For 20 years the Listening Lounge in Corio Central Shopping Centre has welcomed people in to relax, meet friends, have a chat or a deep heart-to-heart.
Last month, about 35 people gathered to celebrate the two-decade anniversary.
Joining Listening Lounge members and volunteers for the party were representatives of Port Philip West Presbytery and other community organisations.
The main speakers were Corio Central centre manager Russell Yelland and John McCarthy, who was part of the initial organising group and only recently retired after nearly 20 years of volunteer service.
The Lounge operates from 11am-3pm Monday to Thursday on the upper level of Corio Central.
Corio-Norlane Uniting Church minister Rev Peter Jewell, who is the paid Lounge coordinator and pastoral care provider, said that typically up to 20 people came into the Lounge each day.
“We are basically open to anyone and everyone,” Mr Jewell said.
“Sometimes it’s what gets people out in the morning – particularly people who are single and those who live alone, it gives them a place and some people to engage with.
“A number of people have told me over the years they have felt depressed, but pushing themselves to get out and meet people has really helped.”
The Lounge offers tea, coffee, biscuits and toast at lunchtime.
“People are free to donate or bring in food to share, so it has that community feel of people being able to sit together, talk with and listen to each other,” Peter said.
He said there were people who had been coming to the Listening Lounge since it started.
“We’ve got a number who call the Listening Lounge their community or space,” Peter said.
“Those people support each other. There are those regulars where we know this person comes in on this day and this person comes in on that day.”
The shopping centre provides the Listening Lounge venue free of charge, while Port Phillip West Presbytery covers other costs.
There are two volunteers rostered on each day along with Peter.
Volunteers must agree to guidelines and a mission statement, but otherwise can come from a wide range of backgrounds.
“We have volunteers from all different walks of life, a few different churches and a number from the broader community,” Peter said.
“It’s a really good mix.”
Peter said his and the volunteers’ main role was to serve and listen.
“We don’t actually offer professional counselling, but we can talk with people and refer them to different organisations if there’s different needs that come up,” he said.
Peter, who referred to himself as the Lounge’s “God person”, said that although the Lounge’s purpose was not to bring people to church, some visitors had attended Christmas dinner and other events at his congregation.
“As a church that’s building on connections to community, so we can be there for the community, it’s really good,” he said.
“If Lounge members happen to come to church as well that’s good, but if we make an impact in people’s lives that’s what we want”
If you wish to know more, would like to volunteer or support the Listening Lounge, contact co-ordinator Rev Peter Jewell on: 5275 5807 or 0419 165473 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.