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Petrina Turner · Asylum Seeker Resource Centre

We’re just one day away from taking a short break over the Christmas / New Year period, and it seemed fitting at this time of year to bring you a story I have been wanting to share for some time!

In February this year, Melbourne’s amazing Asylum Seeker Resource Centre sought assistance relocating their headquarters to a premises which would triple their size – a 3,000 square metre commercial office space, set over two levels in Footscray.  The ASRC’s urgent call to action presented a unique challenge for interior designer Petrina Turner, who jumped in to lend her assistance.  I hope you’ll agree this is one inspiring creative collaboration worth sharing!

18th December, 2014
Lucy Feagins
Thursday 18th December 2014

When Melbourne not-for-profit organisation the Aslyum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC, for short) found themselves with the ambitious and somewhat daunting task of relocating to a 3,000 square metre run-down office space over two levels of a commercial building in Footscray earlier this year, they put a call out for help.  Amongst the many businesses and individuals who offered donations, furniture, decorating materials, and valuable time was Melbourne interior designer Petrina Turner.

Having been a volunteer at the ASRC for almost five years prior to this project, Petrina was the ideal candidate to offer her assistance in revamping the interiors for the new ASRC ‘Home of Hope’ centre.  In early February, she attended a working bee at the new site in Footscray.  The sheer scale of the space was overwhelming  (See here for a a pretty daunting ‘before’ pic!) but Petrina was buoyed by the efforts of an army of fellow volunteers.  She rose to the challenge, joining the ASRC team to create a welcoming, colourful and uplifting space here – with almost zero budget.  Relying on the generous donations of local businesses and individuals, Petrina worked closely with Kon Karapanagiotidis, the ASRC’s passionate CEO and founder, to turn a soul-less commercial shell into a friendly, functional space. No mean feat!

As Kon Karapanagiotidis knows, creating a safe, comfortable space and a feeling of ‘home’ is central to the ASRC’s mission.  ‘With the brilliant work of Petrina Turner we have been able to design a sanctuary for refugees. A place where people fleeing war & terror find peace, dignity and welcome’ explains Kon. ‘Many of our people are survivors of war and torture: open space, colour, warmth, and a ‘non institutional’ feel are all key to creating a feeling of home, diffusing a sense of disempowerment, and creating a sense of security and freedom from fear’.

Everyday, this new space in Footscray now allows the ASRC and their army of over 1000 volunteers to provide a free lunch to 300 people, food parcels to 200 families a week, and help to over 1500 people a week across 23 programs and two floors.  It’s a buzzing community hub, with an overwhelming sense of optimism, hope and potential.

We spoke to Petrina about her involvement with the ASRC, and the challenge she faced to create a truly welcoming ‘Home of Hope’ here.

Hi Petrina, tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am an interior designer and maker running my design practice Petrina Turner Design, with over 20 years experience in the design industry and covering a broad range of design services including residential and commercial interiors, styling, and product design and development. I have a love of mid-century architecture and design, contemporary furniture and lighting, lush textiles and a passion for the power of colour. I believe that your environment plays a huge role in how you feel, and that everyone deserves a beautiful space to nurture their soul.

How did your involvement with the design of the new ASRC ‘Home of Hope’ headquarters  originally come about?

For almost five years I have been a volunteer at the ASRC in their SASA (Supporting Asylum Seeker at Appointments) program, and have seen first hand the wonderful work they do at the coalface. In early February I helped out at one of their working bees to get the new site in Footscray ready.  On the first day I turned up it was a mere shell of the interior, many of internal walls had already been removed by an amazing army of volunteers.  (See here for a ‘before’ pic!) They had a fantastic turnout by those in the community happy to donate their time to this wonderful organisation and the people they help.

The move was facilitated by the ASRC’s corporate partners, who arranged the bulk of the building works, but I was sure there was some way I could help given my design experience, so I approached Kon (who was there lifting/ moving/ carrying a bigger load than anyone) and asked what he needed. From here we sat down in the empty shell of what would become their new ‘Home of Hope’ and started planning.

I was privileged to be able to give my time and provide my professional services to help with their interiors.

What was the original vision for this space? 

Kon’s vision was to create a place where asylum seekers feel welcome, safe and supported, and the amazing team of staff and volunteers there do just that. My brief was to create a ‘home’ that reflected these values, using furniture and furnishings generously donated by the ASRC’s corporate partners and the community.

Kon and I have a shared passion for colour and the role it can play in lifting peoples spirit. This was the starting point for the ASRC’s new home.  The new space has a large, open plan community zone, with uses including reception, computer hub, recreations, food bank, community meals, music, childrens play area, and a general home away from home for some of the most vulnerable people in our community. Past this open zone you then move into the ASRC’s other important services – legal, health, counselling, aid and so much more.

Colour became a mechanism to differentiate the zones, while at the same time giving a sense of welcome to everyone who uses it: the asylum seekers, the hundreds of volunteers and the staff. I also wanted it to reflect the uplifting spirit of the people who inhabit it. Aside from the importance colour played in the function and feel of the space, there was the need to ensure that the open space would be flexible and work for a multitude of functions.

This is one of those rare projects where there was little or no budget, but a huge amount of goodwill from the ARSC’s supporters. The bulk of their furniture was donated from corporate partners, and my task was to arrange this eclectic collection into practical, usable zones. I also put out a call on instagram for some additional donations of rugs, cushions and art, so that I could truly make it a home away from home, and I was overwhelmed by the response. As someone who loves a challenge I set to work grouping, arranging, editing, curating to create diverse, welcoming spaces within a space.

What has been the response so far?

The response has been wonderful. To see people using, enjoying, sharing this space is so heartwarming. It’s wonderful to see the ASRC being used to it’s fullest, and then some. I think the work that everyone put into the new ASRC, starting with Kon, his staff, the volunteers, their corporate partners, the community, and the amazing men women and children who seek their help, shows the full meaning of community spirit. Just to see the smiles on the faces of those who spend time here is so heartwarming.

In my small way I hope I have helped to contribute to a place that is welcoming and nurturing to everyone who walks in. The beauty of the ASRC’s Home of Hope is that it is continually shapeshifting according to it’s needs, and I will always by available to help them.

The ASRC Christmas Appeal

Amidst the frenzy of Christmas shopping and entertaining today and over the coming few days, do consider making a donation to the ASRC’s annual Christmas appeal – a little goes such a long way to assist with the vital services they offer to refugees right here in Melbourne!  You can DONATE ONLINE HERE.

Aslyum Seeker Resource Centre new premises in Footscray, designed with assistance from Melbourne interior designer Petrina Turner.  Photo – Sean Fennessy for The Design Files.

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