For the past few months Habitat for Humanity Australia’s volunteers have been painting and refurbishing a former convent in Brisbane called Peggy’s Place. I had the opportunity to interview the wonderful women behind Peggy’s Place which is a new transitional shelter for women and children escaping domestic violence.
The beautiful building used to be a Sisters of Mercy convent before it was sold to Peggy Flannery. Peggy was the chosen developer by the Sisters because unlike other potential buyers Peggy had shared her vision of a transformative sanctuary for women and children escaping domestic violence. The Sisters loved knowing that their home of 40 years would go on to be a home to other women.
Peggy Flannery is a passionate property developer, owner of the well-known resort Elements of Byron among other resorts, residential buildings, pubs and co-founder of the Flannery Foundation. The Flannery Foundation allocates most of its gifting to help homeless women and children, children’s health, and medical research.
We asked Peggy what inspired her to buy this building and turn it into transitional accommodation for women and children?
Peggy shared: “I have wanted to do this since I was a child. I lived next door to a lady who used to be beaten up by her husband. Back in those days, nobody became involved, and it used to distress me as a child. I grew up in the country and you would hear the violence and I used to sit down and ask my parents to go over and stop him. Sadly, they couldn’t do anything as they couldn’t even call the police because it was no good as they could not interfere. My mother and my father both worked full time so when I came home from school, I used to go to her place next door and play with her young children. I went on to babysit her children at 10 years of age. I became good friends with her and till this day we are still friends.”
Peggy will meet her friend in the coming weeks for lunch to share with her that Peggy’s Place was prompted by her experience.
We asked Peggy what will be different about Peggy’s place?
Unlike most accommodations where there is a limit to how long the women and children can stay but because this is privately owned and not dependent on government funding alone the women and children can stay as long as they need. Peggy has allocated a percentage of the rooms for women over 50 as they are homeless due to domestic violence. Peggy’s Place will house 35 women and 40 children at a time.
We asked Peggy what her vision was for this space.
Peggy shared: “The whole idea here will be to re-empower the women through various stages. First, we will be offering counselling because healing will not happen overnight. The truth is, most of the women won’t be totally healed when they leave here. There are scars, they’re going to carry with them forever. Second, they will be taught about handling finances again including budgeting, because a lot of women experience financial abuse. Thirdly they will be encouraged to see if they want to go into an area of the workforce. I’m hoping to have groups that will take them on to give them work experience so that they can then apply for a job and to be able to add the experience to their resume. Lastly, each caseworker will work alongside the women to self-determine if and when they are ready to go into their community working and renting their own space. We want to ensure they feel ready and confident to take that next step.”
With the support of other organisations, the space is going be transformed into a beautiful sanctuary for women and children experiencing trauma. Peggy has furniture being donated, kitchen equipment and much more to make the space feel welcoming and warm. Peggy shared: “This is a home not just some way of surviving. I want them to flourish here.”
A big part of the women flourishing at Peggy’s Place is the impressive staff Peggy has working there. I had the opportunity to meet Fiona and Vicky who are preparing the shelter for opening day.
Fiona has a background of working in domestic violence support as a team manager and support worker and other roles over the past 15 years. Fiona has a wealth of knowledge, experience, a passion for what she does, as well as an incredible understanding of what is needed to support women and children who have escaped domestic violence. Fiona shared with me that in Brisbane metro areas alone there are currently over 200 women and children homeless due to domestic violence with nowhere to go.
We were fascinated to learn so much about what Fiona does within safety planning and what that will mean for women’s empowerment journey at Peggy’s Place. Fiona shared:
“I’ve been on board with Peggy for a year establishing a practice framework and it’s really based on kindness. The framework is based on a being trauma-responsive, feminist framework. As research tells us that about 20% of women at times may return or visit the person using violence (ex-partner); however, be fearful of telling their caseworker as they are worried, they may not be able to stay in the refuge if found out.
The Peggy’s Place approach is: let’s address the elephant in the room. (Fiona has a stuffed toy elephant in her office to remind her of when supporting women, we recognise power differences within vulnerable groups, leading to the importance of respecting women’s choices, differences, abilities and cultures) I’ve worked with the issue on many occasions, and I always like to call out the elephant in the room because this could mean there is a serious risk if we do not speak out. I look at the risk and see how we can support women around that risk without taking away their voice and choices. We also want the women to feel safe enough to tell us they want to leave and go home if they want too. If the women do, then we can make a safety plan around that which works for the family. Peggy’s Place will provide providing women-only services and space for women’s voices to be heard and valuing women’s lives and experiences
We asked Peggy and Fiona how they felt about the workout volunteers have been doing for the past few months and they said:
“At first, I didn’t have a particularly good understanding of Habitat to start with, but oh my gosh, I am telling everybody about Habitat now. When I talk about Peggy’s Place, Habitat comes in because of all the work the volunteers have been doing here. It’s absolutely amazing to hear the stories of where you have been and what you have done. It’s been mind-blowing. We are so happy with the work the Habitat volunteers have done!”- Peggy.
“I have become the biggest Habitat fan and Wendy’s (Habitat QLD Supervisor), her work and leadership skills are phenomenal. I love watching her lead because she does it in a way that is so respectful. You couldn’t pick a better leader. I’ve loved working with her because when she says she is going to do something, she gets it done. In our last meeting with Peggy and Brian (Peggy’s husband) we all agreed on what a great decision it has been working with Habitat. The work the volunteers are doing with painting is so important from a trauma-responsive framework and making the space feel calm. It makes the space feel clean and tidy so that when the women come here, they feel like they are valued. This is what Habitat is committed to doing and having the volunteers come through is just outstanding. To see volunteers, get excited about and having the opportunity to talk about diversity and anti-violence and the impact on women and children and how we can all make a change has been wonderful. It has brought a sense of greater importance that we’re all on this journey together. They’re now part of that change as well. I think it brings the community together in such a perfect way that I wish I’d known about it years ago.”- Fiona.
It is wonderful to see so many individuals who have come together to make the world a safer and better place for women and children who are homeless due to domestic violence. We look forward to watching the amazing things Peggy’s Place will do for the women and children that will be moving in there in the next few months. We are grateful for the part Habitat for Humanity Australia could play in their impactful journey.
If you want to volunteer and help paint Peggy’s place visit: volunteer.habitat.org.au. We are still working on this project for the next few weeks until it is complete.