The Rotary Club of Dunedin North has recently completed a very special project designed to provide a sanctuary for women and children who have escaped family violence.
Club president Denise Holmes says, after significant fundraising by five Rotary clubs, the backyard of Te Whare Pounamu Dunedin Women’s Refuge’s emergency housing has been transformed from barren and “a bit sad” to a beautiful healing and interactive space.

“The yard’s transformation means vulnerable women and children who seek refuge at the safe house now have a specially-designed outdoor place in which to relax and play.”

The project, which is the brainchild of Dunedin North Rotarian Mark Burrows, has been more than two years in the making, but was worth every moment of hard work, Denise says – and it’s not your average garden makeover.

Centred very much on the needs of the woman and children who will use the private haven, the plan and layout have been carefully crafted by Chantal Whitby, a landscape architect with Neville Stewart Landscaping, which has donated its time and expertise.

“Chantal’s developed an ‘imagination playground’, an area for the children to create their own play spaces and make up new games using their minds, and gives them a chance to play in a safe, natural setting,” Denise says.

“It’s designed to be like an adventurous journey, starting with an exciting passage down a river, where children can imagine jumping from rock to rock to avoid the water. The tree rings and hardwood posts which follow are used as a version of the ‘don’t touch the ground’ game.

“When the children reach the end of the ‘river’ they can tunnel through the timber barrel where they’ll come across more stepping stones.”

The yard’s seating area has been designed to feel safe and enclosed, and is surrounded by plants.

Funding and finance co-ordinator for the refuge Judy Mullen says the project would never have been possible without the support of the Rotary Club of Dunedin North.

“What’s been created is a safe and peaceful environment that will help nurture the wellbeing of women and children while they work towards breaking the cycle of violence.

“Te Whare Pounamu is very grateful for Rotary’s support. It’s been a large project, and there is no way we would have been able to undertake it by ourselves.

“Thanks to Rotary, we’re sure vulnerable women and children will enjoy the garden and playground for many years to come.”

Dunedin North’s commitment has been far more than just financial, Judy says.

“The members saw the need for it, and were instrumental in obtaining a design and quotation for consideration.

“They then undertook to gain support from neighbouring clubs and, together, they raised a very significant amount of funding, enabling us to make this a reality for the women and children who turn to us.”

Denise says Dunedin North has a long and rewarding history with Te Whare Pounamu. The relationship has grown over the years, with Rotarians mucking in to help maintain the yards.

Pieces of play equipment handmade by Rotarians over the years have been cleverly repurposed and feature in the new-look yard and will now bring years more of fun.
Together with private contributions and donations received by Te Whare Pounamu, key funding was provided by Rotary: from Dunedin North, including donations from members and friends ($6000); Dunedin Central ($2000); Dunedin South ($2000); Mosgiel ($1000), and Milton ($500) clubs.
Article dated: 20 January 2017