Rose's like a Mum in the kitchen

Rose Akers’ position description never mentioned anything about ‘being a bit like a mum’, when she applied for the job as cook at McAuley House seven years ago. But that’s one of the skills she thinks she brings to the job, which she loves. She cooks that’s for sure, but there’s so much more to her job than putting a meal on the table.

“I see the women first thing in the morning when they come into the kitchen for breakfast and I can usually tell if something is wrong. I suggest that we go and get their case worker and sort out what the problem might be,” Rose said. “Or I might just put the kettle on and offer to make them a coffee and then we sit and other women will wander in and join the conversation and we have a cuppa together. I guess I am a bit like a Mum in some ways, I just listen and help where I can.”

The kitchen table hospitality that is renowned at McAuley House began when the Sisters of Mercy first started offering refuge to women in Melbourne at McAuley House (formerly Regina Coeli) 30 years ago. It’s a tradition that is maintained today by people like Rose and other staff.

Rose works four days a week preparing lunch and dinner for the residents and staff. There can be as few as 4 women to feed or as many as 40. The monthly birthday night celebration is her biggest night as current and former residents gather to celebrate birthdays. It’s a busy night, but one that has come to mean so much to many women, even those who have lived away from McAuley House for decades.

The menu at McAuley House is a healthy one with lots of fruit and vegetable options and meals that the resident’s want added to the menu. Rose encourages the women to help her in the kitchen or to try their hand at cooking favourite dishes. On weekends Muslim women do a lot of the cooking using halal foods. They provide meals for everyone and also cook food for themselves for the week.

“Often one of the ladies will come in and tell me she is bored, so I invite her to make the salad. We have a bit of a talk while she is doing her bit of the meal and then she will wander off,” Rose said.

Rose worked in a pub before coming to McAuley House and although she had seen and heard a lot, she knew nothing about homelessness. She has learnt a lot from many of the women she has cooked for in the past seven years.

“I love working here and I love the women. They all have a different story and they have come from very different backgrounds. They come in and out and I get to know a lot of them,” Rose said.

“This is a special place because it is much more than a house where they stay. We all try to make it like a home. We are nice to the ladies and they feel that care and they feel safe here.”

“I suppose I am a bit like a Mum in some ways. When the ladies head off for the day I tell them to make sure they stay safe.”

Rose is looking forward to the move to the new McAuley House in Pickett St Footscray. She has toured the new building and has fallen in love with the big communal kitchen/living area on the fourth floor, which opens out onto a large balcony. Importantly, there is a large kitchen table perfectly positioned for a shared morning cuppa.

5 December 2016