By Michaela Morgan
On any given weekend, The Bower is buzzing with activity. There’s a constant stream of people donating second hand tables, microwaves and bicycles, shopping for retro furniture bargains, or learning to fix a toaster at the Repair Café. For 17 years, The Bower Re-Use and Recycle Centre in Marrickville has been recycling donated household items and saving them from becoming landfill.
And now, following a successful crowdfunding campaign, the not-for-profit centre will be distributing furniture to asylum seekers and refugees who are in the process of settling in Sydney, as part of a new project called ‘From House to Home’.
Guido Verbist, the Bower’s Co-operative Manager, says the centre has previously offered a 20 per cent discount to asylum seekers.
“But we thought that we should actually try to do even better than that. Give more support to them. And also because we think that, instead of buying new goods every time, why not offer second hand goods? For the same amount of money, they can purchase so much more he says.”
After the From House to Home project joined forces with activist group, Mums 4 Refugees, nearly $15,000 was raised through online crowdfunding. Mums 4 Refugees member Tara Crisp says the collaboration has been beneficial in more ways than one.
“We’re quite excited about the idea because we were actually receiving a whole lot of requests for furniture and we were trying to deal with them, but we just weren’t set up to deliver large items.”As well as the money that was crowd sourced, the ‘From House to Home’ project has received grants from the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation and the Sidney Myer Fund, bringing the entire project’s budget to close to $50,000.
The money will be distributed between four different organisations, according to Guido Verbist.
“We have opened accounts for the Newtown Asylum Seekers Centre, House of Welcome in Blacktown, Marist Youth Care and Pyrmont Cares,” he says.
After caseworkers assess individual needs, families will be given vouchers to purchase essential items such as fridges, washing machines and beds.
“The nicest part of all of this is, for them, it’s like going shopping anywhere else. It’s not something that is imposed on them, they can pick and choose what they like and don’t like. Being treated like any other normal customer is the main pleasure for them, and for us,” says Mr Verbist.
He says that the public awareness of this campaign has seen The Bower receive more donations than ever. However, the centre has not been able accept all of the offers that they receive.
Mr Verbist says, “The main roadblock we currently have is space, ironically, because there is more offered to us than we can store and that limits us a little bit.”
The centre is currently searching for an additional warehouse to cope with the demand and to ensure the ‘House to Home’ program can continue beyond 2016.