Domestic violence victim-survivors find freedom in a fresh start

Posted on 08 Jan 2024

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

Re Love warehouse volunteers
The team at Sydney based ReLove help women fleeing domestic violence to furnish their new home.

The holiday season can be a particularly tough time of the year for women experiencing domestic violence.

Statistics compiled by the anti-family-violence organisation No to Violence and highlighted recently by the Guardian revealed that significantly more family and domestic violence incidents than usual were reported to police during the Christmas and New Year period.

Alcohol abuse, heightened anxiety around Christmas, hot weather and cost-of-living stress can be a volatile mix.

Two innovative not-for-profit initiatives are tackling problems often experienced by victims of domestic violence that might not be immediately obvious to others.

Sydney-based Banksia Academy recently launched an online resource designed to help employers better support employees struggling with violence at home.

Along with connecting victims of family violence with each other to share their stories and offer support, the Workplace Hub provides learning and coaching opportunities aimed at empowering women to thrive at work or find a job.

Banksia Academy founder Melanie Greblo said the Workplace Hub was designed through the lens of lived experience to support vulnerable women at work.

Melanie Greblo
Banksia Academy founder Melanie Greblo.

“I created Banksia Academy because my own lived experience had disastrous impacts on my work and financial security,” said Ms Greblo.

“I knew that if this was a challenge for me, that other women who had less support than I did must be drowning out there, and that’s exactly what the data tells us.”

Ms Greblo said it is believed up to 20% of female employees in any given workplace have experienced domestic or family violence.

More than 83% of victim-survivors said their job was affected by their situation at home.

Ms Greblo said the trauma of domestic violence outlasted the initial ‘crisis phase’ and affected survivors’ ongoing emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing.

This included adverse effects on career opportunities, the ability to concentrate, productivity, punctuality and workplace relationships.

“The ongoing challenges women face both in leaving and in the re-building phase of domestic and family violence continually place women in positions of vulnerability.”
Banksia Academy founder Melanie Greblo.

Stopping the domestic violence domino effect

Ms Greblo said if appropriate workplace support and understanding were not available, these factors could have a domino effect, leaving women vulnerable to impacts on their employment, financial security and overall wellbeing.

With as many as two thirds of women who are subject to violence at home more likely to put on a brave face at work than to ask for help from their manager or HR representative, the Workplace Hub offers access to confidential, specialist support for those who need it.

“The ongoing challenges women face both in leaving and in the re-building phase of domestic and family violence continually place women in positions of vulnerability,” said Ms Greblo.

“The launch of Banksia Academy’s Workplace Hub helps women survivors thrive at work, supporting them to not only maintain their employment, but progress their career where it would otherwise risk being stalled or de-railed.”

Features of the Workplace Hub include:

  • access to online courses, including the Working Wisdom program, designed to support women through personal and professional development opportunities to help them thrive at work and in life as they heal and rebuild
  • virtual masterclasses aimed at providing guidance and support from experts such as family lawyers, financial planners and parenting specialists
  • a national online mentoring program designed to match survivors with a sympathetic and knowledgeable mentor to support their career goals and help them to build networks
  • A weekly online Coffee Club where women can “connect, learn and share”
  • Guided meditation and wellbeing sessions

The Workplace Hub also offers tailored training for organisations, designed to help them to better support female employees dealing with domestic and family violence.

This takes the form of workshops, consulting on policy and practice, group coaching, first responder training and team leader training.

The importance of making a house a home

While Banksia Academy is empowering domestic violence victims to thrive at work, another Sydney charity is helping women in crisis to furnish their new homes for free.

ReLove accepts repurposed furniture from businesses such as hotels along with donated items from the community to help women fleeing family violence to build a new life by establishing a new place to live.

Housed in a 2,200 sqm warehouse near Sydney Airport, ReLove is packed with items ranging from couches and TV units to rugs and artwork.

Co-founder Ben Stammer describes ReLove as a safe place where people in crisis – which means the homeless, newly released prison inmates and asylum seekers as well as domestic violence victims – can shop for everything they need to furnish their new home.

“We provide furniture to help people restart their lives with the agency to choose how they want to live,” said Mr Stammer.

He said the idea was sparked when he and co-founder Ren Fernando were driving through Sydney streets doing unrelated charity work and noticed how much quality furniture was being discarded.

After starting a small pilot designed to help five women fleeing domestic violence, the idea quickly took off and the pair helped establish 35 fully furnished homes.

“We borrowed a little bit of warehouse space and just got so much great quality furniture. We received some donations from corporates and just realised that there was a model here,” said Mr Stammer.

“Since then, there’s been no looking back.”

Ren and Ben wide
ReLove co-founders Ben Stammer and Renuka Fernando.
“It’s about dignity of choice in a time where there’s potentially been a lot of rejection, a lot of trauma or a lot of dislocation.”
ReLove co-founder Ben Stammer.

ReHome is keen to expand its operations to other cities round Australia.

One of the biggest roadblocks is not securing donated furniture but finding a place to put it.

Mr Stammer said ReHome’s biggest expense was the $600,000 it pays each year to rent its Sydney warehouse.

“It’s a big commitment for an early-stage charity. Warehouse space is still at a premium and probably getting more expensive so it’s an issue we have to solve.

“We need at least 1,500 square metres to be able to take the donations from corporates and suppliers at scale.”

ReHome recently completed a small pilot program in Melbourne in which it used free space on a major building construction site in Richmond to house donated furniture.

Sponsored by construction company Built and property firm Charter House, the ReHome team dubbed the project “the Crate of Kindness”.

“It was a simple model where the project team built a small area of storage space and we got some donations in from a couple of corporates and purely through volunteers working on site, furnished a couple of homes a fortnight,” said Mr Stammer.

With construction on the Australia Post site nearing completion, the space has been returned to the building owners and the project wound up.

Mr Stammer is determined not to give up, however, and is on the lookout for locations to open more Crates of Kindness.

Over the past 12 months ReHome has furnished 640 homes for people in crisis using pre-loved or excess furniture that would otherwise have been destined for landfill.

“We are furnishing about 15 homes a week on average and it’s usually a house full of furniture,” said Mr Stammer.

ReLove has worked hard to establish relationships with 45 charities across Sydney, who refer clients in need.

“They come in and shop for all the furniture they need and it’s as simple as that. We often move them in the next day,” said Mr Stammer.

While supplying furniture to those who are struggling meets a practical need, it also ticks a very important psychological box in terms of self-esteem.

“It’s about dignity of choice in a time where there’s potentially been a lot of rejection, a lot of trauma or a lot of dislocation.”

Mr Stammer said it takes on average eight attempts for women who have been subject to domestic violence to leave the perpetrator.

Having a secure, safe and furnished place to live, particularly when accompanied by children, is crucial to achieving that goal.

“If she’s sleeping on the floor waiting for support, then that’s a really crucial time of making a potential decision to go back to a dangerous situation.”

Re Love warehouse
ReLove's Sydney warehouse.

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