Women and girls are being offered sanctuary and support by a series of local businesses.
Early in October, the Home Office confirmed the success of a £550,000 bid by Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner Caroline Henry in partnership with Ashfield District Council, Nottinghamshire Police and Nottinghamshire County Council to improve the safety of women and girls in Sutton-in-Ashfield.
The grant, which is part of a £23.5million national funding pot to tackle violence against women and girls under the Safer Streets programme, will be invested in a raft of new security measures in the Central, New Cross and Town Centre areas of Sutton-in-Ashfield to reduce vulnerability and the fear of crime.
The work forms part of a Safer Streets partnership involving Commissioner Henry, Ashfield District Council, Nottinghamshire Police and Nottinghamshire County Council and other safety partners.
Through the scheme, women and girls who fear for their safety when they are out in and about in Sutton-in-Ashfield are being offered sanctuary and support by a network of local businesses.
The Safe Spaces Accreditation Scheme, which has been developed by the Commissioner in partnership with Ashfield District Council and Nottinghamshire Police, invites all businesses in the Safer Streets target areas to join, offering training for staff to increase their knowledge of what action to take if a vulnerable person requires help.
As part of the scheme, businesses interested in being accredited will be offered a free risk assessment and the possibility of a security upgrade including 4G CCTV cameras and lighting – at no cost to their firm – to make their premises safer alongside certification and signage if standards are met.
The scheme has been commissioned in response to a safety survey led by the Commissioner in the summer. Of the women who took part, 45% said there was no place of safety available to escape if they found themselves in trouble or at risk. Further Police data also confirmed almost 60% of key crimes in the town took place in a street or road mostly in the Town Centre or nearby between 2017 and 2021.
Businesses will display highly conspicuous signs in their windows that can be easily identified by women seeking refuge and will be regularly checked by the police.
Alongside a publicity campaign to make women aware of the new safe places, the Safer Streets funding will see the recruitment of a temporary Public Space Safety and Cohesion Officer to oversee the risk assessments as part of the accreditation scheme.
Inspector Mark Dickson, district commander for Ashfield (who will oversee the training of business staff), said: “We are acutely aware that people can feel very vulnerable when they are out and about on our streets – especially when they are on their own. This is especially true of women and girls and we are constantly looking for ways to make them feel safer. Several shops and pubs have already signed up to the Scheme.
“This scheme – believed to be the first of its kind in the country – will offer anyone who fears they may be a victim of a crime a place of temporary sanctuary in a trusted and vetted location, and the offer of assistance.
“An example would be a young woman walking alone who believes she is being followed. By entering an accredited business (a safe haven) she can either wait for that person to pass, call a friend or family member to pick her up, or call the police for assistance. It is fantastic that partners such as Idlewells, Local Choice, and the New Cross pub have joined us in this venture. Several other premises are also looking to join the scheme and I look forward to welcoming them on board too.”
Thanks to positive feedback on the scheme, the local neighbourhood policing team has also now chosen to establish a similar scheme throughout the district which will be known as the Safe Haven scheme.
Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner Caroline Henry said: “I am proud to be launching the Safe Spaces Accreditation Scheme here and investing funds from Safer Streets into practical changes that will help protect women and reduce their fear of crime.
“This accreditation scheme was born out of the feedback of girls and women living in Sutton-in-Ashfield who highlighted a lack of safe spaces to turn if they found themselves in danger or at risk. I am very grateful to these women for sharing their experiences and helping us to take proactive action that will protect others in the future.
“This scheme will provide a network of sanctuaries for women who need help or refuge to access whenever they need them.
“I am delighted so many businesses have already signed up to the scheme and are leading by example. I hope their efforts will encourage many more to recognise the benefits of this scheme to women’s safety and the wider community.”
Cllr Helen- Ann Smith, Ashfield District Council Cabinet Member for Community Safety, said: “We know women can feel vulnerable when out and about on their own, and we hope that the introduction of this scheme will help them feel safer on the streets. Knowing that there are safe places they can take refuge and seek assistance if they feel vulnerable will provide piece of mind.
“It is great to see that a number of businesses have already signed up, and I would encourage any business out there to sign up and become a part of the scheme. This project is a real example of how partnership working between the Council, Police and Police & Crime Commissioner is having a positive effect on our communities.”
Nottinghamshire County Councillor John Cottee, chairman of the Communities Committee, said: “We are proud to be part of this innovative scheme which will help people feel safer, particularly women who may feel vulnerable when out on their own.
“It shows a great sense of community spirit that several shops and pubs have already signed up to this new network. They are helping provide somewhere safe to go for those who feel at risk.
“We look forward to even more local businesses getting involved.”
Picture Shows (L-R): PCSO Steve Timperley, Commissioner Henry, Chloe O’Donnell (Idlewells Centre Manager), Inspector Mark Dickson and Antonio Taylor (Community Safety Manager at Ashfield District Council)