Making parks safe for women and girls

Practical guidelines which will help to make parks and green spaces safer for women and girls across the UK are being launched at a conference organised by the University of Leeds.

It follows a recent study of a cross-section of more than a hundred women and girls from West Yorkshire which found that most believed their local parks to be unsafe.  

The research – funded by the Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin and carried out by researchers at the University – concluded that feeling vulnerable in parks is a barrier that needs to be urgently addressed to ensure that women and girls feel able to use, enjoy and benefit from them.  

We want West Yorkshire to be the safest place to be a woman or a girl.

Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin

Informed by the research findings, the guidance aims to address that barrier with a range of practical measures, including creating openness and visibility, escape routes, better lighting and the positive presence of park staff and members of the community. 

The document is a partnership between Mayor Brabin, the University of Leeds, Make Space for Girls and Keep Britain Tidy, and is aimed at park managers, local authorities, police and community groups. 

Dr Anna Barker, an Associate Professor in Criminal Justice & Criminology in the University of Leeds’ School of Law  led the original research and organised the conference. She said: “In Britain, women are three times more likely than men to feel unsafe in a park during the day.  

“This is worse after dark, when as many as four out of five women in Britain say that they would feel unsafe walking alone in a park, compared to two out of five men. 

“All these factors mean that women and girls are less likely to use parks than men and boys, a situation which has a significant impact on their lives. Our guidelines, covering ten principles for design and management, can enable decision-makers to enact change.” 

Other suggestions in the guidance include: 

•    Organising activities and events to extend women’s use of parks, including after dark.   
•    Making sure that the surrounding area and approach routes to parks all feel safe, minimising enclosed and hidden entrances.   
•    Creating a sense of belonging through spaces and facilities which give diverse groups of women and girls the sense that they are welcome. 
•    Designing the placement of facilities, paths and features so that they encourage use by women, maximise visibility, and are easy to navigate. 
•    Involving women and girls in the design of parks. 

The guidance was launched as part of a two-day conference entitled Women and Girls' Safety in Parks: Lessons from Research and Practice. The opening session was chaired by Alison Lowe OBE, Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime in West Yorkshire, and the guidance itself was introduced by the Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin, who funded the work as part of her Safety of Women and Girls Strategy.  

West Yorkshire Mayor, Tracy Brabin said: “We want West Yorkshire to be the safest place to be a woman or a girl. This guidance will help make our parks and wonderful green spaces safer for them.

“I’m calling on local leaders across the country to join us and put them into practice so that we can make real change together.” 

Welcoming spaces 

Others attending included representatives from the Suzy Lamplugh TrustWomen in Sport, Keep Britain Tidy, and Make Space for Girls.  

Imogen Clark, Trustee and Co-Founder of Make Space for Girls said: “Safety is a big obstacle to teenage girls using parks.  We’re really pleased that this guidance considers safety in the round - making spaces which will be more welcoming for teenage girls.”

Keep Britain Tidy’s Chef Executive, Allison Ogden-Newton OBE, said: “It’s critical that we understand what makes women and girls feel safe or unsafe across our green spaces and what needs to change to make them feel able to use their local park.”

“Our own research already shows that 70% of people in urban areas do not have access to good quality green space, rising to 75.8% in the most deprived areas. When coupled with women’s concerns about using those few green spaces they have access to, it means there is a real inequality. We must tackle it collectively, and as a priority.”

“We are proud to be a part of this important and much needed project.”

The organisations behind the new guidelines hope decision-makers will now review all of their parks in partnership with the police and engage with women and girls specifically on safety, ensuring that those who do not currently use the parks are included. 

They are also calling for the new guidance and the results of their discussions with women and girls to be incorporated into management plans for parks and green spaces and reviewed regularly. 

Further information 

The guidance is primarily aimed at parks managers, landscape architects and other public sector design professionals across the UK, and helps stakeholders understand gender-sensitive principles of safety and implement changes at varying scales and budgets. The principles cover ten core areas under three themes:  

•    Eyes on the Park reflects that the presence of others makes women and girls feel safer.  
•    Awareness addresses design issues that can help women and girls feel more secure.  
•    Inclusion considers the importance of bringing a diverse cross-section of women and girls into our parks and designing spaces with their input.  
•    In addition, the guidance presents ten case studies of good practice and innovation from Britain and abroad which demonstrate how the principles can be applied.  
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