The History of Women's Aid in Scotland

Members of Edinburgh and Lothian Women’s Aid after a protest outside Edinburgh Department of Housing, c. 1980

Heritage Grants

Scottish Women's Aid
Scottish Women’s Aid (SWA) commemorated 40 years of their work in Scotland in 2016.

As part of this anniversary, SWA collected new oral histories of the women involved in the Women’s Aid movement, catalogued the archive and raised awareness with a wide range of people about the significance of Women’s Aid and the issue of violence against women. SWA received a grant of £305,400 to deliver the project.

As part of this anniversary, SWA:

  • collected new oral histories of the women involved in the Women’s Aid movement
  • catalogued the archive
  • raised awareness with a wide range of people about the significance of Women’s Aid and the issue of violence against women

Strong partnerships between SWA, Glasgow Women’s Library, Women’s History Scotland and Glasgow University Centre for Gender History were combined with the active participation of local Women’s Aid groups and community supporters to make this project a success.

Volunteers were recruited and trained to collect the oral histories and to organise a touring exhibition, film, publication and events.

HLF has funded the archive of Glasgow Women’s Library and related heritage projects, including a focus on the contribution of Scottish women in the First World War, helping to build capacity and community expertise over a decade.

Making a difference

How the project achieved HLF’s outcomes for heritage:

  • Previously uncollected oral histories are now on the record. The project enabled memories to be digitally recorded, preserving crucial social history for future generations. Respecting the confidentiality of women sharing personal and often sensitive histories involved all the partners in making careful, ethically informed decisions whilst highlighting vital, and all too often neglected, areas of women’s lives.
  • Heritage was interpreted in new ways as a result of the partnership. While new to the heritage sector and unfamiliar with archives, Scottish Women’s Aid are extremely skilled in hearing complex, powerful experiences and taking action to improve women’s lives. Hundreds of visitors to the exhibitions, film and events programme recorded how profoundly moved they were to  hear the experiences of these Scottish women.

How the project achieved HLF’s outcomes for people:

  • Recognising the important role of volunteers in collecting oral histories, the History of Women’s Aid in Scotland project was successful in recognising that people volunteer for a wide range of reasons. These might include personal experience, political commitment and interests in widening social networks.
  • Planning for flexible, clearly defined roles was crucial in prioritising the development of individual volunteers, as well as in delivering excellent heritage outcomes. The volunteers had an impact: “Eye-opening. During my visit I was approached by one of the wonderful women who WA has helped. An encounter I will never forget!” (Museum of Edinburgh)
  • Visitors valued learning about the collection: “I have gained a much more informed understanding of domestic abuse and the issues surrounding it - thank you. Inspiring stories from the video and oral histories”. (Museum of Edinburgh) “It is good to see and hear about all the great work … and learn of the impact this makes on lives. Talking openly breaks barriers and reduces stigma”. (Aberdeen Central Library)

How the project achieved HLF’s outcomes for communities:

  • A wider range of people engaged with heritage. Supported by local Women’s Aid Groups, the exhibitions toured libraries and museums, raising the profile of women’s history across Scotland.
  • In particular, this project has led to closer links between younger and newer members of Women’s Aid groups and Women’s History Scotland, keen to work together to uncover and share more experience in the future.

Lesson learnt

Projects with substantial volunteer involvement require a dedicated project staff role, devoted to co-ordinating and prioritising the roles of volunteers. The experience of at least six volunteers who made life-changing decisions regarding careers, relationships and further education following involvement in this project is evidence of the high quality attention given to volunteer development.

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