Tell us about yourself, and what led you to become the woman you are today.
I’m a mum of two children, have a Masters in Communications and worked in Corporate Sponsorship and Communication Management roles in Australia and New Zealand for around 18 years. I’m also the founder and CEO of Woven Earth.
I have always had a passion for community and people and would you believe it but my maters thesis was on volunteer retention and recruitment. I even won an international award for it but had no idea back then what my life journey was going to take.
Unfortunately, I experienced family violence, experienced time in a Women’s Refuge in Australia and had to rebuild my life and that of my children. Because of that experience I understand the struggles that those fleeing family violence face and, inspired by the help I received from family and friends, I decided to establish Woven Earth. I realised first hand that there is a massive gap in the provision of care that we give to people who are brave enough to break the cycle of abuse and how most of the help on offer was a standardised package and nothing to acknowledge or uplift people based on their individual needs, hobbies and possessions that they could treasure because it resonated with who they are. This is what sets our service aside. We individualise every home to every life in the home. We afford survivors the support to have a home, and the dignity of beautiful things to furnish it with.
Talk to us about Woven Earth, what is it you do and who do you help.
Tragically, New Zealand has the highest rates of family violence in the developed world. Woven Earth is a registered charity that fills one of the many gaps that exist in the provision of practical support for family violence survivors and their children. Woven Earth’s driving purpose is to give dignity and hope to every person referred to us, by furnishing empty houses and turning them into loving, safe havens, enabling families to rebuild their lives.
What often isn’t known is that, when a family that has escaped a violent relationship and secures a new home, they often walk into an empty house. And they don’t have access to any financial support to furnish it and often any community around them to help them take this next critical step in creating new beginnings for themselves and their children.
For that reason, Woven Earth helps with everything a family needs to start over, including beds, fridges, washing machines, kitchen items, bedding, towels, toys, décor and much, much more. About 60% of what we give is excellent quality second hand items (mainly furniture) the rest is made up of brand new things that we ourselves would only want to be given as new such as towels, cutlery, duvet inners, pillows etc.
We take special care of every person in the family and try to find out their likes, hobbies, interests, favourite colours and needs. We ask them what they have lost or what would help them set up a new life and it’s asking these questions that makes our service truly unique.
In short, we’re all about helping to create a home that is tailored to each family and meets their individual needs.
How many families’ lives have you transformed?
As of 20 October we have furnished 491 homes, furnished the lives of 1469 lives. That is 972 children’s lives.
What are the challenges you face when running a charity like Woven Earth?
There are many challenges to running a charity like Woven Earth, but the main ones are funding, enough item donations to fill the homes because the referrals are not slowing they are sadly growing (particularly larger furniture items like beds, dining suites and whiteware) and time!
And now, growing team, growing goals, is it a case of the more you do the more you see needs doing?
Yes. Unfortunately, demand for our service grew in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 placed immense pressure on families and, sadly, family violence exploded during this period. In addition, the challenges and heartbreak of the floods in Auckland earlier this year resulted in people enduring immense mental and financial stress.
The ripple effect of these disasters has sadly imploded in the number of family harm callouts and people who are experiencing family violence. We found ourselves not only helping families escaping family violence, but also helping families who lost their homes and possessions in the floods.
The sad reality is that poverty and mental health are at their all-time high and when you add family violence to this you have a situation where people are battling life on so many fronts and they are struggling. The state of our refuges and emergency housing is putting vulnerable people into unsafe temporary housing while they try and find permanent housing.
If they are able to find a home themselves the rents are so high that furnishing the home becomes even more impossible for them. If they are eligible and manage to secure social housing then they often don’t get a say which suburbs they go into and live in uncertainty until they are successful in being offered a home. They are not given much notice that a home will be given to them to they are rushed and move in before we can get to them so live in an empty house sleeping on the floor making do while our service races to try and get a home packed and delivered to them.
Running a charity that is so personal to you and your ownexperiences, how do you stay afloat and on top of everything, how do you ensure you don’t burn out?
