KIM MCGUINNESS: Safety fears must not prevent people from using our parks
One of many things we are good at in the North East is our parks. And Sunderland’s first public park, Mowbray Park, is certainly one of our finest.
It’s no surprise that it’s held the Best Park in Britain title in the past and I hope its time will come again. Perhaps it might help that it is set to benefit from my Safer Streets funding which is about making popular parks across the region safer.
Earlier this year I ran a survey asking people to tell me where they did and didn’t feel safe and what would make them feel safer. I’m thankful to everyone who took the time to get in touch with me about this and by the number of responses I received I think it’s an important topic for a lot of you – as it is for me.
Parks, particularly at night, were identified as somewhere where women, in particular, feel less safe and I know we have to do something about it. In fact the numbers speak loud and clear. 62% of local women said they felt unsafe or very unsafe in parks at night.
And so we are wasting no time to make things better and a park safety overhaul is already underway across Northumberland, Tyne and Wear. Improvements to Mowbray are high on the agenda.
Along with Sunderland Council and Northumbria Police work is starting to happen and in the coming months park users can expect to see better lighting, cutting back vegetation to aid visibility and designated help points linked to control rooms.
For me, parks should be at the heart of communities and places of escape – safety fears should not and must not prevent people from using them.
To make sure parks are safer for women we must listen to their stories; and we are. And the things we are making happen to improve safety will benefit everyone.
A lot of these improvements will also help reduce other crime such as ASB, drug dealing, and hate crime and so on.
Whether it’s help points to encourage both victims and bystanders to report concerns or underpasses with better lighting – we are taking notice of what local people are telling us is needed and we are working to make things better, to make things safer – so watch this space.