News

8 July 2021

INTERVIEW WITH FELICITY RORKE

“Staff are very proud of the new rooms and spaces and delight in showing women and other visitors around. Our guests comment on the light-filled, modern and highly functional amenities.”

Executive Director of the Good Samaritan Inn, Felicity Rorke, recently spoke with us about her experience working with AWF and Hayball Architects on the renovation of the Women's and Children's Refuge Facility she runs in Melbourne.

What led you to Architects Without Frontiers?

A chance meeting between a CEO of a rural women’s refuge and the AWF Project officer led them to us. AWF apparently were interested in supporting a metro-based refuge and the Refuge CEO knew that we needed support with our old building so brough us together.

Tell us a bit about the project and its importance for the women and children you support?

Our women’s and children’s refuge facility is a 1938 convent which has been renovated at different points over the years in a fairly adhoc manner. It is ‘out of step’ with current social and health policy thinking in relation to the fact that it is a communal refuge with women and families having to share bathrooms and kitchen/dining spaces. The amenities were very old-fashioned, difficult to clean, and problematic for anyone with mobility issues.

What have been the challenges and successes of the project from GSI’s perspective?

Working with AWF and their partners has been easy, closing the service down for three months was a problem but turning my social worker knowledge and skill-base towards project managing a renovation has been the greatest challenge!

The successes are in the beautiful new amenities with loads of natural light, quality fittings and spaces that feel and look good.

Closing down during the height of the COVID restrictions was, in some ways, not the most challenging part but knowing that women and children were forced to stay in unsafe homes because of a lack of crisis accommodation was problematic.

We are also excited about the possibility of a new outdoor, portable space for group programs, play and other activities and the installation of a lift. These are planned and are awaiting council permits.

How has the renovation changed the experience of women and children during their stay at Good Samaritan Inn?

We are now able to accept referrals from more women. We have now set up a room downstairs for women who have difficulty managing the staircase due to their age, pregnancy, having a newborn baby, disability, illness or temporary mobility issues. She/they are able to use the new DDA bathroom on the ground floor and access the kitchen/dining area easily.

Staff are very proud of the new rooms and spaces and delight in showing women and other visitors around. Our guests comment on the light-filled, modern and highly functional amenities.

During COVID restrictions we have reduced our guest numbers and have been able to provide bathrooms for each woman/family. This is something that would not have been possible pre the renovations.

There is a huge need for facilities like these. Do you see the renovation as an effective model that can be taken and translated to other similar facilities?

Our service origins are with the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, a catholic order of nuns founded in Australia in the 1870s to specifically work with women and children who were living in the streets of Sydney.

The Catholic Church owns land and buildings, some of which are unused or only partially used. We would like to think that creative and thoughtful renovations, such as the collaboration from AWF, Hayball and others, could take place that would turn some of these disused properties into functional social housing. The issue of family violence is complex and the need for crisis and other accommodation is significant and is unlikely to reduce any time soon.