IT’S hip, it’s comfy and – most importantly – it’s free.
Recreational lounge The Couch opened its doors last month to provide international students with a place to hang out and socialise without hurting their hip pockets.
Tucked away down an alley between Bourke and Little Collins streets, its visitors say the facility has created unprecedented hype.
But guests, such as Subha Gokhal, simply visited out of curiosity.
“I got to know about this (venue) through an email and I just decided to drop by out of curiosity,’‘ she said.
“I was really surprised to see so many people here.”
Coloured lighting, free soup and ping-pong is all part of the experience when you visit The Couch and a television is also on hand for those looking for some quiet time.
From tragedy to triumph
The Salvation Army operations support manager Geraldine McWhinney said the idea behind the venue was sparked by a heartbreaking story involving The Salvation Army’s Major Brendan Nottle.
“The idea came up about six months ago when he came across a Mauritian student living under a bridge,’‘ she said.
“That story challenged Brendan to do something to help international students.”
The Salvation Army then approached the Australian Federation of International Students (AFIS) and the Melbourne city council to hatch up a plan.
After months of talks and planning, The Couch was born.
City of Melbourne’s Gary Lee said the idea of The Couch was formed with college students in mind.
“Major universities have really good support services, but a lot of colleges lack that,’‘ he said.
“We don’t want these students to slip through the cracks.”
A space for relaxation and more
While the introduction of more services into the space is definitely on the agenda, The Couch is ultimately a place for students to rest and relax, AFIS honorary president Wesa Chau said.
“As everyone would probably know, a lot of international students live in a place where they don’t even have the space to relax,” she said.
Organisers, including Cherry Grimwade from City of Melbourne, urged students to provide feedback on the space.
“The idea of not having a formal launch was to have an opening, get students in, introduce them to the space, and really get feedback from them on what kind of activities they want to have in this space,” she said.
“So it’s actually the students leading the project by telling us what they want, not us coming in to say: this is what we’re (going to) do.”
A range of services
Among the services and activities in store for students are legal services, cheap meals and movie nights.
While initially set up to address the needs of international students, Mr Lee said the space was open to “anybody and everybody”.
“We want to encourage social inclusion and integration among the students,” he said.
Volunteers – known affectionately as “couch potatoes” – help run the venue.
One of those couch potatoes, Kusum Tamang, said she was loving every minute of her work.
“It’s great here … there’s no pressure in it at all,” she said.
The Couch, located at 69 Bourke St, is open every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 5pm to 10pm.