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Dr Anna Barker leads new project to improve understanding of women and girls' safety in parks


Dr Anna Barker leads a new project 'Fostering safer parks for women and girls through multi-agency collaboration, knowledge exchange and the co-design of research-informed guidance.

Dr Anna Barker of the School of Law, University of Leeds is leading a new collaboration between the Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, West Yorkshire PoliceKeep Britain TidyMake Space for GirlsLeeds Women’s Aidthe Vulnerability and Policing Futures Research Centre and the University of Leeds which aims to share and exchange knowledge, evidence and best practices to improve understanding of women and girls' safety in parks and co-produce research-informed parks guidance.

Parks are vital public spaces that have numerous benefits for health and wellbeing yet concerns about safety constrain women and girls’ use and experience of them.

Existing national research shows that four out of five women and two out of five men felt unsafe walking alone after dark in a park or other open space (Office for National Statistics, 2021).

The collaboration is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and builds on the findings of a recently completed study exploring women and girls’ perceptions of safety in West Yorkshire’s parks led by Dr Anna Barker and Professor George Holmes (Faculty of Environment, University of Leeds) as part of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority-led Safer Streets 3 project, funded by the Home Office.

The partners will collaborate on various activities, including a regional knowledge exchange seminar in October 2022, an international symposium in May 2023, research-informed parks guidance (to be launched at the symposium) and co-design plans for new research activities linked to this agenda.

The regional knowledge exchange seminar was be held on the 31st October and brought together stakeholders including Alison Lowe OBE, Deputy Mayor for Policing & Crime and Lee Berry, Detective Superintendent, VAWG Strategic Lead, West Yorkshire Police, alongside parks managers, police officers, design out crime officers, built and natural environment practitioners, women’s groups and campaigners, to discuss the findings of new research and to help shape recommendations to support women and girls’ safety and feelings of safety in parks and green spaces across West Yorkshire.

Dr Anna Barker, Centre for Criminal Justice Studies at the University of Leeds, leading the collaboration said: ‘I am delighted to bring together an extensive and comprehensive range of local and national partners in this new collaboration aimed at fostering safer parks for women and girls. Parks are vital public spaces that support our health and wellbeing, and this collaboration will use our research into women and girls’ safety perceptions in parks to make a difference in West Yorkshire and beyond.’

Alison Lowe OBE, Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, said: “The safety of women and girls is at the heart of our agenda for West Yorkshire, so we are delighted to continue our collaboration with the University of Leeds and other partners on this project. It is crucial that findings from this important research are shared and used to help inform policy and practice going forward to continue to improve the situation locally, and nationally.”

Jennette Morris-Boam, Projects and Partnerships Director at Leeds Women’s Aid, said: “Leeds Women’s Aid are pleased to be part of this project, as its built on initial conversations and voices from local women about their local parks. As a lead for women’s voice and influence in Leeds we and Women’s Lives Leeds are really pleased to see those voices will influence change, not only in Leeds, but internationally too. #BetterForWomenBetterforEveryone!”

Susannah Walker from Make Space for Girls, said: “Safety is a huge barrier to girls accessing parks and other public spaces, and at the moment only 20% of them feel safe in the parks they chose to go to, so we are very pleased to be collaborating in this important piece of work.”

Paul Todd, Accreditations Manager at Keep Britain Tidy, said: “This research aligns perfectly with several criteria of the Green Flag Award – the international parks accreditation programme which Keep Britain Tidy run on behalf of the UK Government. As a charity we are extremely excited to be involved in this meaningful and valuable project.”

Professor Adam Crawford, co-Director of the ESRC Vulnerability & Policing Futures Research Centre, Universities of Leeds and York, said: “We are delighted to be supporting this important and timely research project and look forward to working with the researchers and partners to maximise the national impact from the study’s findings.”