There is a big difference between a house and a home. One is simply a shelter. The other is a place of rest, comfort, and belonging. It is an expression of personality and culture. It is a space of character and meaning where memories are made. It is somewhere, sometimes the only place, where you can feel free to be yourself.
One of the biggest challenges we faced in the early days of the Snowdrop Project was trying to turn empty and sometimes dilapidated flats provided by the council, into homes where women could rebuild their lives. Painting, decorating and furnishing a flat is often demanding in itself. When there is limited budget and only three days in which to complete the transformation, the task becomes even harder.
I often experienced a mixture of fear and excitement when the call came through. With apprehension, we would go view the house to see how much work was needed. In my mind I always carried a list of the most time consuming tasks that I hoped and prayed would not be necessary. Stripping ancient wallpaper, painting high ceilings and sanding the floor were the most dreaded. Very often, all three were required.
Having viewed the property, we would then put out a call to volunteers around the city to see if anyone was able to spontaneously help. There were some wonderful people willing to abandon their weekend or evening plans to spend a day sugar soaping the walls or paint the skirting boards.
As well as painting and decorating we would also endeavour to furnish the homes. Not having any space to store furniture ourselves, a call would have to go out each time we had a house. Amazing people all over the city responded, offering their belongings to help convert an empty space into a home. We would usually hire a van and have a day or two hauling beds, tables, sofas and fridges up and down multiple flights of stairs. Ground floor apartments were a welcome rarity!
Where possible we always tried to include each woman receiving the house in the process. It was often beautiful to see them take ownership in deciding how they wanted their home to be decorated. Sometimes this was one of the first real decisions they had made for themselves for years. Rather than being a powerless victim they were now able to actively exercise their will in creating their own space as they wanted it.
I have so many fond memories of seeing the women really coming to life in this process. One Romanian woman was so overwhelmed with thankfulness that volunteers would give their time to help her. The process built her self-esteem and enabled her to see more of her own value. Another Nigerian woman felt so empowered through the renovation, that having watched a volunteer tile her kitchen, she took it on herself to tile the bathroom overnight. When the volunteers returned the next day they found her beaming with pride at her achievement. One Vietnamese woman took great pleasure in being able to show hospitality in her home and to cook in her new kitchen, even while the renovation was still going on. I remember the wonderful smells emanating from the kitchen. On the most memorable occasion I was presented with a bowl of traditional Vietnamese chicken feet!
A sense of home is so vital for the well-being of the survivors the Snowdrop Project supports. Living in a safe, comfortable and stable space can make a huge difference to mental health, reducing stress and anxiety. Home is a place of security. Home is a place of rest. But most importantly, home is theirs, a space where they are powerful, a place where they are free.