That’s a very good question, I often feel there aren’t enough hours in the day! I try to take a few days off during the school holidays to re-charge but, being the main point of contact for all matters to do with the charity, it often means that I work all hours of the day and night.
I also have two very understanding children and my mum is a fantastic help. And I have an incredible group of volunteers who are the life blood of the service and work so hard behind the scenes as a team to keep up with the referrals and need.
People have a misconception that we are a huge charity with teams of staff. We are tiny and we work hard and efficiently but charity fatigue is a real thing and this is where the right support both in-kind and financial can be the make or break of a sustainable charity.
Who do you have in your corner to help keep momentum, keep you in track and continue to help families in need?
Every home we do, every family and very life we change is motivation to never give up. We have the most incredible stories of how people we have helped have gone on to grow and set their life up and achieve their dreams. We see the tears of gratitude and the exhausted faces of people who carry so much traumas a heartbreak on their shoulders and we see them lifted up and smiling through their tears as we show them through their home. How could we not ever do this.
I always say if every single person could see this and be part of our service I’m sure we would never have to beg for funding every again. We don’t just talk about what we think should happen we do it and we walk our talk every single time. I’m so very proud of the incredibly positive reputation we have from showing up over and over again and delivering on the promise of our service.
My Board of Directors and volunteers are great at keeping me going. But everyone who I come into contact with provides motivation, from social workers I liaise with to the people who drop off donations and the guys who drive our truck and van. And, of course, knowing that there are so many families out there who need our help is a major incentive.
What's next for Woven Earth?
A core area of focus for our next steps is looking at ways we can make our service more sustainable as well as exploring how we can consolidate our warehousing facilities under the one roof in a more centralized location.
In the future, I’m keen to expand Woven Earth into a national charity, so our help can be provided to families outside of the Greater Auckland area.
We need support to help us find a warehouse that can bring our furniture and general household items together and give us space to pack for multiple homes a day. Ideally in the Albany area. But this needs funding and support to get there.
We are also looking for companies to come on board and partner with us and we have just recently created an incredible partnership package to help us secure these over the next 6 months.
How can our Saben community get involved?
Donate! Financial donations and/or donations of great quality household items are always needed and are hugely appreciated.
You can donate directly via wovenearth.org.nz
On our website we have a link to a list of items that we need. And people can upload what they want to donate with their details under the ‘Donate items’ tab. This will go into our system and from there we schedule collections of larger furniture items.
We are also reliant on committed and reliable volunteers to make Woven Earth work, so if anyone is able to commit to regular volunteering sessions, we would love to hear from them.
Lastly, spreading the word. We would love to increase the visibility of Woven Earth, to drive more awareness and increase funding opportunities and donations. If anyone knows of organizations that might be prepared to provide ongoing sponsorship or grants, we would love to hear from them.
Where can we find you?
Our main depot is at 2181 East Coast Road in Silverdale - we are open for donation drop offs on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9-11am (this is when our volunteer teams are there to assist with sorting incoming donations. We also have a furniture warehouse in, Silverdale however this is not manned by anyone and we are running out of room hence the urgency with needing a bigger space under one roof. .
What’s your favourite Saben? Why did you choose this piece?
I chose the Big Sis Tilly Crossbody in black, as it looks like the perfect size, it's practical and it’s flexible in how it can be used for any occasion.
Join Saben supporting Woven Earth with donations - Bags for Beds!
Saben will be matching all donations made at checkout for the month of November. Woven Earth is also the charity our GiveBack Program sales will be donated to. Look out at our sample sale for the Woven Earth/Give Back Program table of bags. 100% of the sale of these bags will be donated to Woven Earth.
100% of donated money to Woven Earth is used to furnish homes! Woven Earth provides new beds for every home - we want to help them on their mission to raise $12,000 for the 40 single beds, and $20,000 for queen beds they will need to furnish homes from now until Christmas. If your company of business would like to get involved with their mission, please reach out to Woven Earth - every bit counts!