Steps taken to make Reading town centre safer for women

There was some positive activity in the town centre at the weekend around making Reading safer for women and girls. It really showed how effective our partnership approach to tackling the issue can be.

Our community safety team has been working closely with the University of Reading on student safety throughout this year and, on Friday evening, they helped facilitate the ‘Reclaim the Night’ march organised by the Students’ Union and others as it made its way through the town centre to make a stand against sexual harassment and gender-based violence. The campaign reinforces our goals of better street safety for women and girls, with around 60 people joining the march.

This was part of the build-up to White Ribbon Day on Saturday, which gave us a chance to stand together with individuals, organisations and other councils working towards a goal of ending violence against women and girls. The Council supported the event with a stall at our newly opened Reading Safe Space in Chain Street. With Thames Valley Police and Berkshire Women’s Aid joining us there, we welcomed residents to come and talk to us about White Ribbon Day and our aims, pick up a free white ribbon, and see what personal safety tools we could provide too.

Alongside this important profile-raising activity, we’ve been making lots of improvements to the town centre to increase safety, made possible through a working partnership with Thames Valley Police, the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, and Reading’s Business Improvement District (BID). Last year, we successfully bid for £429,000 of Safer Streets funding from the Home Office to improve town centre safety, allowing us to implement a raft of new security measures in locations where women and girls told us they felt vulnerable.

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This has included nine new CCTV cameras in locations including Friar Street, Chain Street, Oxford Road and Queen’s Road car park. We’ve also installed new streetlights, including along Queen’s Road and Station Road, and have added festoon lighting along Chain Street and Union Street to make these key cut throughs in the town centre not just more attractive spaces but also, more importantly, brighter and safer.

This work is also anchored by the new Reading Safe Space facility we’ve set up with the Street Pastors and First Stop in Chain Street by Bill’s Restaurant – a place of refuge in the heart of Reading on a Friday and Saturday night if you’re feeling unwell, unsafe or in need of some help from a friendly face.

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As I’ve already alluded to, our large student population made the creation of the Safer Students Partnership with the University of Reading and Reading College an obvious step for our town. Amongst other things, it provides bystander intervention training to ensure students know how to safely help someone who may be in trouble. In a similar vein, we’ve also set up a Young Voices Partnership group to understand the key safety issues facing young people and allow them to feed in their concerns, observations and ideas to make Reading safer for all.

With the Christmas party season already under way, the town is at its vibrant best. We want all Reading’s residents – particularly women and girls – to come in and enjoy it and feel safe when they do. I hope that the hard work going on in partnership to improve the town centre is creating that safer environment that everybody wants.

Reading Chronicle | Town Centre