Lee Haskell captures some of Taranaki Women’s Refuge “Herstory” from the beginning through to her time as Manager.  Thank you Lee for documenting this for us and for your time and dedication to Taranaki Women’s Refuge.

The story began in December 1976 when the NP Women’s Centre registered Articles of Incorporation and became Women’s Centre New Plymouth Incorporated.  The objects under which the Centre was established, included some key points:

  • A contact point for all women on an apolitical, non-discriminatory basis
  • To provide child-care facilities
  • To provide reading rooms, a library and a place of support for women
  • Counselling services
  • Provision of short-term accommodation for women and their children in desperate circumstances
  • A referral service for women
  • Any other such activities as may be necessary to further the interests of women

There was also provision for several elected members and office holders to administer the Centre.

Move forward to 1982 and a major problem facing the Centre was finding refuge for battered women with nowhere to go, and who were unable to stay at the Centre as it was an 80-year-old house and considered unsafe for domestic purposes.

“In the first 4 months of this year (1982), we have recorded 38 pleas from women seeking accommodation, 28 living in domestic violence situations, this compares with 42 in all of 1981 and is just the tip of the iceberg.  We only get the really desperate women who have contacted CAB, real estate agents, lifeline, church organisations and MPs.” (a note from the archives of the Women’s Centre).

In 1983 the Emergency Shelter Trust Board administered 5 emergency houses in the NP area.  In August of that year the Housing Corporation offered them 2 more houses due to the housing crisis in NP at that time!  The Board was keen for other organisations to take on the responsibility for administering one of the houses.  Discussions took place between the Trust and the Women’s Centre Co-ordinator Karen Johns and Beryl Allison who attended a meeting, became members of the Trust and began the process to take over one of these houses.  Ideas were formulated about the administration of the house and after a lot of grief, a long period of negotiation, plans for renovation and the removal of existing tenants, that the beginning of the “refuge” idea was born.

It was still being discussed in 1984.  Women were being sent to friends, relatives and volunteers’ homes, using caravans and whatever other accommodation could be found.  Ms Johns said it was hard coping with the demand.

Another issue which had to be dealt with was whether or not the group could call the house a “refuge” and thereby incorporate and join the National Refuge Collective – thus having access to the many resources of this body such as a part-time salaried worker, money and other resources.  The Trust Board was concerned that they may lose the house if it became a “refuge” – i.e. not fulfilling the criteria under which they had acquired the house (emergency accommodation due to the housing crisis in NP at this time).

The group decided to incorporate itself with a Constitution which would satisfy both the Trust Board and the Refuge Collective.  The house was to be used as an emergency shelter for women and children, focussing on women experiencing domestic violence.  A constitution was drafted; but this was turned down by the National Refuge Collective.

During this time the Emergency Shelter Group became demoralised – several of the original group left due to other commitments and the remaining members were unable to complete any practical work on the house.  A small group of dedicated women continued to meet – and after much negotiation all parties agreed that the house would be administered solely as a Women’s Refuge.

Just prior to Christmas 1984, the Taranaki Women’s Refuge was born and began operating as an independent general refuge, affiliated to the National Collective.  A part-time paid worker was employed, and volunteers operated a 24-hour phone line, thus providing a crucial service to the women of Taranaki.  It was given life by the energetic women from the Women’s Centre who saw a need for women and their children to have a place of refuge and safety as a result of the domestic violence they were experiencing.  Some of these women are still around today.  The refuge movement nationally and locally owes a lot to these dedicated and very political women who lobbied government for the initial funding to obtain safehouses.

During this time, there was also under the umbrella of the Women’s Centre, another group called Rape Crisis, who were politically active and responding to rape and sexual abuse specifically.  In the late ‘80s there were street marches and awareness raising about the sexual abuse of women and children in our community – sparked off by the recent murder at that time of 6-year old Teresa Cormack.  Banners – “Women Against Violence,” “Sisters Unite” and “Women Unite – Take Back the Night” served to remind the community that sexual abuse is of major concern here in Taranaki.

Ngaere Smith, Jenny Yuile, Sandra Morris, Julie Lambie, Diane (Ngaropi) Cameron, Jools Joslin and Beryl Allison featured in newspaper articles at this time, and there were many seminars, community education programmes and trainings that began to focus specifically on sexual abuse and rape.  Robbie Greenwood began self-defence classes for women.

This part of the Centre evolved to become the Taranaki Safer Centre and more recently Wellstop.  But that’s a whole other herstory.

