Queen opens Safe Space for domestic abuse victims in Aberdeen Art Gallery

Her Majesty at the unveiling of the sculpture at the Art Gallery. (Photo: Aberdeen City Council.

HER Majesty The Queen today (18 January 2024) officially opened a Safe Space in Aberdeen Art Gallery where victims of domestic abuse can discretely ask for help from the venue’s staff.

Queen Camilla also unveiled a poignant sculpture which is in memory of those lost to and survivors of domestic abuse as well as being visible both internally and externally to signify the venue as a Safe Space location.

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The Art Gallery staff have been trained to provide help and guidance to people if they suspect someone is living with abuse. Alternatively, anyone can go and ask for support from the staff who will then point them towards professional help.  

Queen Camilla was greeted outside the venue by pupils of Gilcomstoun Primary School and then welcomed in by the Lord Lieutenant of Aberdeen Dr David Cameron who said: “I was honoured to welcome Her Majesty The Queen to Aberdeen Art Gallery today.

“The gallery becoming a ‘Safe Space’ for those seeking help and support while living with abuse is a necessary and welcome addition to one of our much-loved public buildings.  I hope that anyone requiring such assistance feels able to enter the building and approach a member of staff for help and support.

“The sculpture unveiled by Her Majesty, commissioned in memory of lives lost and survivors of domestic abuse in the city is truly beautiful, and will hopefully allow an opportunity for people to pause, reflect and remember while visiting the Art Gallery.

“I was humbled to also meet many people today at the event who spoke to The Queen about their lived experiences and learn about the subsequent support they have received and continue to do so.  It was also extremely interesting to hear from members of Aberdeen City Council’s Safe Space working group, who are continuing to develop the domestic abuse awareness campaign for all council staff.”

The venue is staffed by people who have received additional training on mental health awareness and domestic abuse, and the Art Gallery is an ideal location as it is open to the public seven days a week and is free to enter. In addition, Aberdeen City Council has started a scheme for staff to have information, training, and tools to help anyone who might be suffering from domestic abuse.

Councillor Miranda Radley, convener of Aberdeen City Council’s Communities, Housing and Public Protection Committee, said: “Creating a Safe Space in an accessible and friendly venue is very important to ensure people feel they can approach staff.

“The Art Gallery’s staff are providing a vital service to help people who are victims of domestic abuse and the specialist training they have received will ensure they are discreet and compassionate to anyone who approaches them for assistance.”

The chosen location of the glass sculpture is in a window in Gallery 8 at the front of the building, where it is visible both internally and externally to signify the venue as a safe space location. The space – and the gallery as a whole – can be used to seek help or simply to reflect and remember. 

The fused glass sculpture “You are not the darkness, you are the light” was created by artist Shelagh Swanson. Designed to commemorate the tragic loss of life in Aberdeen, the installation reflects on domestic abuse, and on the strength and beauty of survival. From different angles you can see words, ribbon symbols, and hand signals asking for help, fading in and out of view. This mirrors how the signs of domestic abuse can be hidden in plain sight, and only become visible when we look for and acknowledge them.

Shelagh, who used her insight as a domestic abuse survivor to inform the design of the artwork, said: “It’s an incredible honour to be asked to create this piece, and personally very meaningful given my past experiences. To be part of establishing this Safe Space feels like a full circle moment – I really hope that it encourages people to come forward for the support they need.”

Her Majesty also met representatives from SafeLives Scotland, who lead a private panel discussion on lived experience.

Head of SafeLives Scotland, Jess Denniff said: “We know that when survivors of abuse feel listened to, seen and believed, it helps unravel some of the harm and trauma caused by perpetrators who tell them that they don’t matter, that nobody cares about them, that nobody will believe them.

“With her visit today, Her Majesty is making it clear that this is not true: anybody who lives with an experience of domestic abuse does matter and is an expert in their own situation. In Scotland, the brilliant Authentic Voice Panel prove this, in their ongoing, determined work to ensure that survivor voice is at the heart of Scotland’s response to domestic abuse.

“As a wider team, we were delighted today to see the opening of this welcoming and reflective space in the heart of Aberdeen, and to meet Her Majesty The Queen.

“Domestic abuse is everyone’s business, and we must work together to ensure victims have as many options as possible to reach safety and live the lives they want after harm has happened – as well as opportunities to contribute their lived experience towards change.”

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