visit the Emmaüs village, depending on what you are looking for and the duration of your stay!
- the first way to visit the village is certainly to come for a couple of hours, visit the bric-à-brac area, walk around the farm and the village and have a meal at the restaurant or the creperie! To have lunch in the restaurant, don't hesitate to call few hours before to book a table, the restaurant is often full! Even when you drive on the motorway close to Pau and need a break, stopping at the Emmaüs village is a good option to rest or even have a meal, as it's really close to the motorway exit. An eating area is also available if you have your own lunch!
- if you want to discover more in detail the community, you can join the community as a volunteer for some days! You'll have the chance to participate to the village activities (your point of contact in the community will make sure that you won't stay at the same position, to discover the whole community) and will share the community life. You can join the community all year round, for a stay of a few days or several weeks. For more information, you can call +33 (0)184.108.40.206.82 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- the Emmaüs village also welcome interns, employees and of course companions.