Fostering safer parks for women and girls through multi-agency collaboration, knowledge exchange and the co-design of research-informed guidance

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Law


Fostering safe and inclusive public spaces where women and girls' feel safe is of national and international concern. In the UK, the murders of Sabina Nessa in 2021 and sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman in 2020 show that there is a need to improve the safety of public spaces, notably urban parks, and enhance women's feelings of safety whilst using them. Public parks have been shown to have numerous benefits for health and wellbeing, yet research consistently finds that personal safety is a significant factor constraining women's access to and use of green spaces, thereby reducing those benefits. Indeed, the Office for National Statistics (2021) found that feeling unsafe walking alone in public places such as streets, busy transport hubs and local parks, disproportionately affects women and girls, particularly after dark. Gender disparities are greatest for park settings where 81% of women reported feeling unsafe walking alone after dark, compared with 39% of men (ONS, 2021). Moreover, across Europe, women are between 2.5 and 5.7 times more likely to feel unsafe walking alone than men after dark, according to the European Social Survey. Some countries, such as Norway, have managed to significantly narrow this gender gap.

Effective prevention of VAWG in urban parks involves designing and managing these public spaces in ways which both deter potential offending and ensure women and girls feel safe. Building upon and harnessing the findings of recently completed research into women and girls' safety in public parks led by Barker and Holmes, this partnership collaboration between West Yorkshire Police, the Mayor of West Yorkshire, West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Keep Britain Tidy, Make Space for Girls, Leeds Women's Aid, the ESRC Vulnerability and Policing Futures Research Centre and the University of Leeds aims to foster a paradigm shift in the way professionals think about women's safety, develop regional and national guidance for safer, women friendly parks and co-design new research activities that seek to understand how holistic multi-agency approaches involving sympathetic crime prevention and landscape design, neighbourhood policing and park management can contribute to preventing and reducing VAWG in parks, enhance feelings of safety and build trust and confidence in policing.

Crime prevention design can be intrusive, unsightly and exclusionary, which could actually increase women and girls' fear, and reduce footfall, which itself acts as natural guardianship as people pass through a park. It can also have other potentially negative environmental and social impacts, such as the impact of safety lighting and vegetation management on biodiversity and the impact of physical security measures on accessibility and social inclusion. The project will co-design new directions in research that create new ways to think about park design and park policing that contribute to the effective prevention and reduction of VAWG and build confidence in policing, while ensuring that crime prevention is sympathetic to the park environment, mitigates environmental impacts and does not convey a message of alertness or fear, which is the opposite of the sense of nature, freedom and calmness that green spaces offer.

Outcomes from this project include: research-informed, co-produced regional and national guidance for safer, women friendly parks; an international symposium on women's safety in public spaces; making parks safer places for women and girls through changing the ways professionals think about women's safety and strengthening multi-agency partnership working; and co-designed plans for new research activities linked to this agenda.
Description The research findings have been used by the Mayor of West Yorkshire to inform their strategies to support women to feel safe in public spaces. The work has fed into thinking of parks managers, designers, planners and local authorities and is being used to inform strategies and future work.
First Year Of Impact 2022
Sector Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Commitment to use research in the Mayor of West Yorkshire's Strategy
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Description Response to Sport England consultation on Active Design
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Contribution to a national consultation/review
Impact Sport England has confirmed that it will include the insights from the research in the final version of the Active Design guidance, which will have an impact on the design and planning of public spaces as 'active environments' across the UK.
Description Steering Group to Inform New Guidance for the Design and Management of Parks 
Organisation West Yorkshire Combined Authorities
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution This steering group is overseeing the development of new national guidance for the design and management of safer parks. My regular involvement has been to feed in the research findings to help develop the guidance, which is based on the research. I have contributed to setting out the principles and structure of the new guidance, gathering evidence and case studies to include in it and consulting with relevant wider stakeholders to feed in their input. I have also commented and fed back on the guidance.
Collaborator Contribution Make Space for Girls are leading on writing the guidance. All partners have have contributed to the principles, structure, gathering evidence and case studies and consulted wider stakeholders.
Impact The collaboration includes expertise from urban design, parks, girls and young people and research. It is producing a guidance document which will be launched in May 2023.
Start Year 2022
Description Presentation & Discussion at the Parks for London Women's Safety in Parks Action Group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A presentation on the 10 February 2023 about the findings of the research and it's implications for policy and practice was given at the Parks for London Women's Safety in Parks Action Group attending by representatives from parks and community safety services in local authorities and park trusts across London boroughs. This generated much positive debate, questions and requests for follow up meetings to discuss using the findings to inform the work of councils. Also, Parks for London want the findings to inform a toolkit they are developing in 2023.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2023
Description Speak Up on Women's Safety: Art Exhibition and Police Q&A 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact The research posters on how women and girls feel about safety in parks were showcased at a 'Speak Up on Women's Safety: Art Exhibition and Police Q&A' event and exhibition organised by Women Friendly Leeds on the 2 December 2022.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Supporting the Safety of Women and Girls in West Yorkshire's Parks - Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The workshop in October 2022 was attended by Alison Lowe OBE, Deputy Mayor for Policing & Crime and Lee Berry, Detective Superintendent, VAWG Strategic Lead, West Yorkshire Police, alongside over 50 parks managers, police officers, design out crime officers, built and natural environment practitioners, women's groups and national charities. This workshop offered an important and timely opportunity to discuss the findings of the research and to help shape recommendations to support women and girls' safety and feelings of safety in parks and green spaces in West Yorkshire, and beyond. The participants contributed to the development of new recommendations which were published in the findings report, alongside a foreword by Alison Lowe OBE, Deputy Mayor for Policing & Crime.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022