Skanör’s old church was a safe haven for locals during the historical Backafloden storm of 1872: when the flood hit Skanör, its people fled to the church and stood on the church benches to escape the water. To honour this historical event, and to make use of a building which otherwise stands empty a lot of the time, Vellinge municipality decided to renovate the church into the first official evacuation facility in Skanör, and it was inaugurated as the Safe Haven Tower in 2042, exactly 170 years after Backafloden.
Much of the original architecture of the building has been preserved: during the renovation, an elevated platform was installed around the nave to accommodate greater numbers of evacuees, and to ensure that the facility is accessible for disabled people and seniors. The church is still used for religious ceremonies, of course—weddings here have become quite popular in recent years—and there are guided tours which unpack the history of the town and the church, as well as describing more recent efforts regarding disaster prevention and the evacuation plan for Skanör. You can even walk up onto the platform and see the storage lockers that contain a whole range of emergency supplies: field kitchens, canned goods, flashlights, hand-cranked radios, it’s all here!
The old church has also become a symbol for the Swedish government’s Vision Zero in Skåne, and of the Safe Haven Tower initiative that was rolled out at the same time. Following in Vellinge’s footsteps, all coastal municipalities are now obliged to build evacuation towers in areas where there is a major risk of flooding. The initiative was criticised as being radical and over-ambitious at the time, as evacuation towers are usually built in tsunami-prone areas where the flood waves can be several metres high; however, the government countered that the towers might not need to be very high, but are nonetheless needed in areas where evacuation to higher ground is difficult (as is the case in much of Skåne).
In the hope of destigmatisating the towers and getting people familiar with them, the government has encouraged coastal communities to see their towers as landmarks. Many locations have even gone so far as to allow the citizens to vote on the design of the towers, resulting in some rather quirky attempts to assert a local “brand”. In Åhus, an eel-shaped tower is the favorite contender, in tribute to the area’s most famous foodstuff, though there is as yet no reputable architect attached to the bid. Elsewhere, rumour has it that several communities are in an ongoing dispute over who gets to build a tower in the shape of a spettekaka, in celebration of Skåne’s
lust for sugary treats culinary heritage.