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Meet Project Respect, one of our community customer grant recipients

June 4, 2024
June 4, 2024

For many participants, Project Respect’s Art and Wellbeing sessions are a rare opportunity to socalise in a welcoming, safe and non-judgemental space. Here’s how the monthly program is supporting the needs of women and gender diverse people with experience in the sex industry, and women and gender diverse people with experiences of sexual exploitation.

“Everything we do is informed by the voices of the community that we work for,” explains Lauren, social worker and direct services team leader at Project Respect, one of Bank Australia’s community customer grant recipients

Project Respect is a specialised support and referral service and peer community for women and gender diverse people with experience in the sex industry, and for women and gender diverse people with experiences of sexual exploitation.

Operating out of Melbourne, Project Respect provides trauma-informed, person-centred case coordination services, delivers community engagement activities, provides capacity building training for broad sector workforces, engages in research, and strives to amplify the diverse lived experience voices of their community. As part of their community engagement activities, they deliver an Art and Wellbeing program, supported by the Bank Australia community customer grant. The Art and Wellbeing sessions aim to foster a safe, supported and inclusive space for participants to engage in a therapeutic and healing activity while connecting with community. 

“While the lived experiences of our community are diverse, some participants report  experiencing stigma, discrimination and social isolation,” explains Lauren. “So there can be many barriers to feeling like oneself, to participate openly in society, and to be treated with respect. When our participants come to an Art and Wellbeing session, they do so knowing they will be in a peer space, that there are other people who understand their experiences, and that there are non-judgmental support staff to help if desired.”

True to the ethos of Project Respect, it was a needs-based community survey that led to the establishment of the program. Respondents identified a desire to engage in activities that focused on overcoming stress and trauma, plus an interest in art-related activities. The Art and Wellbeing sessions seamlessly bring these two things together.

In the sessions, the community finds a welcoming space that provides both an outlet for creativity and a chance to socialise free from judgement. “Having guidance and activities already planned for me is so helpful to turn my brain off and let my body relax or get out what it needs,” shares one participant. Others identify a connection to peers in a space where they don’t “have to wear a [social] mask” as an especially important part of the program.

“The beauty of the sessions is that they are different to conventional therapies – you don’t need to say a word to participate if you don’t want to”, says Lauren. “We love that people feel at ease here, and that there is no pressure to engage or participate in a particular way.”  

The Art and Wellbeing program not only allows Project Respect to strengthen bonds with community members they’ve already worked with, it also acts as a safe entry point to their case coordination services for those who may not have sought them before. In each session, the Creative Art Therapist who guides the activities is joined by a peer worker, who can share information about further supports available to anyone interested and facilitate warm referrals. 

“It is common for a new participant who has not previously been engaged with our organisation to come along to a session, settle in, and eventually become comfortable enough to reach out to a social worker if they are needing some kind of other support,” says Lauren.

Project Respect chose to become Bank Australia customers as they felt an alignment in shared values of diversity, inclusion, and accessibility. “This is important to us, as an organisation supporting diverse community members,” says Lauren. 

Ultimately, those community members are at the heart of everything Project Respect does, and Lauren is delighted to see the impact the program is having on participants. “The response to the Art and Wellbeing program has been really positive,” she says. “It’s a place for our community to be together, create, talk and share a free feed. It’s such a valued and important space.”

Read more about our 2023 community customer grant recipients.

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