Written evidence submitted by University of Leeds, West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Make Space for Girls and Keep Britain Tidy (UGS0026)




Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee: Call for Evidence on Urban Green Spaces


Written evidence submitted by the Safer Parks Consortium: University of Leeds, West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Keep Britain Tidy and Make Space for Girls.


  1. Executive Summary

1.1.  This submission responds to point 5 on the Committee’s terms of reference, specifically in relation to understanding the barriers women and girls face in accessing parks, and how this can be addressed and mitigated. 

1.2.  Across the UK, 27,000 parks give much-needed green space and access to nature for urban areas. They give us spaces for exercise, for play, for socialising and for relaxing as well as walking and cycling routes away from cars and busy roads. However, the benefits of these vital public assets are not equally shared or accessed.

1.3.  Across the UK, women and girls are being held back from using, enjoying and benefiting from public parks as a consequence of concerns about safety and security. This has a significant impact on their lives of women and girls who – based on their concerns over safety - restrict their use of parks, avoid them at certain times or when alone, limiting their opportunities to socialise, improve wellbeing and engage in outdoor physical activity and exercise.

1.4.  This barrier can be addressed in a number of ways – through design, staffing and policy change – but the intersectional needs of women and girls need to be addressed at every stage, and they should be involved in all aspects of planning, design and management of urban parks and green spaces.

1.5.  Changes to design and management are only part of the solution – the women and girls we interviewed were clear that societal change is needed – but that these changes can play their part.


  1. Introduction

2.1.  In 2021, the Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, was awarded Home Office Safer Streets Round Three funding to support the safety of women and girls in West Yorkshire’s parks. This included a Q methodology study led by Dr Anna Barker and Professor George Holmes at the University of Leeds on women and girls’ perceptions of safety. This research aimed to better understand what women and girls perceive makes parks feel safe and unsafe, and why. The research was conducted across West Yorkshire in 2022 with 67 women aged 19-84 years, 50 girls and young women aged 13-18 years and 27 professionals from parks and urban design services in local government and police. Research findings can be found here.

2.2.  Further funding by the Mayor of West Yorkshire and the Economic and Social Research Council was then given for the creation of new guidance, informed by the above study and other relevant research and wider consultation with various sectors. The ‘Safer Parks: Improving Access for Women and Girls’ guidance was co-produced by the Safer Parks Consortium and published in May 2023. It forms supplementary guidance to the Green Flag Award scheme – an international standard for parks and green spaces. The guidance can be found here.


  1. Feeling unsafe is a barrier to accessing parks for women and girls

3.1.  There are stark gendered inequalities in feelings of safety in public spaces. In Britain, a higher proportion of women report feeling very or fairly unsafe when walking alone, compared with men. The disparities are greatest after dark and are more pronounced in parks and open spaces than other types of public settings, such as residential streets, high streets and on public transport. Indeed, some 4 out of 5 women (82%) feel very or fairly unsafe walking alone after dark in parks or open spaces, compared with 2 out of 5 men (42%). Women are three times more likely to feel unsafe (16%) than men (5%) when visiting parks alone during the day (Office for National Statistics, 2022).

3.2.  Whilst no comparative survey exists for children and young people, research finds that some 40% of 11-21 year old girls in the UK feel unsafe when they go outside (Girlguiding, 2020).

3.3.  The threat of sexual harassment and violence restricts and inconveniences the everyday lives of women and girls, presenting a barrier to their freedom and ability to use, enjoy and benefit from public spaces such as parks (see, for example, Vera-Gray and Kelly, 2020; APPG UN Women, 2021).

3.4.  The University of Leeds research found a number of factors which women and girls felt would make parks feel safer.  The findings demonstrate that well-used parks feel safer because of increased ‘eyes on the street’ and opportunities to seek help; and that women feel safer when they see other women using parks. Facilities, activities, mixed uses and staffing throughout the day support busyness, and organised group activities support women to feel safer and extend their use of parks (Barker et al., 2022a).

3.5.  Specifically, it also found that some facilities, particularly MUGAs and skate parks, can feel male-dominated and exclusionary for teenage girls. They feel that these spaces are for boys playing sports, and also have concerns about being trapped and unable to escape (Barker et al., 2022b).

