Herstory of the Nelson Women's Centre
and Women in Nelson Inc.
Women in Nelson (WIN) formed in the early 1970’s, one of the first local feminist groups committed to working to advance women's interests. WIN became known here as a political voice for women following the Women’s Convention of 1975, encouraging women to stand for public office. WIN became an incorporated society in 1980.
WIN members helped to establish Nelson Rape Crisis, and WIN was the umbrella under which other women’s initiatives formed, including Young Women’s Support and the Cervical Screening Pilot Project, which then became Nelson Women’s Health. WIN members played strong roles in the development of each of these groups, as vehicles to help address women’s needs.
In 1992 WIN agreed to lease a house in Paru Paru Rd. in order to provide premises for Nelson Rape Crisis, Young Women’s Support, and Nelson Women’s Health. Around 200 women per week used the Women's House. They came for counselling, support, information and health consultations.
In 1994 the Paru Paru Rd. property was sold. While user numbers indicated a need for such a facility, WIN were reluctant to rent another building, because setting up the first house had taken so much time and energy. At a public meeting of various Nelson women’s groups in April 1995, Pat Rosier (former editor of Broadsheet) urged everyone attending to find a property to buy. It was agreed by all that WIN be the legal body to hold house ownership (even though WIN had only $160 in the bank at the time). The meeting decided on this statement of intent:
“We intend to own and provide a dynamic, safe and caring women’s house where all women may flourish.”
WIN negotiated with Nelson City Council to lease the former caretaker’s residence at Trafalgar Park on a ‘rent-to-buy’ basis. In December 1996 WIN finalised purchase of 44 Trafalgar St., completing an ambitious 18-month, $160,000 fundraising campaign.
Major funding came as grants from the Trustbank Canterbury Community Trust, the NZ Lottery Community Facilities Fund, Nelson City Council and Port Nelson Ltd. A special auction of women’s art, organised by Gurli Hansen and hosted by the Suter Art Gallery, raised $30,000. Further funds were generated by: a women’s dinner, a garden party, the premiere of the movie “War Stories,” and a benefit concert at the Nelson School of Music by feminist singer/ songwriter Judy Small. Not only did such staunch local support play an essential role in purchasing the property, but also demonstrated that the Nelson community recognised the need for such a facility.
Enormous thanks to these long-time WIN members for their work over many years to purchase and develop the Women's House: Jacquetta Bell, Laura Black, Gail Collingwood, Trix Dyer, Clare Gaze, Anna Geene, Nicki Green, Margaret Hardie-Boys, Briar Haven, Susan Hawthorne, Penny Molnar, Esme Palliser, Judy Patterson, Liz Price, Juliet Speers, Bets Stallard, Claire Williams.
The Women’s House Te Whare Āwhina Mō Ngā Wāhine Puawai at 44 Trafalgar St. was officially opened in December 1996. A House Committee (with representatives from the three occupant groups) developed protocols for running and managing the house.
In 1997, Rape Crisis, Young Women’s Support and Women’s Health asked WIN to take on the reception/coordination for the house. Women’s Health disbanded and Young Women’s Support became Nelson Women's Support. WIN hired a Women’s House Coordinator, becoming for the first time a provider of services (information, workshops, Op Shop, special gatherings) as well as developing and managing the facility.
In 2002, we renamed the Women’s House the “Nelson Women's Centre.” This was to clarify that we are not residential, but are a community centre.
Facility upgrades have been extensive and ongoing, including: new roof and insulation, repairing and repainting inside and out, native garden plantings, renovating the lounge, adding three counselling rooms, new toilet and shower, new activities room, Op Shop and deck out back, storage shed, and new front verandah.
In 2005, the Nelson Women's Centre as a whole won the Health and Wellbeing Section of the Trustpower Community Awards. This award recognised excellence in community work and the strong collaboration between the groups at the Women's Centre.
In April 2007 the Women’s Centre was badly damaged by fire – The stench and senseless destruction were shocking and traumatic for everyone. The Centre was unusable but repairable. Thus, our motto became: “Crisis is opportunity arriving on a dangerous wind.” We set up temporary offices in the Prefab and Op Shop; Rape Crisis rented rooms in Buxton Square. Our insurance got all repairs completed in four months. We also secured donations from Lion Foundation and NZ Community Trust to upgrade the kitchen – making the most of the opportunity presented by such a big disruption.
The community rallied strongly to help us replace smoke-damaged furniture and equipment: a Benefit Concert and Silent Auction at the Boathouse raised over $7,000. Individuals and community groups donated another $5,000. And a further $7,000 was raised a year later from a benefit concert featuring the legendary activist/folksinger Peggy Seeger (supported by local women's Irish acoustic group Cairde).
In 2010 Rape Crisis changed its name to Sexual Abuse Support & Healing (SASH-Nelson), to reflect its focus on support and healing for all women affected by rape and sexual abuse. In 2012, SASH won the Nelson City Trustpower Community Award!
During 2013, members of WIN, NWS and SASH held a series of Joint Strategy Meetings, exploring ways to address the many political and economic changes we face. As a result, Women in Nelson and Nelson Women's Support decided to merge. The aim of the merger was to:
strengthen governance, simplify operations and clarify our public profile. We wrote a new constitution to combine the aims of WIN and NWS, under the NWS name (to maintain Charities Registration and MSD approved provider status).
The financial merger and asset transfer were completed on 31 March 2014. The new Women's Centre Governing Collective included members from both former Collectives, so that we have a strong mix of newer and older members. Our mission: empowering women to be safe, resourceful, to value themselves, and to reach their potential.
The most visible legacy of Women in Nelson Inc is the Women's Centre facility at 44 Trafalgar St. which is officially owned by Nelson Women's Support Inc.