Monday, 26 January 2015

Outdoor Oasis prepared for Battered Women and their Children

A bare and muddy lawn would have been an uninspiring sight for women and children escaping domestic violence in Christchurch. Yet against all odds, residents of a newly-converted ‘safe house’ were welcomed into a local oasis of fruit trees, vegetable patch and children’s playground. The Rotary Club of Christchurch Sunrise contacted the Women’s Refuge at the right time.  

“I phoned the Women’s Refuge to see what Rotary could do for the Christchurch branch of this organisation. Our Club wanted to get our hands dirty and get behind a local cause,” explained President John Mackenzie.

John spoke to Lois Herbert, manager of Christchurch’s Battered Women’s Trust.  “Lois told me of a disused children’s playground that needed to be relocated, but the Trust lacked funds to do so. The playground had not been in use since 2011 and needed cleaning and urgent repairs” said President John.

Rotary members rallied together the next weekend, well aware of a tight deadline. The first stage of the project had members’ manually removing the playground and water-blasting the parts. Afterwards, housing solution company Laing relocated the playground free of cost. Justine Rae of the Battered Women’s Trust oversaw the project, and made an interesting discovery. 

“It quite ironic that Rotary actually installed the playground on the original site,” Ms Rae said. Over a decade ago Rotary funded the installation of the same playground. This historical link surfaced as a happy accident, but gave the current project new meaning for both parties.

During the relocation process, Lois and Justine accepted Rotary’s invitation to speak about their organisation’s services and mission. The Women’s Refuge is a non-profit organisation which provides services for vulnerable women and children in New Zealand. An essential service provided by the Women’s Refuge is safe housing. In September alone, 556 Christchurch women and 273 children were supported Women’s Refuge. The average stay in a safe house was reportedly 26 days.

“We learned just how important the Women’s Refuge is for otherwise struggling women. After completing the playground relocation, [Rotary members] seized the opportunity to do more was initially asked,” enthused President John.

To go the extra mile for the Battered Women’s Trust, David Watson of Rotary ordered $5000 worth of new parts, which brought the playground up to the current NZS5828:2004 building standard. “We wanted to make the play equipment as safe as possible” David explained.

Rotary’s work was not yet completed. “More work was required to spruce up the muddy backyard. Lois showed me a rough sketch of what she’d like to see on the new site, but so far lacked funds for. Rotary now endeavoured to bring that plan to life” said President John.

Timber was procured for the playground boundary, which was supplied at a significant discount by Higgs Construction. Parkhouse Garden Supplies provided soil for the garden and bark for the play area. The Little Big Tree Company sold discounted fruit trees to Rotary for the safe house garden.

“In one weekend, Rotary members built the timber surround and shovelled in the bark. The next weekend saw installation of the refurbished playground. We spread topsoil and tidied up the lawn, including weeding and trimming.”

“The project continued to gather pace leading up to the deadline. Rotary introduced fruit trees; feijoa, plum, lemon and some oriental trees as well. A vegetable patch was carefully put together. Our final job was to build a handrail to safeguard the toddlers’ area” recalled President John.

When Saturday 18th October finally arrived the landscaping was completed and the women seeking a refuge were able to enjoy a stunning garden. Though Rotary stepped in at short notice, the members nonetheless got the job done in time. Nearly every club member volunteered his or her time to the project.

Justine Rae thanked Rotary on behalf of the Women’s Refuge. “My heartfelt thanks to you and your team for all the work you have done. We are moving in today and the place looks wonderful. You are all awesome, and have made a huge difference for the vulnerable woman and children we care for.”
Reported by Simone Mackenzie

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