Recent data shows crime has fallen by over 20% in Chelmsford wards Trinity and The Lawns.
The two wards are home to the Chelmer Valley Local Nature Reserve, an area known locally as the Bunny Walks, which has been the focus of multiple community safety projects delivered over the last 18 months.
When Safer Streets funding was secured in late 2021, the council committed those funds to a programme of 16 projects, mostly focused in and around Chelmer Valley Local Nature Reserve. The area was chosen for the Safer Streets programme after local residents, particularly women, reported feeling unsafe there.
The Safer Streets programme was designed not only to make the area safer, but to transform it into a more valued and well-used site for the community. As the nature reserve was already a key green space in the city, the council and project partners prioritised encouraging biodiversity throughout the programme. Projects were carefully designed to work together to showcase and enhance the beauty of the area, while cutting down on crime and perception of crime.
Councillor Donna Eley, Cabinet Deputy for Community Safety, says that the sharp fall in crime rates around Chelmer Valley Local Nature Reserve reflects the impact the projects are having:
“We wanted residents to embrace the Bunny Walks as a nature reserve with value far beyond being a cut-through to the city centre. With a focus on education and encouraging behavioural change, along with the support of fantastic partners, this complex programme has already delivered results.
“As part of the ongoing work to deliver a Greener and Safer Chelmsford to our residents, this is a significant step and one we are proud of; particularly because it has involved so much volunteer and community engagement.
“There is certainly still work to be done, and much of the programme remains underway, but it’s this long-term approach that we believe will lead to lasting impact.”Councillor Donna Eley, Cabinet Deputy for Community Safety
Far ahead of county averages
In the year preceding the Safer Streets project (1 April 2021 – 31 March 2022) there were 1,132 crimes reported in Trinity and the Lawns. One year on (1 April 2022 – 31 March 2023) there were 886, marking a fall of 21.73%.
Essex Police has seen a force-wide average fall of 1.3% during this time and Chelmsford reported a 1.6% decrease. Roger Hirst, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner said:
“Crime is falling in Essex and we are seeing long term reductions in anti-social behaviour which is down by 60%, and homicide and burglary both of which have halved since 2016.
“But we know we need to do more to continue to get crime down, support victims and protect the vulnerable. Preventing crime and anti-social behaviour is our main priority but we also need to make sure that people feel safe in their communities and can go out and enjoy their lives without the fear of crime. We know that women and girls feel unsafe in certain areas of Essex and this is unacceptable.
“We have invested significantly to improve areas where we have been told that people feel unsafe, and this has made a huge difference. The Bunny Walks area in Chelmsford is a great example of where by securing additional government funding we have been able to make a real difference to local communities by working with the council and other partners.
“As well as crime falling we also know more students are feeling able to use areas of the city they previously felt were no go areas. This is good for them, good for their communities and demonstrates the positive impact of this investment.”Roger Hirst, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex
Safer Streets bid was a partner project
The award of £550,000 from the Home Office’s Safer Streets fund was secured by the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner (PFCC) for Essex in partnership with Chelmsford City Council and Essex Police. The funding was for the city of Chelmsford as a whole, and funds have been used to make Chelmsford’s streets safer beyond the Bunny Walks.
The council’s Community Safety team has worked closely with the PFCC, Essex Police, Essex County Fire and Rescue, housing teams, local voluntary and charitable organisations, schools and colleges across a wide range of projects.
Safer Streets impact felt across Chelmsford district
While the Chelmer Valley Local Nature Reserve was a key focus of the Safer Streets Programme, there were many other schemes actioned from the Safer Streets funding. Projects actioned outside this area include:
- Youth engagement with Chelmsford City Football Club Safer Streets funded a youth engagement project with Chelmsford City FC, designed to build positive relationships and trust between community safety partners and young people. Educational sessions on prevalent community safety were delivered by partners, with each session followed by football training at the club.
- Healthy relationships education in schools Awareness sessions on healthy relationships and consent were delivered by Essex-based domestic abuse charity Safer Places to students at 17 schools and colleges across Chelmsford.
- Youth interventions A flexible youth engagement project with Bar ‘n’ Bus worked with both young people in need of support and trainee youth workers.
- Chelmsford SOS bus Safer Streets is funding the provision of the Chelmsford SOS bus every Friday night in the city centre. The SOS Bus provides support to people who might be vulnerable on a night out.
- Chelmsford Street Pastors Patrolling in teams from 10pm to 4am on Friday and Saturday nights, Chelmsford Street Pastors help, care for, and listen to people who are out on the streets, helping everyone remain safe.
