How to create safer spaces that foster mutual understanding, respect and growth

A large white canvas leaning against a wall made of grey bricks splashed with different colours of pain with the word Together across it in white letters.

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While the concept of safe space is fluid and ever-changing, its presence plays an important role in creating and sustaining vibrant and healthy communities, where a range of (visible and invisible) human qualities are acknowledged, respected and given the opportunity to thrive.

Creating safer spaces is important and beneficial for a number of reasons:

  • It ensures a diversity of perspectives and voices are heard
  • It grants program and service access to a range of individuals and communities
  • It fosters the development of healthier, happier, more productive, and more sustainable communities
  • It provides individuals with a sense of both physical and psychological safety
  • It allows individuals to feel self-expressed and respected by their families, peers, employers, and communities

It is important to ask: WHO are you creating safer spaces for, and HOW is that space being created?

What is a safe space?

A safe space is a place that makes everyone – regardless of diverse characteristics – feel welcome, comfortable and safe. It is a place where one feels able to express oneself and one’s identity without fear of judgement or discrimination. A safe space provides a network of support and understanding; it ensures that each person’s self respect and dignity are protected. Spaces can take multiple forms:

Physical – A community centre, a school, a neighbourhood

Relational – A support group, a team meeting, a community event

Virtual – A blog, a chatroom, a social media platform

Is a safe space the same as a positive space?

Positive spaces are spaces that are open to individuals of all sexual and gender identities. They’re places where LGBTTIQQ2S (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Transitioning, Intersex, Queer, Questioning, Two-Spirited) individuals can access services “with dignity and respect and where service providers can work free from discrimination” (Hamilton Health Sciences; OCASI Positive Spaces Initiative).

The term ‘safe space’ is often used interchangeably with ‘positive space’.

Six tips for creating safer spaces

  1. Serve everyone
    Remember that everyone who accesses services deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.
  2. Engage in active listening
    Listen with all the senses, maintain open communication, ensure client/employee confidentiality, be aware of body language and microaggressions.
  3. Cultivate a welcoming environment
    Ensure that physical space, events, policies, and programs are organized so that everyone feels welcome, comfortable, and included.
  4. Address community needs
    Incorporate recognition for Indigenous land; offer childcare services when needed; provide diverse food options.
  5. Acknowledge the importance of design
    Create space that connects with the community that is accessing it (e.g., circular spaces for Indigenous communities; bright/bold colours for children and youth).
  6. Think about accessibility
    Make sure spaces are easily accessed by those who wish to use them (e.g., employees, clients, others); ensure adherence to AODA standards.

The goal is to create the most inclusive space for everyone – clients, employees, partners, community members, and other stakeholders – with the recognition that the process is evolving and iterative. Inclusion and diversity work is ongoing! Be sure to check out our services if you need assistance creating a plan for your organization.