Women’s stories

Shelley’s story

WWBH 032

“When coming to the house I felt quite a lot of trepidation. I have always lived on my own and been in control of my own life. I was nervous about how I would find it.”

Shelley is 55 years old and this month she is moving in to her own home and setting up her own business. Before coming to stay with us at the Wellington Women’s Boarding House she’d been living in Melbourne studying counselling and working in homelessness sector providing housing and support services.

After being diagnosed with advanced cancer that needed aggressive treatment she wanted to come home to New Zealand. She returned to Nelson, but with no community and without a supportive family she was on her own with no financial resources to fall back on. It took six years for Shelley to recover from the effects of chemotherapy on her immune system. When she was finally ready to work again she realised that she would need to move to a larger city to set up her own counselling practice.

After finding us online she spoke to Margaret, our House Manager, and came to meet us.

“It is clear that Margaret is making inroads into creating an environment that is pleasant and clean. I first noticed the garden and a sense of warmth. The word boarding house feels old school, but it gave me a platform to work from. I have been really ill this year, but because it was affordable I wasn’t under pressure. It felt like a good starting point. A spring-board. And the location is fantastic”.

This month Shelley is moving into private rental and is busy setting up her own business. She’s already joined the community gardens and is looking forward to growing her own vegetables, being part of a community and developing a real sense of belonging.

*Shelley is not the resident’s real name.

Shelley’s story in PDF form.


Lily’s story

“l don’t find it easy living in the house. I arrived here in the midst of painful circumstances. And l’m still coming to terms with those. As I do that I’m also having to adjust to Iiving in a ‘boarding house way’ alongside people I may not have chosen to live with.

“I think this describes a common experience for the woman here. Something has happened to each of us to bring us here. But having that in common is of course our saving grace.

“The beauty of the house and garden and Margaret’s light touch help. Thinking where else I may have ended up helps too. Here I can afford the rent, I have as much right to be here as everyone else, and I have time to reinvent myself before I need to move on.

“ln the meantime I can rest and think, and I can pick the roses in the garden and put them in a vase by my bed. The same way Margaret made me feel welcome when I first arrived. As I go to sleep I can smell them, sweet, as the wind blows in my top window. And in the morning I see them there pink and white against my dark red curtain.”

*Lily is not the resident’s real name.

Lily’s story in PDF form.


Maree’s story

After a short stay at a Women’s Refuge safe house, arrangements were made for Maree* to stay at the Wellington Women’s Boarding House,  Jane Emerson speaks to Maree.

Nowhere to go

“I was a mess. I was actually self-harming. I was just on the point of not being able to cope and contemplated suicide. I thought – I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know who to turn to,” Maree says, reflecting on that time.

Maree remembers arriving at the house and noticing how peaceful it was and how safe it felt.

She recalls being told “here’s your food cupboard. There’s some food to get you by, and if you haven’t got something and you need it, just ask one of us and we’ll see if we’ve got it.”

Maree recalls the benefits of talking to people who understood what she was going through, and feeling their support.

Many of the women at the house “have been in similar situations, have come here for a break, have found that safety and that ability to be able to express themselves and tell their story”, she says.

Stepping outside

“For me, initially going out of the house felt really unsafe in case I met him again.”

But being told she could do it and given strategies by people who had lived through it themselves gave her the courage she needed.

“When I came back from having gone out, especially the first few times, it was like ‘well done, you did it’, she says.

That kind of support has helped me to face what really was a very challenging situation.”

A new start

When I spoke with Maree she had been at the house only a few months, but said that even in that short time she had changed so much.

“Every time [people] see me [they] say ‘wow’, ‘you’re smiling now’, ‘you look so much better in yourself’, ‘you’re a different person’”.

She also found that, even after just a few months, she could already start to give back and pass on the messages and support that she had received when she first came to the house.

Messages like “honey, you’re worth more than that”, “you deserve better”.

*Please note, Maree is not her real name. It was changed to protect her identity.

Maree’s story in PDF form.

Back to Top