- Creating safe spaces The launch of Chelmsford’s Women’s Safety Charter project was also funded by Safer Streets. Businesses across the city have received training to become safe spaces for women and girls, creating venues across the city where women and girls can seek refuge and support if they are feeling unsafe.
- Education on harmful behaviours In partnership with Safer Places, Chelmsford City Council devised training to help adults identify children and young people experiencing or exhibiting harmful sexual behaviours. The training aims to help deter future offending and break the cycle of unhealthy relationships.
Prioritising community engagement
The Safer Streets programme is heavily focused on education and encouraging behavioural change. This is reflected across all sixteen projects.
Chelmer Valley Local Nature Reserve is an important retreat within the city and spending time in nature can have a positive impact on our wellbeing in many ways. Projects here were designed to encourage residents to engage with the area and benefit from the nature on our doorstep. Karen Buttress, community safety lead at Chelmsford City Council, says the Safer Streets programme is helping to transform residents’ relationships with the area:
“The Bunny Walks were seen, by women in particular, as a place where fear of crime is higher than elsewhere in the district. While working on Safer Streets projects, I’ve spent a lot of time here and have seen attitudes change as the programme has progressed.
“It’s been great to hear from local residents and see the enhanced community spirit among volunteers and during youth engagement days. There is still work to do, of course, but the Safer Streets funding and commitment from everyone involved has led to so many improvements. We hope that the benefit of these improvements will continue to be felt long-term, along with the impact made by other Safe Streets projects, such as our Women’s Safety Charter.”Karen Buttress, Community Safety Lead Officer, Chelmsford City Council
One project in particular relied heavily on community involvement: ‘The Fallen Tree’.
A permaculture installation designed by Wyrd Flora, this seating area provides a social space for residents that works in harmony with the nature reserve’s ecosystem. The installation recruited volunteers to build a beautiful upcycled table and seating area, complete with woodchip surround (great for enhancing biodiversity) and lawn (to blend in with the existing landscape). And Wyrd Flora didn’t stop there – they hosted wildflower workshops and a foraging walk, to give locals a better understanding of the biodiversity within the nature reserve.
Family app created to increase local knowledge
To continue this theme, a family-friendly app was launched. The app was designed to engage visitors and those who regularly pass through the Bunny Walks, using quizzes and interesting facts about the history, flora and fauna of the nature reserve. The app also aims to help residents feel more confident when they’re walking or cycling through the area.
Throughout the reserve, there are numerous QR codes that can be scanned to reveal more about the area and its residents, including herons, egrets, otters, muntjacs, and foxes. The app is narrated by Harry Otter, who was named by residents ahead of the app’s launch.
Bringing art into nature
The city council was aware that groups of young people congregating in the Bunny Walks were making some people feel unsafe. To tackle this, Safer Streets funding was used to engage youth workers to support these young people and help them understand the impact they were having on their community.
As part of this youth engagement project, Essex arts company Brave Arts worked with them to design and paint murals throughout the underpass and rail bridge, to make the area feel more vibrant and loved, discouraging antisocial behaviour.
CTTV and lighting upgrades
To further enhance safety in and around the Bunny Walks, additional CCTV cameras with infrared technology were installed. Cameras were added to key locations to improve coverage and extend the CCTV network, bridging gaps towards the university and city centre. Additional street lighting was also installed, providing better visibility on the pedestrian bridge over the river.
Visible patrols have also increased in the area, with Days of Action being held in the nature reserve. ‘Days of Action’ are regularly held across the district, supported by the council’s Community Safety and Housing teams, Essex Police and Essex County Fire and Rescue Service, as well as Neighbourhood Watch and other voluntary and charitable organisations. These days aim to strengthen relationships between residents and the services that work to keep them safe.
Chief Inspector Paul Ballard says these developments are based on information received by the public:
“We have worked closely with our partners at Chelmsford City Council, Neighbourhood Watch and Essex County Fire and Rescue to make sure that the community’s concerns were being addressed and that we were working to make sure people felt safe in their area.
“Our Days of Action are proving to be an effective way to find out what the issues are at Chelmer Valley Nature Reserve and work to improve those.
“These actions are all as a result of the information we’ve received from the public so I’d encourage the public to continue reporting any concerns including anti-social behaviour to us.”Chief Inspector Paul Ballard, Essex Police
See Chelmer Valley Nature Reserve for yourself
With so many projects already complete, the nature reserve’s rejuvenation has been enjoyed by many – but have you seen it for yourself?
Why not head down to Chelmer Valley Nature Reserve this summer, where you can enjoy the area so lovingly cultivated by volunteers. You could even sign up yourself with Love Your Chelmsford.
To find out more about the work of the city council’s community safety team, visit www.chelmsford.gov.uk/communities/community-safety/