A County Antrim village has been awarded the title of ‘safe village’ thanks to the far-sightedness of a Christian Aid charity shop manager. Oonagh Dalton was the catalyst for Cullybackey’s accreditation as a place where people experiencing domestic violence can receive initial help.
Oonagh who with husband Michael manages The Changing Room on Main Street, took part in domestic violence awareness training offered by OnusNI and Women’s Aid, and persuaded four other local businesses to follow suit. Once five businesses had been trained up, Cullybackey qualified for the title of ‘safe village’.
After collecting the award at a special ceremony at Belfast City Hall on 19 November, Oonagh explained: “We don’t offer advice but we do offer a listening ear and we point people in the right direction to seek professional help.”
The ‘safe house’ and ‘safe village’ awards come just a year after the couple completed an 8-month-long restoration of a 200-year-old heritage building in the village, bringing it back into use as a Christian Aid charity shop. They manage the shop without payment, living out their Christian faith by raising funds for the agency’s work with the poor.
Oonagh and Michael who attend Cullybackey Methodist Church explained what prompted them to get involved with the issue of domestic violence: “When we were getting the shop ready, we regularly asked God for guidance on what he wanted us to do. I often had a whisper in my ear at night, ‘it must be a safe place’. During a visit to a nearby visitor attraction, I discovered information cards on the safe place initiative.”
It wasn’t long before Oonagh had completed her training and the charity shop had received its ‘safe house’ accreditation. But she wasn’t content to leave it there: “Once I became aware of the ‘safe village’ scheme, I was on a mission to involve as many local businesses as possible and I am so happy to say that Cullybackey is now listed as a ‘safe village’ with zero tolerance to domestic abuse.”
And Oonagh has wasted no time in putting her training to good use: “There have been visitors to the shop who have opened up about their experience of domestic abuse, both physical and verbal. Verbal abuse is now recognised as coercive control in most of the UK but sadly not yet here in Northern Ireland – this is a challenge for our politicians at Stormont. But it's amazing how a listening ear and a kind word can lift a person and help them see they’re not alone.”
Christian Aid Ireland Chief Executive Rosamond Bennett said: “Across the developing world, we support projects which reduce violence against women and girls. Through their charity shop, Oonagh and Michael are supporting this vital work so it’s fitting that they should want to tackle the problem at home too.”
Author: Lisa Fagan