Historic hotel with retro refit gives people a second chance

“We funked it up. “It is the responsibility of the government and community sector to support really vulnerable populations in our community. I just love old stuff, and this building has so much character.” With the help of guests staying in the hotel during renovations, Ms Snook put their hands to work in rebuilding the front bar. Paying a few days rent isn’t enough,” Ms Sotiri said. A fashion designer turned welfare worker has given a country hotel a retro refit and opened the doors to people in need of a second chance.Coming from a background of fashion and retro costume design, Linda Snook could not help but add some vintage flair to complement the historic West Kempsey building in New South Wales.When Ms Snook and a friend purchased the building, originally constructed in 1885, she admitted she had no clue what to expect from the business endeavour. “The work that Linda Snook is doing is incredible, and in my opinion she is a superhero providing that support. “The prison population is increasing, and many people leave the correctional facility without any support at all,” Ms Sotiri said.”We need to ensure there is accommodation for people to move into for any period of time before we begin to evaluate other areas where these people need help.”

When the hotel has been full, Ms Snook has put inflatable mattresses in the lounge to make space for more people. It’s the most exciting room in the building.”

Ms Snook says her retro stylings help tenants feel at home in the hotel. You have to have empathy,” she said. (ABC Mid North Coast: Gabrielle Lyons)
According to data and research conducted by the Community Restorative Centre, 70 per cent of people coming out of prison do not have a permanent place to live. (ABC Mid North Coast: Gabrielle Lyons)
Blast from the past as you step through the doorStarting off with cracked plaster and wonky walls, Ms Snook has completely renovated the 16 bedrooms, which are more often than not full. There are cassettes and VHSs and lava lamps and a mirror ball. “A lot of our guests are surviving on Centrelink or disability benefits, or have come out of jail or situations where they don’t have rental history.”Ms Snook has 15 years of welfare experience, and said she felt compelled to help people in need by offering permanent accommodation. “We had a lot of people asking for permanent residency or an interim home while searching for rentals,” she said. “The welfare industry is tough and these agencies do so much for these people,” she said. Permanent accommodation allows residents of the hotel to walk away with a reference and previous rental history when they are ready to apply for their own home. There were live wires hanging out of the walls, but it was such a beautiful building. “I have been used and abused by some guests and I do give the benefit of the doubt. “I’m a vintage queen. She said there was a massive gap regarding long-term support, including assistance with mental health, possible trauma or custody agreements. “We have themed the rooms. They could run their office downstairs and house their clients upstairs.”It would bring a whole new life into this hotel. I suggested it to my friend as a joke,” she said. “I would like to see a local agency using the building. Ms Snook said when re-opening the hotel, she noticed a housing shortage in the local area. (ABC Mid North Coast: Gabrielle Lyons)
Who calls the Railway Hotel home? “The hotel wasn’t planned at all. Ms Sotiri explained temporary accommodation frequently only supported a person for a short period of time, after which vulnerable people were left on their own. “The local agencies around town and the Mid North Coast Correctional Centre know I am here, and more often than not they bring people straight to my doorstep.”You get people from all walks of life, but I do feel like I have created a great big home, and I think people on the outside need to respect this place as people’s home.”

Ms Snook hopes the front of the pub can be used by local businesses to bring more life into the building in the future. “When I walked in it had been gutted. (ABC Mid North Coast: Gabrielle Lyons)
Limited support for vulnerable populationNSW Family and Community Services told the ABC it recognised the tight rental market around the state, but worked diligently to supply temporary accommodation for prison inmates entering the community.However, Community Restorative Centre program director for advocacy, policy and research Mindy Sotiri believes temporary accommodation is not solving the problem.She said the issue needed independent small businesses such as Ms Snook’s to truly make an impact. I plan to keep working on it until it’s a model I can prove works.” Ms Snook said it was satisfying to know she was helping people re-establish themselves in the community, although it occasionally came with a downside. All the guys helping thought I was mad,” she said. Without that assistance, people were more likely resort to homelessness or reoffend and return to prison. We have a big cat room, a Slim Dusty room, a golden room, a skull room, and we are working on a shagadelic room,” she said. She is one part of the puzzle.” Ms Snook plans to keep renovating the hotel, and hopes to provide more support for welfare agencies in the long run. “I figured it was sitting there doing nothing and in order to save it we had to do something with it, so we decided on accommodation.”

The Railway Hotel is one of the last remaining original structures in Kempsey, and originally housed the men who built the railway through NSW. “The walls in the front bar were in desperate need of repairing, so I decided just to cover it up with old records.
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(ABC Mid North Coast: Gabrielle Lyons) ABC Mid North Coast


Gabrielle Lyons


February 07, 2018 06:16:20

Linda Snook covered the walls of the bar with old records to “funk it up”.