News & Events

A first for Victorian refuges

March 12, 2020

The opportunity to design healing spaces specifically for traumatised women and children is rare but Emerge has seized the chance thanks to pro bono support.

Emma, who heads up Emerge’s arts therapy program, is currently working with two women architects to design counselling and play areas within the new refuge and office with the aim of providing a holistic healing environment.

“Most refuges and offices are purpose built – to offer safe and secure temporary housing and to be a workplace,” Emma said.

“With our new refuge and new office, we have the chance to do something different, to design spaces which have a positive impact on health, recovery and wellbeing,” she said.

Working with Samantha Donnelly, a specialist in women’s refuge design, and her architect colleague Sophie Dyring, Emerge is pioneering custom built therapy spaces.

“The rooms are light, they are painted in calm colours, like greens, blues and cream, they have minimal furnishings and the lighting is sensory based,” she said.

All of the therapeutic spaces in the new refuge, including the two consulting rooms and the arts therapy space, and four spaces in the new office, including the sand play room, are receiving the special treatment.

These new spaces are said to be a first in Victoria, partly because existing refuges have to work with what they already have.

Emma says that Emerge is in a privileged situation and is making the most of it.

“The refuge and office are busy places. We provide an array of services like legal, psychosocial, health, mental health, and employment needs. But the challenges faced by the women and children are complex, and the barriers they encounter as they attempt to live free of violence are difficult to overcome,” Emma said.

“That is why having custom built and designed spaces for counselling, arts therapy and playing are so crucial. They provide the place to start healing physically, mentally and emotionally.”

While Emma concedes that no environment is neutral, she is optimistic that these new spaces should play a role in supporting the psycho-social and spiritual needs of the women, children, staff and volunteers.


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