Fast forward to 2003:

At this time the Refuge was “On Notice” which meant it was under the statutory management of the National Collective.  There had been complaints regarding the service provision and that they had not met their operating standards to the satisfaction of the CYF auditors.  The National organisation’s Core Group decided to employ someone to “manage” the organisation’s return to full operational capacity for a period of 12 weeks, if that were even possible.

Lee Haskell took on the role of Refuge Manager on a short-term contract reporting progress weekly to the Core Group Chairs.  It was clear on day one that this would be a huge job requiring a massive culture change – the mandate being to move the old collective into a more structured and credible organisation so that sustainable funding could be sourced for what was clearly a growing need – and that they could come off Notice.

The town office operated out of one room in Egmont Street, with a part-time Administrator, 2 advocates (a job-share situation) and quite a few volunteers. The Safehouse was in Bell Block and one advocate was semi-living there with her own family and using the safehouse facilities and power.  Everyone was claiming expenses for every time they accessed their own vehicles for all sorts of reasons, including personal use of the refuge vehicle and petrol for all manner of personal travel. Lee did not have a desk, a chair, a phone or anything with which to begin work.  The bank account was in the red and there was no money to pay anyone anything the following week.  To say it was a challenge was an understatement!

First job for Lee – a trip to the bank to arrange an overdraft and a commitment to them that things were changing immediately.  Obtaining new town premises was also a priority.  We shifted into a bigger suite of rooms up above The Engraver.  A new safehouse was also vital given that everyone knew where the old one was (this involved extensive negotiations with Housing NZ).  A new vehicle, phones, furniture, computers, stationery (which necessitated preparing umpteen funding applications) from wherever funding could be sourced.  Removing all of the existing volunteers and writing  new Policies and Procedures, processes, employment contracts and updating the Constitution.  Lee’s initial employment contract was only for 25 hours per week however she found herself working at home late into the evening for many more hours than she was being paid.

The Core Group Chairs visited to follow up on the weekly reports and immediately extended her contract for the balance of the year, on the proviso that she obtained independent funding for the role.  The auditor was visiting regularly to check progress and things started to feel OK.  More money was secured to employ 2 new part-time advocates, enter Megan and Moira.  Denise was contracted to assist with fundraising and some good volunteers began to surface including Helen and Donna, which allowed for a clean start to the rostered after-hours crisis line.  Lorraine from the original collective continued as the office administrator for a further couple of years with new software to manage the payroll and updated accounting software for managing the accounts for the auditor.

The inaugural Board of Trustees was established.  By now we were firmly operational and were able to hold the first of our major fundraising events, a two day “Deck the Rooms” event, raising the staggering amount of $25k.  This was followed by an Art Auction which raised approximately $15k.  Both were indicative of what has become outstanding and continuing community support.  Throughout this transitional period, the one constant was Corrine Joseph.  She had been a volunteer since the days of the Women’s Centre and had tried to steer the ship though those troubled times mentioned above.  Corrine was invited onto the Board of Trustees and held an honorary place there until her passing some time in 2005 or 2006.

In 2004, we realised that it was 20 years since the organisation’s birthday, so it was decided to commemorate this milestone by planting a Kowhai tree on Marsland Hill.

The golden kowhai (this symbol is still used by refuge today) is about hope and healing.  Hope – in knowing that spring brings a fresh start even after the cruellest winter.  Healing – for the body and the spirit through traditional infusions of the kowhai bark and flower.  Refuge offers Hope and Healing, Shelter and Support – for victims of family violence.  In 1988 Beryl Alison and Jenny Yuile planted a kowhai tree in the Women’s Centre grounds to mark the start of Women’s Refuge Awareness week. (ref Women’s Centre archives).

Refuge was getting some great publicity by now, with requests for comments in the newspaper about the growing incidents of domestic violence and the impact on women and families.  The headlines were similar to what is still seen now – rising numbers, severity of violence, mental health issues, breaking the cycle, and so on.  Women and children were, and still are, dying at the hands of their abusers.

We were now being recognised as the experts that we truly were, and were able to provide credible contributions and education to the community.  There were invitations to speak to other groups and organisations and strategic planning was possible instead of purely reactive responses.

Lee Haskell


TWR Herstory – Diane Doehring

Diane Doehring began her tenure as Manager of Taranaki Women’s Refuge in 2007.  It was a period of rapid change that saw TWR become a more professionally structured organization.  This next excerpt is herstory, thank you for your time and for sharing it with us Diane.

