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Creating a safe space in a public place

As I write, I’m taking another baby step on the way back to normality. I’m on a train to Nottingham to check out a possible venue for our next annual Safeguarding Conference due to take place in March next year. Since March 2020 all longer distance trips have been made by car and so I am re-capturing the benefits of train travel by catching up with some work, and to write this blog. Thus far it’s all seemed pretty familiar.

In addition to poking around the venue to look at room size, layout and the general facilities that may make it an attractive, and hopefully, competitively priced location, I will have to explain to my host about the particular characteristics of a safeguarding conference and the need for it to feel like a safe space. Our topics can be quite challenging and may be upsetting, and we can’t always know how many delegates may have lived experience, whose memories may be triggered in some way. This time we are only going to be on site for just over 24 hours, but previous events have been spread over almost three days and we found it helpful to have a dedicated space for worship, personal reflection and sanctuary. A large break-out space that our chaplain could fit out as a 24 hour safe space with all the attendant sensory artefacts that encourage stillness, calm and a sense of safety.

Having been the conference coordinator for 7 years I have had a specification conversation with several venues, and to a lesser or greater degree always explained about our context. It’s always interesting to read the reactions of the person showing me around when I launch into this spiel, and when I add in our communion requirement that just adds to it. In fairness most get the agenda straightaway and there have been some great examples of how the people looking after us at the conference go out of their way to recognise and respect our requirements.

If you have made use of the ‘Reflect and Respond’ study guide the Church published in January this year, you will already know about the importance of creating safe space and that this is not simply about ensuring building security or good internal design. It’s equally about the atmosphere that is created, knowing who will be around and how they might conduct themselves. Is there a quiet private space with people around who can hear and listen?

So when I meet my host this afternoon, not only will I want to look at the physical space, but I’ll also ask about other groups who might be on site, whether any space can be exclusively dedicated, and how sensitive staff can be to the strength of feeling that can sometimes be generated by our subject matter. My experience suggests that I am sure all will be well.

I’ll do the same next Monday at our other short-listed venue. I’ll not be so green though. I have to drive instead.

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