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Infrastructure changes enhance community safety

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Chelmsford City Council’s community safety officers can often be found engaging with residents and visitors - listening to their concerns and understanding where people do and don’t feel safe throughout the district.

If you’ve ever wondered how the team uses the information they get from you, here is a rundown of some recent projects that have been guided by your feedback.

Central Park lighting issues addressed

Focus groups found that a common area of concern was Central Park, with many residents (especially women) feeling unsafe there after dark. Some pedestrians and cyclists said that poor lighting at the pedestrian roundabout close to the lake meant they had no choice but to use a different route.

Chelmsford’s community safety team utilised Minerva funding (a Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner (PFCC) for Essex investment designated to projects combatting Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG)) to install powerful flood lights on a city council CCTV post at the centre of the roundabout. Along with moderate crown reduction of trees to improve the spread of existing lighting, the area’s visibility has been improved.

These lights were installed and activated in February and Councillor Donna Eley says they are a big improvement:

“The lighting in Central Park is something many residents have mentioned, and I am so glad that we have been able to find a solution. Thanks to the creative thinking of our community safety officers, Central Park is now well-lit throughout and residents who pass through the park on their way to and from work have found it’s made a huge difference in their day-to-day lives.

“Feeling safe is hugely important to our wellbeing and to our sense of community. Research has shown, time and time again, that women are disproportionately affected by fear for their personal safety – taking longer routes home to avoid quiet streets, choosing to drive rather than take public transport to avoid waiting alone, and the list goes on. These lights are just one aspect of our ongoing work to ensure the women and girls of Chelmsford feel safe.”

Councillor Donna Eley, Cabinet Deputy for Community Safety, Chelmsford City Council

CCTV network expansion

Essex Council for Voluntary Youth Services’ listening project surveys highlighted the presence of lighting and CCTV as “positive measures”, as did council feedback sessions with park users and skateboarders. In response, Chelmsford City Council has worked to expand its CCTV network across Central Park and other areas in the city.

The Minerva funding that paid for new lighting in Central Park also allowed for a new CCTV camera to be installed at the Central Park underpass. Essex PFCC Safer Streets funding, a scheme dedicated to tackling neighbourhood crime, VAWG and anti-social behaviour (ASB), was used to install a new camera at the Chelmer Valley Road underpass by First Avenue.

More CCTV upgrades have been made in the pedestrian underpasses at Parkway, Odeon, and New London Road; these were funded as part of the city council capital replacement programme.

New camera units have also been installed in Moulsham Street and surrounding areas, as part of Operation Dial, an ongoing joint project tackling anti-social behaviour (ASB) in the area. These upgraded cameras provide high-definition coverage, with both a fixed camera and a moveable unit, allowing CCTV operators the flexibility to follow incidents as they occur.

A mobile CCTV unit has also been installed at Chislett Row following residents’ reports of ASB; this deployable unit has been funded for six months by the Essex Violence and Vulnerability Unit.

CCTV Camera On Chislett Row
Mobile CCTV unit on Chislett Row.

Spencer Clarke, Chelmsford City Council’s Public Protection Manager, says CCTV plays an important role in keeping Chelmsford’s residents and visitors safe.

“The city of Chelmsford has an expansive CCTV network and camera feeds are monitored 24/7. Operators work with council officers, the emergency services, and other Safer Chelmsford partners to prevent and respond to crimes and nuisance behaviour.

“Expanding the network has already proved worthwhile. The new cameras installed in Moulsham Street and New London Road allowed operators to track a police suspect running from a crime scene last week. Operators guided police to the suspect’s hiding place, and he was placed under arrest.

“As well as effectively helping our safety teams and capturing evidence, CCTV also works as a deterrent and our discussions with the public have found that visible cameras commonly lead to an increased perception of safety. We will continue to work to instal CCTV cameras in areas where people tell us they do not feel safe.”

Spencer Clarke, Public Protection Manager, Chelmsford City Council

Engagement and education

Alongside infrastructure updates, the Safer Chelmsford Partnership has increased its public patrols, held monthly Nights of Action to support Chelmsford’s nighttime economy, and commissioned educational projects too. This all aims to embed better practices within Chelmsford’s communities and educate residents as much as possible.

Collaborating with local schools

Community safety officers regularly work with local schools to encourage students to be aware of their own personal safety and let them know how to report concerns. This year they have already commissioned two special projects, one with Hylands School and one with The Boswells School.