I started at TWR at a time where it had undergone an unsettled time. There had been a number of staff changes, loss of volunteers and a period without a manager. The most concerning aspect the inadequate maintenance of finance records and the database. Lee Haskell very kindly spent many hours helping to put this right.

Once this was taken care of, I set about recruiting a competent and reliable administrator. We were very fortunate to find Diane who has an exceptional eye for detail, an ability to cope in a crisis and, above all, a sense of humour.

Fundraising was ably taken care of by Lee who had extensive community networks and was able to build the profile and support through the Art Auctions, Deck the Rooms, street appeals, Golf Days and Trash and Tiara’s (pre-loved clothing) events. This fundraising was vital in a time where there was a lack of certainty about government funding in the face of increasing demand for services.

A generous donation from the TSB Community Trust enabled the office to move to an improved furnished and equipped office. Apart from have a smart, pleasant space to see clients in, we were also able to update the information technology to ensure that the system was backed up daily.

A need to ensure continuity of care and the increase in and changing nature of the workload  ( from Residential to Community Support) meant that the staffing needed to be increased and restructured.

After extensive consultation with the staff we agreed on a new structure that separated roles to focus on specific areas of work. In January 2008, we introduced the new roles that include a full time Community Service Coordinator, part time Residential Service Co-ordinator, part time Safe house and Callout co-ordinator.

Volunteers remained an important human resource. Their roles included assistance with callouts, safe house management, donations and assistance with fundraising.

We placed a high value on collaboration both at the individual case management and local community project level.  Community projects included working under a Memorandum of Understanding with the Police and CYFS, taking the role of co-ordination of the Family Violence Network and the Te Rito Management Group, providing administrative services and hosting the DVIP (Domestic Violence Intervention Project,) meetings.

Collaboration with and support of South Taranaki services was forced to evolve when Totara House ( safe house) closed. We found ourselves providing services to South Taranaki in the absence of funding and human resources.

Both local and national training opportunities were made available to the staff. This included attendance at regional and national NCIWR meetings/hui and Child Advocacy Training.

When I moved on from Taranaki Women’s Refuge it was in a position to continue to grow its services, structure and awareness.  TWR was rightly becoming recognised as the lead agency for Domestic Violence in Taranaki.

Diane Doehring


Enter me – Janice Jessiman in 2008.   I had been employed as the Strengthening Families Coordinator under the umbrella of MSD for the previous three years when the Taranaki Women’s Refuge (TWR) Manager position became vacant.  I knew both the previous TWR Managers, Lee Haskell and Diane Doehring who encouraged me to apply for the role.  It was a big leap to move from working on my own to managing a team of four paid staff and several volunteers who covered the after-hours crisis line and call outs.  What I did not fully appreciate was the emphasis on raising the shortfall in funding – at the time TWR received about 33% government funding and the remainder had to be raised by grants or events.

As the previous managers have written, the journey for TWR in general was one where women who had had personal experience of domestic violence wanted to make a difference for other women. They worked as volunteers for the agency and a couple had gained paid employment as women’s advocates. The work was primarily crisis-driven; supporting women and their children into the confidential safe house, advocacy, and supporting access to legal and financial advice along with housing – at that time securing housing was a lot easier than it is now.

On realising that an agency in South Taranaki was being funded to provide family violence services in the South (and we were not) I made the decision to stop providing a face-to-face service south of Stratford (and Stony River, along the coast).  Our free crisis line was still available for women who wanted to contact us across the wider Taranaki area – from Mokau to Patea and along the coast. Incidentally, some funding was made available in 2021 for TWR to return (part-time) to providing a face-to-face service in South Taranaki.

Early in my tenure the Board of Trustees made the decision to move from an incorporated society to a charitable trust.  It was felt that the status better fitted the new direction of TWR and provided confidence in the structure for future board members.

We undertook a survey and asked the women who had used our services how might we improve, change and expand the service? Overwhelmingly, the response was that they trusted Refuge and loved working with us however after the crisis was dealt with, they were referred on to other providers. They said that they wanted to keep working with Refuge. In order to do this with success we needed to relook at our workforce.

