Peers Victoria Resources Society unveiled its new space on Saturday after HeroWork spent weeks renovating and transforming the place.
HeroWork, a charity that renovates other charities, enlisted the help of more than 400 trade and general volunteers plus more than 80 businesses to renovate the Peers building in Esquimalt. Peers is a grassroots agency that was established by and for sex workers in 1995. Through community partnerships and direct services, the organization provides outreach, drop-in, harm reduction and support services alongside education and employment training for current and former sex workers in Victoria and on Vancouver Island.
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The building, which hasn’t gone through a major renovation like this since Peers moved in 15 years ago, looked brand new with a new floor plan, a brand new kitchen, three new bathrooms, a chill room, clothing boutique, program room, dining room, meeting room, counsellor’s space, health room, improved outdoor deck space and office space for 12 staff. HeroWork and volunteers also put in new electrical, plumbing and a new HVAC system.
“They’ve completely transformed it…it’s overwhelming how many people gave generously to this project,” said Rachel Phillips, executive director of Peers Victoria. “When we asked for help from HeroWork what we were looking for was an improved kitchen and what we got was so much more.”
Organizations have to apply for renovations through HeroWork. Tracie Clayton, executive director of HeroWork said Peers was chosen because of the work the society does.
“They have a dramatic impact in the community,” Clayton said. “One of the criteria for HeroWork is the amount of community impact it makes…the amount of strain it takes off social services and the impact they make on people’s lives.”
Peers serves 500 to 600 people in the community per year. Some of the individuals are regulars while others may just drop in. Many people who were at the unveiling on Saturday that receive services from Peers were brought to tears when they saw the transformation of the space.
“It’s overwhelming how many people gave generously to this project,” Phillips said. “It’s so exciting, it’s amazing.”
Laurie Hillier, a health outreach worker with Peers, said she was blown away by the amount of work put into the place.
“Peers is such a deserving society…it’s just been incredible it feels like Christmas day,” Hillier said.
Hillier said she loves working at Peers because of the open, sex-positive environment as well as her colleagues and the people she interacts with daily.
“[Peers] is a place where we’re able to explore our identities and be who we would like to be.” Hillier said. “I think [the transformation] will bring a sense of value to the people who come here and I think they’re very deserving participants. To have someone reach out and make this kind of effort on their behalf…I think it really means a lot.”