Oxford University has worked alongside the police, local government and many other organisations to launch a major new initiative aimed at making the city safer at night for women and girls.
The project, named Oxford Safer Streets 3, has many different strands – from a network of safe places to volunteer patrols aimed at helping those who are vulnerable or in trouble.
The government-funded project has also already paid for 24 more CCTV cameras in the city centre, as well as street lighting improvements in Oxford, Witney, Didcot and Abingdon following feedback that bad lighting was one of the main factors in making women and girls feel unsafe.
Belinda Hopkins, Crime Prevention and Reduction Adviser within Oxford University Security Services, has been a key figure in the birth of the project, and hopes it will mark a turning point in efforts to improve night-time safety in the area.
A key part of Safer Streets is the Nightsafe Network, which brings together partners from across the night-time economy, including the police, CCTV operators, Street Pastors, night bus and taxi drivers, pubs and fast food outlets.
They will work together to prevent violence against females, with staff receiving training on how to identify those in need and intervene to provide appropriate assistance. They will get regular police briefings and will use radios to share information.
Other initiatives taking place under Nightsafe include improvements to taxi ranks and the appointment of two dedicated taxi marshalls, who will be on duty each Saturday night doing their best to bring order to the late-night free-for-all of private taxis on Park End Street, with the aim of improving safety after the street’s nightclubs close and enabling crowds to disperse more quickly, reducing the risk of trouble.
Better lighting has also been installed in some formerly dark and unsafe-feeling areas, such as Middle Fisher Row between Park End and Hythe Bridge Streets, and where necessary trees and undergrowth have been cut back to give CCTV operators a better view of possible trouble spots.
Some Nightsafe members are also joining the Safe Places scheme, in which late-night businesses commit to providing a safe place for women who are worried or need to take refuge, await suitable help and receive whatever support they need in the meantime.
Participating venues will show the Safe Places logo in their windows; so far in central Oxford they include The Randolph, Malmaison, the Westgate, Atik and the Four Candles, while in East Oxford the list includes the Bullingdon, James Street Tavern, Library and O2 Academy.
Safe Places organisations display the Safe Places logo in their windows, and there will also be a special app to direct women to the nearest Safe Place. Staff in participating businesses will be trained in how to offer appropriate support – depending on the situation, this could involve anything from simply providing a safe, quiet place to sit and contact friends to alerting emergency services that a serious crime has been committed.
Oxford City Angels
Inspired by, and created in partnership with, the Cheltenham Angels programme, this is a voluntary organisation whose members will patrol the city streets on busy nights, providing whatever help is needed to women or girls who are in difficulty or distress. Initially these patrols will happen monthly, starting on 2 July.
Six volunteers have already signed up. They will carry phone charging banks to help those who have lost their friends make contact again. New charging points are also being installed in Oxford and Didcot train stations.
Oxford Women’s Safety website
The Oxford Safer Streets project has also created a new website, inviting city residents to share locations where they feel unsafe, and to explain why.
This will allow authorities in the Safer Streets project to hear what people have to say about their personal safety and take action to make Oxford better for everyone.
The site is not monitored in real-time so it shouldn’t be used to report crimes in progress, but instead aims to alert authorities to areas of concern so these can be addressed quickly.
The partner organisations behind Oxford Safer Streets include the Police & Crime Commissioner, Oxford City Council, Oxfordshire County Council, Thames Valley Police, Oxford University Security Services, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford Bus Company, Oxford Street Pastors and the Students’ Unions of both the city’s universities. The project was financed by £426,000 of central government funding, and there has been broad consultation to make sure this is targeted as effectively as possible.