Courtneys on Willis in Wellington is a drop-in centre run by the Mental Health Consumers Union. It’s a gathering place for people who – in the main – have had some experience of mental illness. But others who have landed on hard times and have nowhere to go during the day often call by.
Managed by Norrie and situated at Community House 84 Willis Street, around 30+ people from around the city drop by in the course of most days. One floor above Courtneys is the office of Volunteer Wellington; so last week I was invited down to be part of a discussion about volunteering.
What everyone already does (or has done) started the conversation – driving for the Salvation Army, gardening, befriending, some graphic design and IT. But the comment that moved me most was ‘I’m here for the guys.’ ‘Like counselling,’ someone else said. ‘Yes we give counsel. We’re a community – a family.’
Next question: ‘Where do you live?” ‘Arlington Flats,’ ‘the night shelter,’ ‘nowhere.’ A variety of answers. This brought us right back to Courtneys, the room in which we were all having a cup of tea on that cold southerly Friday afternnon. Life beyon the centre was often scattered and uncertain. Here there are some guarantees. There will be familiar faces, cups of tea and coffee, companionship.
And what the guys said a number of times as our talked became more emphatic made sense. ‘We can keep on with our journey. We’d all like to do some more of what we’re good at. I help people with their journey. It has to be on both sides. We’ve got to be able to get on with the other side. Can’t have someone looking at us and saying I don’t want you. We accept everyone here.’
The guys had articulated to me the essecne of volunteering. We had all got to know one another a little better. That evening when I left work one of my new Courtneys friends arrived at the entrance door as I was clambouring down the stairs. He opened the door wide and held it for a good minute before I arrived. Our grins were mutual. We both felt the world was a little better that evening – despite the cold south wind.