Vicki Kelley with the Pop In symbol she hopes becomes a sign of peace and safety for the women of the Southern Highlands.
Imagine a place where women and their children can escape, even momentarily, situations of domestic and family violence.
Where they’ll be listened to and cared for as a whole person.
Where the lounges are soft and the voices are gentle.
It sounds like a dream and in most parts of the country, it would be. With most providers stretched to the limit, and constant funding shortfalls, family and domestic violence services struggle to meet even a fraction of the needs.
But now there is somewhere right in the heart of Bowral that ticks all those boxes.
It’s called Pop In, and not only is it a step in the right direction for the region, it’s a whole new way of addressing the issue.
Designed to be both preventative and restorative, Pop In is a drop in centre and online service that provides a place to be heard, and avenues to take action, all in a cosy cottage environment on Mona Road, Bowral.
There are many aspects that set Pop In apart from similar services, but perhaps the most crucial is that it operates entirely without government funding.
“We decided not to go with government funding as it gave us more control,” said chair of the Pop In board and one of the founders, Vicki Kelley.
“It also gave us the ability to advocate for the women, because you can’t be taking with one hand and then be critical of the government with the other.”
Two years ago, Vicki put her head together with three other residents to start thinking about how to tackle the “significant and neglected problem of domestic violence, abuse and control” in the Southern Highlands, citing research that indicates up to 1,000 women and children are victims of domestic violence and abuse each year in the Wingecarribee Shire.
“We know that this is not limited to physical violence,” she said.
“Women who are dealing with emotional, psychological, financial and sexual abuse, as well as other types of behaviour that exert power and control, are welcome at Pop In.”
They set out on a six month journey of talking with academics and other experts in the field, determined to pursue an evidence-based model that really worked. Lou’s Place – a daytime refuge for women in Potts Point – was the only place they found that operated similarly to their goal, and it became a model for the project.
“One of our first decisions was that it wouldn’t be crisis accommodation,” said Vicki.
“A woman who has experienced domestic violence will often attempt to leave the family home several times.
“We wanted something that worked with the woman at an earlier stage.”
They threw themselves into gaining community support – both financial and in the form of goodwill and connections.
The premises was donated by Dr Nick Hartnell, and transformed into a homey, welcoming environment.
“It’s a one-stop shop,” said Vicki.
“We can refer to other providers, but we take a holistic view.
“And because of our model, we can provide unlimited access, because it can take a long time for someone to work through all of this.
“They can come for as long as they need.”
The board intends to consistently evaluate the service so that versions of Pop In can be set up in other parts of Australia.
With the doors only open for two weeks, the word is spreading, with plans to place business cards (complete with the Pop In symbol and address) everywhere from hairdressers to schools.
“The goal is for a woman to walk through that door and feel a sense of kindness and trust, and the possibility of growth,” said Vicki.
“We want the Southern Highlands to be known as a community that is really dealing with domestic violence.”
Pop In is open 9am-4pm, Monday to Friday, and can be found at 2 Mona Road, Bowral. For more information go to www.popin.org.au or phone 4872 1229.