Aberdeen Cares:

new exhibition at Aberdeen Art Gallery celebrates 150 years of VSA

A new exhibition at Aberdeen Art Gallery marking the 150th anniversary of Aberdeen Association of Social Service, known locally as VSA, opens to the public on Saturday (12 March).

Since 1870 Aberdeen Association of Social Service (VSA), has stood next to the people of the city, offering care, support, and vital services to vulnerable people in our communities. To mark the organisation’s 150th anniversary, this exhibition, which is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, explores VSA’s role in the history of social care in Aberdeen.

Alexander Nicol, a former Lord Provost of Aberdeen (1865-1869), was inspired after his term in office to establish an organisation that could help change the lives of people living in poverty across the city for the better. Every Lord Provost of Aberdeen serves as President of VSA.

Lynne Clark, who has curated the exhibition for VSA, gathered together 150 stories from archives across the city as inspiration for the exhibition’s themes. Aberdeen Cares highlights the impact of human kindness through poignant and inspirational personal stories, archival photography, documents and objects associated with care giving in Aberdeen. The exhibition’s themes include

The origins of the Aberdeen Association of Social Service: its early campaigns to raise awareness and donations for those most in need in the city.

Royal connections: Queen Victoria was the Association’s first Patron and every monarch since has assumed the role, spanning six reigns and 150 years. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth is VSA’s Patron.

Innovations in care provision: the founders of VSA knew that their support must be able to adapt to changing circumstances. In its early years the charity responded to severe winters, peaks of unemployment and a need for working mothers to access childcare. The founders recognised the main causes of poverty as accidents, illness and lack of employment. This forward-thinking Association supported people’s emotional as well as physical wellbeing. These principles were at the forefront of its sheltered housing model.

Helping people to help themselves: objects on display include a man’s suit dating from the 1930s, and soap, a comb, shoe polish and toothpaste. In 1933 during the severe economic hardship of the Great Depression there were between 12,000 and 14,000 unemployed men in Aberdeen. To support the unemployed during this period, VSA helped with the cost of travel to interviews, buying clothes and providing items that would help people look and feel their best.

Volunteers: VSA is the only Scottish charity to be awarded two Voluntary Service Awards by Her Majesty The Queen.

Dr Kenneth Simpson, Chief Executive of VSA, said: “VSA has been caring for vulnerable children and adults in Aberdeen and beyond for over 150 years, and the vast history of the charity has been amazing to discover. As times have changed, so has the way we have delivered our services, but always with one ambition: to give the people of Aberdeen the best of care to enable them to live the best of lives.”

“We are so incredibly grateful to The National Lottery Heritage Fund for awarding us a grant to help deliver this project and showcase the history of social care. I would also like to thank Aberdeen Art Gallery and Aberdeen City Council for their support in helping us present this exhibition.”

“We really hope everyone enjoys learning about our history, and if there is anyone with a story or memory of VSA we have a dedicated heritage website where you can also share your story and we would love to hear from you; please visit: heritage.vsa.org.uk.“

Councillor Ryan Houghton, Convenor of Aberdeen City Council’s City Growth and Resources Committee, said, “The Aberdeen Cares exhibition demonstrates how unfounded the Aberdonian reputation for miserliness is. VSA’s archives record generations of friends, neighbours and strangers looking after each other, often sharing what little they had with others. The people of Aberdeen continue their support for VSA and its work today through volunteering, donating, leaving a legacy and fundraising. This exhibition is a fitting tribute an organisation which has supported over 3 million vulnerable people over the past 150 years.”

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