Wakefield women 'taking back the parks' in Sarah Everard initiative

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When Sarah Everard was murdered by a serving police officer last year, it sparked widespread debate about the safety of women in public, and what was needed to restore confidence.

It led to vigils, demonstrations and even saw the formation of a campaign group, Reclaim These Streets, to empower women.

But even before that tragic and senseless killing, work was already quietly underway in the Wakefield district to help arm women.

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Bring Me to Life was set up last year by Catherine Breadmore, a 35-year-old mum of two who had suffered from mental health problems, and found it difficult to access services, particularly for women.

Women are 'taking back the parks'.Women are 'taking back the parks'.
Women are 'taking back the parks'.

Fast forward a year, and her community interest company (CIC) - a not-for-profit group - has joined forces with a second CIC, the Ossett-based Family Fit, to help deliver a special programme of free events on behalf of Wakefield Council.

Empower is being held in the district’s parks with the hope that women would use the public green spaces with confidence.

Now into week five of eight, hundreds of females have got on board, with more expected in the final few weeks.

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Catherine said: “They wanted women in the area already involved so they approached us, and Paula Appleton from Family Fit.

There are numerous free activities taking place across the district.There are numerous free activities taking place across the district.
There are numerous free activities taking place across the district.

“They wanted a quick turnaround of events that would help build confidence and empower women and girls to use the parks and green spaces.

“And we’ve have had some huge numbers.

“We have had over 410 women and girls attend, and 85 per cent of them have told us they feel more encouraged to access green spaces than before, so it’s doing what we set out to do.”

Funded through Wakefield Council and the West Yorkshire Mayor’s office, the money has stemmed from the government in reaction to Sarah Everard’s death.

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Females can still take part.Females can still take part.
Females can still take part.

There is yoga, boxercise, walk and talks, buggy walks, self defence classes and Tik Tok treks.

They are being held across Thornes Park, Pugneys, Church Street Park in Ossett, Upton Park, Queen’s Park in Castleford and Baptist Church Hall in Normanton and Manygates Adult Learning Centre.

Catherine said: “It’s allowing women to feel part of something.

“As a gender, we ere disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and we do not often feel part of something, so it’s a massive thing for them to come together.

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Women protesting following the murder of Sarah Everard.Women protesting following the murder of Sarah Everard.
Women protesting following the murder of Sarah Everard.

“I’m not surprised by how many have taken part, it’s really humbling that there’s been such a big take up.”

As part of Bring Me to Life, Catherine had already organised walks at Thornes Park and at Pontefract Park for women, which will continue after this programme of events finishes, but she is hoping that the response will encourage more of the same.

“Because of the large numbers we’ve been seeing, there’s clearly a gap for this kind of thing,” she said.

“If you speak with women in the parks there’s that niggling thing in the back of your mind about who is out there.

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“It’s recognising that women should not have to feel that way but that’s the world we live in.

“It’s about how we can feel more confident.

Sarah Everard was murdered by serving police officer.Sarah Everard was murdered by serving police officer.
Sarah Everard was murdered by serving police officer.

“Hopefully the council will recognise what it’s doing and maybe it’s something they can do every year.

“There’s women out there, maybe single mothers, who might be able to afford to do this, so providing a free programme is amazing.”

Tracy Brabin, the Mayor of West Yorkshire, welcomed the success of the project that received funding from the Home Office’s Safer Streets Fund.

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A partnership bid, co-ordinated by Ms Brabin successfully secured a further £655,000 to improve safety for women and girls across the county, some of that money helped pay for the successful project.

Tracy said: “Improving the safety of women and girls is a fundamental pledge of mine and that of my deputy for policing and crime, Alison Lowe. I am absolutely thrilled that we have been able to secure this substantial funding and that is being used in such a worthwhile way.

“To hear about the success of this incredible project and how it is helping women and girls to build their confidence and become part of a wider community of like minded people is such heartening news and I am delighted that we were able to secure this funding and make this difference. Long may it continue.

“It was only through true partnership working with West Yorkshire Police, the local authorities and women and girl groups that we were able to make this vital difference to people’s safety and wellbeing.”

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The Home Office funding included improving the safety and use of parks by women and girls, offering a programme of activities to women and girls to use and explore different ways to come together and use parks, as well as further research and confidence-building initiatives.

The death of Sarah Everard sparked a reaction that had not been seen among the female population for more than 40 years.

People came out in force, angry that women were still living in fear while walking the streets. Given that it was a serving officer that committed the horrific crime, it fuelled the public’s anger even further.

It led to the government pledging more public funding to help make the streets and parks safer for women - some of which found its way to Wakefield Council and the Empower initiative.

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It is not the fist time that the issue of women’s safety has made global news.

In the 1977, it was a similar story across the country as the Yorkshire Ripper began his murdering spree, killing women across the north of England.

In response, the Leeds-based campaign group, Reclaim The Night, was launched after police warned women to stay off the streets while the killer remained at large.

Catherine Breadmore, said: “I don’t think it’s anything new what’s happening now, but with what has happened and with the media and all the social media out there, it has brought it all to the surface again.

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“It makes me quite emotional when I speak about it and if anything, it has helped empowered me more to not be suppressed and push for what we believe in.”

To find out what free activities are still available, click here.