New Great Lakes Women’s Shelter opens in Forster for families escaping violence, homelessness

For the past six years, the Great Lakes Women’s Shelter was forced to keep its location secret but a new purpose-built facility is bringing its work out in the open and allowing it to help more women.

“We’ve got top-of-the-line security,” operations manager Carly Ravenscroft said.

That security not only helps the women and their children feel safe inside, it means the shelter on the NSW Mid North Coast can provide so much more for them.

When the Great Lakes Women’s Shelter first opened in 2016, it was split across two rental properties in Tuncurry and Forster.

Their locations had to remain private, which limited the services they could offer.

Now in its secure, fit-for-purpose home, the shelter can welcome volunteers, specialists and community members.

“It means, for the first time ever, we’re actually able to have them in the shelter helping out, not just doing stuff outside and in the community,” Ms Ravenscroft said.

“We’re hoping to have them coming in and doing things like cooking with the families, doing story times, teaching the women life skills … all to help with the trauma recovery.”

high demand

Ms Ravenscroft said the previous shelters could house five families and were almost always at 100 per cent capacity with a waitlist.

And so, the plan to build a new shelter began four years ago.

Carly Ravenscroft smiling in front of an aboriginal artwork.
Carly Ravenscroft says an average of two local women seek shelter each week.(ABC Mid North Coast: Keely Johnson)

“We [now] have the capacity to home 10 families,” Ms Ravenscroft said.

“This is much better and designed for purpose, so it’s got everything that the families need.

“Just in the last couple of weeks … we pretty much have 10 families ready to move in.”

A double bed with a single bed bunk and trundle with colorful blankets on top.
Each room has a “dignity bag”, giving the women and their children essential products.(ABC Mid North Coast: Keely Johnson)

According to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, more than 500 incidents of domestic violence were reported in the Mid-Coast local government area in 2021 alone.

That put it in the top third of the state for the highest rates of domestic violence.

Ms Ravenscroft said the shelter had helped more than 150 women and 200 children since 2016 and she hoped the new facility would double that figure.

The ability to have more visitors to the shelter has created more opportunities for intensive child casework and play therapy, according to caseworker Beth.

Two large draws full of food like cereal, canned goods, long-life milk and chips.
There are two food donation cages at local supermarkets that the facility depends on for groceries.(ABC Mid North Coast: Keely Johnson)

“Coming from quite a trauma-based background, the children [in the shelter] can often display different behaviours,” she said.

“Having a facility like this, we’re able to identify the different behaviors, have the right support come in and help them deal with those situations as well as support the mothers.

“I’ve seen children open up and start talking or little ones learn to speak, because they’re in such a comfortable and loving atmosphere.”

Staff from a local preschool plan to volunteer their time to visit the shelter and operate as a preschool within the grounds.

A small green kids kitchen with toys on it.
Children’s therapy is an important part of trauma recovery at the shelter.(ABC Mid North Coast: Keely Johnson)

Support increased

The new facility will also better support the group’s outreach program known as “Willow”.

The program aims to support women once they leave the shelter, as they only stay about three months.

“We just sit down and talk with them on what’s happening for them outside of the shelter and how they can remain successful in their rentals, jobs and different things like that,” Beth said.

The shelter has one six-bedroom house and two two-bedroom villas.

The families share kitchen, lounge room, laundry and bathroom facilities, as well as a sizeable garden area.

A large kitchen with two fridges, two ovens, two dishwashers.
Each family will have their own section of the kitchen.(ABC Mid North Coast: Keely Johnson)

Ms Ravenscroft said she had employed two new staff members, but ideally would like more.

“With the double capacity [for] families, we would ideally have double the … staff, however, funding is restricting that at the moment,” she said.

“We are looking for more funds, always, just to keep the doors open.”

Almost 60 percent of families that use the shelter are Indigenous.

The building is covered in Aboriginal art by local Worimi artists.

“We want to make our Indigenous families feel very comfortable in this space,” Beth said.

A large aqua wall in the dining room has a large line and dot Aboriginal artwork.
The building is covered in Aboriginal art by local Worimi artists.(ABC Mid North Coast: Keely Johnson)

The building is almost fully sustainable, using solar panels and Tesla batteries.

The Mid-Coast Council leases the land to the group and local, state and federal funding, as well as community donations, made the more than $2 million project possible.


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