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Blog: The Queen opens a 'Safe Space' at Aberdeen Art Gallery

18 Jan 2024 Article Image

The Queen opens a 'Safe Space' at Aberdeen Art Gallery


This has been a remarkable week for Grampian Women’s Aid, who had the immense privilege of attending the unveiling of an artwork entitled ‘You Are Not The Darkness, You Are The Light’ by Her Majesty Queen Camilla in memory of survivors and those who have lost their lives to domestic abuse in Aberdeen at the official opening of a firs domestic abuse Safe Space at Aberdeen Art Gallery.

The unveiling on Thursday 18th January at the Aberdeen Art Gallery was officially introduced as a ‘Safe Space’ to all citizen of Aberdeen providing help and guidance to anyone suspecting abuse, someone who is living with domestic abuse or anyone who may feel threatened by domestic abuse.

As a specialist key agency supporting and representing women and children affected by domestic abuse, we were delighted to accept the invitation where our Manager, Aileen Forbes and our Prevention and Communications Worker Penelope Damvelt were grateful to have the opportunity to chat with Her Majesty Queen Camila about the work of GWA and our prevention work which includes engagement with local schools. We also had the pleasure to have the company of a small group of S3 pupils from St Margaret's School, who so passionately have represented Grampian Women’s Aid in their Youth Philanthropy Initiative presentations. Their passion in raising awareness and the impact of domestic abuse on women and girls were felt throughout their project amongst their peers and GWA. This passion was continued as the girls shared their views with Her Majesty Queen Camilla demonstrating the importance of engagement and the understanding of young people.

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 S3 pupils from St Margaret's School an GWA manager Aileen Forbes. Image: Penelope Damvelt/ Grampian Women's Aid.


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S3 pupils from St Margaret's School, teacher, Mrs Jennifer Reid, and GWA manager Aileen Forbes meeting Her Majesty the Queen. Image: Aberdeen City Council.

Despite the snow and freezing temperatures, we were honoured by the presence of Her Majesty Queen Camilla, showing her passion for the work of organisations working towards eradicating domestic abuse in society. The artwork, commissioned by Aberdeen Art Gallery by artist Shelagh Swanson was unveiled by Her Majesty Queen Camilla showing the intricate, and beautiful kiln formed glass piece, entitled “You are not the darkness, you are the light.” The piece admired by all present and to continue to have place within gallery 8 for all visitors to see will provide many with thoughts and reflection of those affected by domestic abuse.

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Image: Penelope Damvelt/ Grampian Women's Aid.


After unveiling the piece Her Majesty spoke of her appreciation and congratulated all organisations for the work being carried out saying; “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” also in her address Her Majesty stated her hope for “other cities will follow suit, it’s so important to have these safe spaces” and accredited the group and organisations involved with the project, as “pioneers.”

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Queen Camilla, speaking about the importance of Safe Spaces, domestic abuse and violence against women awareness. Image: Penelope Damvelt/ Grampian Women's Aid.

The Art Gallery recently established as a Safe Space is the first of its kind, where staff members individuals are specially trained in mental health awareness and domestic abuse responses. This designated ‘Safe Space’ will be a place not only for support, but also a space for reflection and peace. Safe spaces are vital in a public and free setting, where anyone can access information and people can talk freely.

Her Majesty spoke with artist, Shelagh Swanson, whose artwork draws inspiration from her journey as a survivor of domestic abuse.
Shelagh, an incredible and accomplished artist and domestic survivor 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.”
It is important to highlight that the Art Gallery staff have received additional specialist training for mental health awareness and domestic abuse, making the museum a safe space which is open to the public every day of the week at no cost.

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Artist, Shelagh Swanson discussing her work with Her Majesty Queen Camilla.  Image: Penelope Damvelt/ Grampian Women's Aid.


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Artist, Shelagh Swanson. Image: Penelope Damvelt/ Grampian Women's Aid.


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"You are not the darkness, you are the light of your strength." Image: Penelope Damvelt/ Grampian Women's Aid.

Her majesty also spoke with Communication & Prevention Worker, Penelope Damvelt, having the opportunity to discuss the importance of raising awareness at a young age in respect of developing and establishing healthy relationships in youth to prevent domestic abuse to begin with.

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 Her Majesty Queen Camilla and Communication & Prevention Worker, Penelope Damvelt. Image: Aberdeen City Council.

We are grateful for recognition of domestic abuse and violence against women by her majesty. Her work is important, as raising awareness sheds a light to the work we and our partners do to combat domestic abuse in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.

On arrival at the venue her Majesty Queen Camilla’s entrance was piped in by Pipe Major Julie Brinklow, the official piper to the Lord-Lieutenant of Aberdeen, who has said she was honoured to be given Royal Household approval to compose the piece of music “Her Lullaby” which dedicated to this moment and to the victims of domestic abuse.

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  Pipe Major Julie Brinklow. Image: Penelope Damvelt/ Grampian Women's Aid.