3.6.  The research also found that women and girls’ experiences and fear of violence and crime are impacted by other identities, which mean that there may be specific barriers to accessing public parks for particular groups of women. Therefore it is important to take account of the diversity of views of women and girls, and the intersection of gender with other aspects of women and girls’ identities including age, ethnicity, religion, disability and sexuality (Barker et al., 2022a).


  1. Women and girls are less able to access the health benefits of parks

4.1.  There is now considerable evidence that the natural environment in urban areas provides health and well-being benefits, yet analysis of data from over 60,000 adults as part of the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment shows that being female is a predictor of infrequent use, alongside other predictors such as living in a deprived area with limited green space (Boyd et al., 2018).

4.2.  The disadvantage faced by teenage girls in parks is even more notable.  Recent research by Make Space for Girls (2023) showed that the users of the facilities most commonly provided for teenagers – fenced pitches, skate parks and BMX tracks – were 90% male. These three types of facility constituted 90% of what was provided for teenagers, leaving girls with few spaces in which to be active.


  1. A range of interventions can address this barrier

5.1.  The Safer Parks Guidance makes a range of recommendations on how spaces can be designed and managed so that women and girls feel safer and more welcome (Safer Parks Consortium, 2023).

5.2.  The guidance principles cover ten core areas under three themes, rooted in women and girls’ views and lived experiences as collected in the research:

5.3.  Within each of the ten principles are a wide range of recommendations for design, maintenance, management and activation, all of which have the potential for making urban parks and green spaces feel safer for women and girls and so increasing their access. 

5.4.  Specific recommendations have been demonstrated to increase activity levels for women and girls in parks.  These range from organised activities specifically for women to providing a perimeter path for walking and jogging, which have been shown to improve women’s use of parks (Derose et al., 2019).

5.5.  Women and girls believe much can be done to improve parks for them, but this requires sustainable funding and investment. In a survey of local authorities Keep Britain Tidy (2023) work with, almost half agreed that the issue of women and girls safety has been discussed in relation to the green space they look after, but 67% said funding or finances remain an obstacle to take action.


  1. Recommendations

6.1.  The Safer Parks Guidance provides a clear set of principles and a range of case studies for parks managers, design professionals and other audiences to create parks that feel safer and more welcoming, and so more accessible for women and girls. We recommend that these principles are embedded into any future policies and practices relating to urban parks and green spaces.

6.2.  Safety is made a core consideration in the design, management and maintenance of all urban green spaces.

6.3.  The safety of women and girls is seen as an equality issue and a barrier to health, well-being and access to urban green spaces.  As such it needs to be central to all policy decisions.

6.4.  We recommend the government contribute new funding to parks and green spaces to focus on design and management with accessibility for women and girls in mind.


6. Contact information

6.1 For further information about points raised in this response, please contact Dr Anna Barker. 


7. References

APPG UN Women. 2021. Prevalence and reporting of sexual harassment in UK public spaces.

Barker, A., Holmes, G., Alam, R., Cape-Davenhill, L., Osei-Appiah, S. and Warrington Brown, S. 2022a. What Makes a Park Feel Safe or Unsafe? The views of women, girls and professionals in West Yorkshire. Leeds: University of Leeds.

Barker, A., Holmes, G., Cape-Davenhill, L., and Warrington Brown, S. 2022b. What do teenage girls like and dislike about park play spaces and multi-use games areas? Leeds: University of Leeds.

Boyd, F., White, M.P., Bell, S.L. and Burt, J. 2018. Who doesn’t visit natural environments for recreation  and why: A population representative analysis of spatial, individual and temporal factors among adults in England. Landscape and Urban Planning, 175: 102-13.

Derose, K.P., Han, B., Park, S., Williamson, S. and Cohen, D.A. 2019. ‘The mediating role of perceived crime in gender and built environment associations with park use and park-based physical activity among park users in high poverty neighborhoods’, Preventive Medicine, 129.

Girlguiding 2022. Girls’ Attitudes Survey 2022.

Keep Britain Tidy. 2023. Love Parks Week 2023.

Make Space for Girls. 2023. Parkwatch Report.

Office for National Statistics. 2022. Perceptions of personal safety and experiences of harassment, Great Britain: 16 February to 13 March 2022.

Safer Parks Consortium (2023) Safer Parks: Improving access for women and girls.

Vera-Gray, F. and Kelly, L. 2020. ‘Contested gendered space: public sexual harassment and women’s safety work’, International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice, 44:4, 265-275.