Enter Cheryl Mogford.  Cheryl had secured a social work placement with TWR the year before in her final year of study.  Cheryl and I had studied together at WITT and she was looking to re-enter the workforce.  Also, at about this time David Younger (whose day job was at WITT as the Programme Leader for Social Work) became a trustee on the Refuge governance board.  With the support of the Board Cheryl and I went about developing what was to become the Intensive Social Work role.  Our goal was to work alongside women in a way that while empowering, asked her to examine her family origin and explore in some depth her experience of intimate relationships.  Initially, Cheryl, undertook this role but after a time we amalgamated the crisis work and Intensive Social work role and employed qualified social workers under the umbrella of ‘Social Worker’.  This is probably one of my personal highpoints while working at TWR.  At the time the role of ‘Social Worker’ was almost unheard of within the Refuge Movement.  Since then, many of the 41 Refuges throughout NZ now employ registered social work qualified staff.

Many of our clients (women) had told us that they wished that their partners could do some of the change work that they were learning.  We began to realise that to really make a change in the rates of domestic violence in our community, we needed to work with the male partner who offered violence – but in a way that did not compromise either party.  We also acknowledged that it was only ever going to be successful if the men wanted to work with us, traditionally a women’s organisation!  Services are already funded and provided for the high-end offender, but little was available for those who did not meet the high-end criteria but who acknowledged that they wanted to change how they participated in a relationship.   After standing down from the Board and finishing at WITT we employed David Younger to develop and facilitate, what has become known as Aspire Men’s Project (AMP).  After a lot of research about what programmes were available for male perpetrators, across NZ and Australia, we were able to ‘cobble’ together a one-on-one bespoke programme.  This is aimed at the male partner who wants to make positive change in his relationship (s) and change how he thinks and behaves in a relationship.  AMP helps men develop strategies and tools that encourage a safer and happier home, which is a win-win!   Initially we had thought that referrals would come from within Refuge but over time we now receive referrals from a variety of external sources including self-referral.  TWR is currently recruiting for another male socialworker to build on this service.

One of the on-going challenges I have is recruiting experienced and qualified staff for all vacancies.  Our competition is often government departments who have a much larger salary budget than we do!  A significant change that has evolved over several years is utilising volunteers for our after-hours crisis line.  It had become increasingly difficult to find reliable volunteers to cover the evenings, weekends, and public holidays.  I have never been comfortable utilising our day staff to answer the crisis line and do pick-ups after hours.  Initially, we employed a small team of after-hours staff to answer the crisis line and do these pick-ups but with better technology, we have changed to a centralised phone service.  This means that the only calls that come through to a member of the after-hours team are genuine crisis calls.  Other callers are followed up by email or phone the following day.

In the past few years TWR has seen a massive shortage of affordable rental housing both in the private rental and social housing markets. For Refuge we see women who may want to leave a relationship but are unable to access benefit entitlements until they have left but then they can’t leave until they have sorted an income, generally a benefit.  Often, they have exhausted support from their friends and family and have a history of returning to the relationship many times over.  The alternative is that the women ‘grit their teeth’ and return to abusive relationships because their housing choices include single income mortgages, unaffordable rent, landlords’/tenancy managers not wishing to rent to them, cramped motel units and/or homelessness.  Refuge agreed to trial a Transitional Housing contract with MSD.  Our Refuge privately rents four properties and MSD refer families who are on the social housing list to us.  In an ideal world the family stay in the property for up to three months and then move on to a permanent tenancy – generally with intensive social work support from the refuge team.  For all the above reasons this is a very challenging contract to maintain – several refuges have surrendered this contract but we are now in our fifth year.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the dreaded virus word – Covid-19. 2020/21 will forever be remembered as the years of the Virus. Covid-19 challenged our delivery of services along with testing our flexibility around the way we work to support women and children, homelessness and ‘change work’ with our male client group. This time resulted in a new adaptability to keep staff and clients alike ‘safe from infection’. We became (reasonably) ‘tech savvy’ by using technology and IT language in a way in which Refuge had never truly embraced before.


Over the years I have had the pleasure of working with several trustees led by supportive and skilled Chairpersons.  Amongst them has been Charmaine Sarten, Beverley Raine, Carla Graham, Liz Harrison and our current chair, Sophie Braggins.  Each group of Trustee members has brought a variety of world views, life experiences and skills such as accountancy, legal, marketing, and social work expertise to support the refuge.

Previous founding members, volunteers, workers, supporters and Managers had an input into the Refuge Herstory journey.  When I started my journey with Refuge my goal was to “professionalise” and grow the services we provided but still keep within our original kaupapa or vision of working with all women who had or were experiencing domestic violence.  To ensure that our vision of a society that is able to live free of domestic violence is still the core of the work that we do. I am happy to say that I believe I have played my part in doing that.

Janice Jessiman