Boys from Hylands School took part in the Big Reach project, a pilot project created in partnership with Reach Every Generation, Big Love Charity and Essex Bootcamp. The project aimed to address prevalent behaviours that, while widely accepted, have been found to indicate a predisposition to commit VAWG in later life.

The students met once a week for 10 weeks, spending one hour in a classroom discussing whatever they wanted to get off their chests, from bullying to online trends. This discussion was followed by an hour of physical activity, delivered by Glynn Roberts, the ex-Royal Marine Commando behind Essex Bootcamp. The project was made possible by the PFCC for Essex’s Violence and Vulnerability Locality Funding.

The designated safeguarding lead from Hylands School, says the project has achieved its goal of instilling the importance of opening up among the boys that took part:

“The project has been something that the students have spoken extremely positively about and word has spread around the school about it, with multiple students asking to be considered for a placement.

“[The boys] have really benefited from spending time with Stuart and Gavin as positive male role models – adults to aspire to – and there has been more focus and dedication within the students… I really hope [the project] continues.”

Project Safeguarding Lead, Hylands School

Meanwhile, Make Space for Girls (a charity that campaigns for more consideration of girls and young women in the design of parks and public spaces) has been working with 12 female and non-binary students from The Boswells School to conceptualise changes to make Central Park more accessible to them.

The students, who were selected by their teachers to take part, have been meeting with Make Space for Girls staff weekly, visiting the park and working together to come up with ideas to improve the space. The designs are now complete, and installation will begin soon, with the changes set to be finalised by summer 2024.

The work of Make Space for Girls and the costs of bringing the students’ design to life have all been funded by Safer Streets.

Providing free self-defence classes for women

Violence and Vulnerability funding has also been used to deliver free self-defence classes for women.

In October 2023, On Your Team provided a ten-week self-defence course, delivered by Zenshin-Do Women’s Self Defence. The course was so well received that two further classes were held at the Civic Centre in January, and another two classes will be held in April. Women who attended the classes reported feeling better equipped to protect themselves and therefore safer overall.

Women's Self Defence Class At The Civic Centre
Women who took part in the Zenshin-Do Women’s Self Defence course reported feeling safer thanks to what they learned.

Chelmsford City Council’s Community Safety Lead Officer, says events like this also help the team connect with the community:

“Educational events like the women’s self-defence classes provide a fantastic opportunity for those involved, but they’re also invaluable in strengthening our relationships with the communities we’re working to keep safe.

“Many of the women in those classes attended because they feel unsafe in certain situations, and we have been able to talk to them about their concerns and let them know how we can help.

“Similarly, Nights of Action aren’t solely important for prevention; they also present opportunities for education. We have a Night of Action coming up later this month and are looking forward to chatting to the public, alongside our Safer Chelmsford partners, and highlighting the support available all year round.”

Karen Buttress, Community Safety Lead Officer, Chelmsford City Council

Upcoming engagement events and opportunities

If you enjoy nights out in the city centre, you may be used to spotting the Safer Chelmsford team on their regular patrols. The next one is planned for Friday 22 March.

Each Night of Action sees members of the Safer Chelmsford Partnership working together to conduct high visibility patrols in the city centre, assist businesses wherever needed, and engage with members of the public. February’s Night of Action saw Essex Police deploy their OpenGate weapon detection system, actioning checks and engaging with the public to explain how officers are using the technology to keep people safe.

Community safety officers also work with partners on Days of Action – enforcement days which see officers on patrol to prevent and address ASB, littering, illegal parking, and nuisance behaviour. The next Day of Action will be at Paper Mill Lock in May.

Safer Chelmsford partners also come together for various engagement events, designed to spread safety awareness. There will be at an engagement day Paper Mill Lock on 15 August, when council officers will be joined by representatives from the Environment Agency, Essex County Fire and Rescue Service, and Essex Police, to share water safety tips.

Stay informed about engagement events

The best way to stay informed about upcoming Days of Action is to sign up to our community safety newsletter, which will also let you know about upcoming focus groups and other opportunities to chat to officers and share your feedback and concerns.

Alternatively, you can follow us on social media or contact the community safety team directly by emailing community.safety@chelmsford.gov.uk or calling 01245 606606.

If there are areas within the district where you feel unsafe, you can report then anonymously via this interactive map.

You can also report safety concerns in public places to the police anonymously using their Street Safe tool.

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Molly Smith
Molly Smith

Molly writes stories about public health, community safety, leisure, community sport, parking and Chelmsford Market.