Eight agencies joined forces yesterday in a day of action to make a ‘creepy’ area of Chelmsford safer for all – particularly women and girls.
Staff from the city council, police, youth services, the Environment Agency, the fire and rescue service, volunteers and experts from local charities, and even a local artist threw themselves into a planned programme of work for the day.
Thursday 25 November was chosen as it is also White Ribbon Day, or the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls.
The Bunny Walks are a network of footpaths which run along the riverside between the city centre, Anglia Ruskin University, Springfield and Broomfield. They’re part of a nature reserve, home to wildlife and are an important route for walking and cycling between these locations. They are commonly used by high school and university students, commuters, dog walkers and local residents.
However, they are also mostly unlit, overshadowed by foliage, and have been the site of several assaults. Local residents, particularly women, told the City Council they felt unsafe there, so earlier this year the council and its partners successfully bid for £550,000 of government ‘Safer Streets’ funding to improve the area.
As well as carrying out work and reassuring local people with a presence in the Walks, workers scoped out the area for sixteen other projects. Like the day of action, these have all been given ‘Safer Streets’ funding by the government as part of a programme of works to make this part of Chelmsford safer. They include lighting and CCTV, education about healthy relationships in schools, informing men about the impact of harassment, activities for young people hanging around the area, and more.
The need for action on violence against women
Councillor Rose Moore, cabinet member for Greener and Safer Chelmsford, said, “On White Ribbon Day, it’s not enough just to post a photo to social media or express support for the day. Violence is affecting real people every day and action is what is needed. The day of action is just one part of a sixteen-project programme to make women and girls feel safer in Chelmsford, focusing on this problem area but also having a wider impact across the city, educating men and addressing harmful sexual attitudes in young people before they can develop further.”
Karen Buttress, community safety lead at the council, said, “I live in Chelmsford and I know that the Bunny Walks are talked about by women as a place where sexual assaults have happened and the fear of crime is higher than elsewhere. Part of my job is to work on the Safer Streets projects, so I’ll be spending a lot of time there in the coming months and I look forward to helping things improve. It was really great to hear from some of the local residents yesterday that they felt safer just for seeing police and other workers in the area.”
ITV Anglia came along to film some of the work and you may have seen it on the 6pm news that day. To hear more about the projects, follow @ChelmsCouncil on Facebook and Twitter or sign up to the weekly City Life e-newsletter.
Which actions were carried out?
- Council community safety staff gave out bike marking kits, purse bells, anti-drink spiking caps, personal attack alarms, dog hi-vis and hi-vis running armbands.
- Council enforcement officers patrolled and collected litter.
- City parks volunteers cleared undergrowth, making the paths more open and safe-feeling without destroying habitats. This work will continue.
- Police officers carried out patrols in the area
- The Youth Offending Service attended to engage with young people and carried out some litter picking.
- The Open Road SOS Bus, which is stationed in the city centre on Friday and Saturday nights to offer help and medical attention for people in need, came along to support the event and gave people a safe place to talk to someone privately if needed
- Reach Every Generation, which helps young people learn about and avoid gang involvement, attended to speak to passers-by.
- The Environment Agency, who are helping the council to put together a nature trail app for families, came along to support the work being done and discuss illegal crayfishing traps, harmful to otters, in the area.
- Community safety officers from the Essex County Fire and Rescue Service were on hand to talk to people about keeping safe near water.
- Local arts company Brave Arts assessed the underpass and rail bridge as part of their design work for attractive murals on the underpass and rail bridge to make the area feel loved and discourage antisocial behaviour.