Your Excellency, Companions, Ladies and Gentlemen As the proud Royal Patron of Emmaus UK, I am delighted to be here tonight to commemorate its 25th anniversary.
I don't need to remind you of the immense achievement of Abbé Pierre who founded the first Emmaus community in Paris in 1949. In the harsh winter of 1954, his famous radio appeal - prompted by the plight of an elderly woman freezing to death on the streets of Paris - challenged Parisians to come to the aid of their fellow-citizens. And they did - the flood of practical gifts and support which followed, known as 'the Uprising of Kindness', marked the birth of the Emmaus movement.
Here in England, we had our own champion. Selwyn Image had a similar moment of clarity as he was helping to distribute soup and sandwiches at a shelter. When discussing how to help, one man explained that it was simple:
"I want somewhere where I can work, where I feel I belong, and where I can recover my self-respect.
Those words inspired Selwyn to remember the charity he worked for in France as a student. With the help of the Paris telephone book, he tracked down Abbé Pierre and Emmaus UK was born.
The first community was established in this country in 1991 and since then Selwyn has worked tirelessly to support the movement. We have much to thank him for.
Now in 2013, I took the train to Paris with three Emmaus Companions, to see for myself one of the oldest Emmaus communities. We returned home full of new ideas and enthusiasm. I have enjoyed every moment of being Royal Patron of Emmaus UK. It is always a great privilege to meet Companions in Emmaus communities across the country. Each community is different, but each one offers Companions the same opportunity – to rebuild their lives, regain their self-respect, and develop new skills - in every one that I have visited I never fail to notice the positive attitude to all these things.
Emmaus UK's work today is more important than ever. It is quite horrifying to read that the number of people sleeping rough has increased by 30% in the last year. And it's hard to imagine that in England tonight more than 3,500 men, women and youngsters will be sleeping on the streets.
As we celebrate this milestone in the history of Emmaus, it seems fitting to continue in the spirit of Abbé Pierre and look to the future with his unfailing belief in the work that communities can do together to transform lives. As he said: 'Seul, tu ne peux rien. Ensemble, on peut tout' – You can do nothing on your own, but together you can do anything.