Innovative new art project set to tackle women’s concerns about safety in parks

School of Law Associate Professor Anna Barker’s work on safety in parks inspires wide-ranging and impactful responses, including a new art project for local park Woodhouse Moor.

In Britain, up to 82% of women feel unsafe when walking alone in parks (Office of National Statistics, 2022). This is in contrast to men, of whom 42% feel the same. Dr Anna Barker’s 2022 study What Makes a Park Safe or Unsafe, funded by the Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, sought the opinions of women and girls across West Yorkshire ranging in age from 13–84 years, and also consulted with professionals involved in the design of parks and urban spaces.

Dr Barker gathered rich qualitative data through interviews and focus groups to explore why so many women and girls felt unsafe in parks. Reasons include the presence of drinkers or drug users, lone men, groups of men and boys, and reduced visibility due to lack of lighting or overgrown vegetation and high walls. Because they feel unsafe in parks, women and girls have been shown to avoid them at certain times or when alone, barring them from accessing the positive effects of spending time in green spaces and exercising outdoors.

Dr Barker’s report has already had considerable impact, shaping the design and management guidance for parks both nationally and internationally It has been at the heart of a multi-agency collaboration and knowledge exchange funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. She has recently submitted written evidence to two parliamentary committees: Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. Her research is also featured in the work of various initiatives, including Sport England’s This Girl Can, and Keep Britain Tidy's Love Parks Week campaign.

Now, an exciting new project is underway: Wow Park – a co-creative public art project to make Woodhouse Moor feel safer and more welcoming. Using Dr Barker’s report as its basis, Wow Park is the result of a collaboration between The University of Leeds’ Cultural Institute, Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin, and Leeds City Council, and is funded by Research England. Bradford-based social enterprise organisation Street Space has been chosen as a partner to carry out engagement work with residents, students, community and faith groups in and around Woodhouse Moor, leading to the development of creative designs by early Summer 2024. 

Dr Anna Barker says of this project:

Building a sense of belonging through spaces and facilities which give diverse groups of women and girls the sense that they are welcome is one of the key recommendations in our guidelines and this creative project will go a long way towards achieving that on Woodhouse Moor.

Those involved in the project hope that it will foster an increased feeling of safety in parks for those who have been marginalised by anti-social behaviour or poor design.

Dr Barker is a member of the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies and the Centre for Law and Social Justice.

Listen to Dr Barker speak about this on the University of Leeds How to Fix podcast and Rima at Breakfast on BBC Radio Leeds.