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Telegraph Voices: How safe are Sheffield's public parks?

Councillor Mary Lea.
Councillor Mary Lea.

More than 1000 reported crimes have been committed in Sheffield's public parks – including child rape, kidnapping and drug trafficking - in less than three years.

Figures obtained using the Freedom of Information Act also revealed the most common crime to have taken place across more than 90 city parks is assault with more than 400 reported incidents since January 2015.

Chief Inspector for Sheffield Stuart Walne.

Chief Inspector for Sheffield Stuart Walne.

Graves Park, Hillsborough Park and Firth Park were highlighted as the most crime-hit.

The city is renowned for its beautiful green spaces, but with these figures in mind, how safe so we feel in our public parks?

Councillor Mary Lea, Sheffield Council's cabinet member for culture, parks and leisure.

One of my first commitments, after becoming a councillor in Darnall, was to become the chair of the Phillimore Park Community Association.

Jenni Sayer and laura Appleby.

Jenni Sayer and laura Appleby.

When I joined, the park was a site for fly-tipping and visitors did not feel safe. I worked alongside two amazing women, Jackie Naylor and Lindsey Boot who between them breathed new life into the park.

One of our first measures was to remove the fear of danger by clearing shrubs and bushes and providing visitors a clear line of sight throughout the park.

In common with local residents and friends of parks groups across Sheffield, those in my Darnall ward work closely with parks officers and local police to tackle mis-behaviour. There are more people keeping an eye on their local parks and, where appropriate, reporting their concerns to us.

It is why Sheffield parks has a low rate of crime, on average one per day.

Fran Belbin.

Fran Belbin.

Or to put it another way, fewer than one in 100, 000 visitors are the victims of crime each year. To put it into context, it is estimated that between 40 to 60 million visits are made to our 800 parks and green spaces.

CCTV cameras and lighting has been installed in a number of areas and, where necessary - as was the case at Phillimore Park - we move or remove anything that might encourage crime.

We have zero tolerance of any kind of anti–social or criminal behaviour, whether real or perceived.

We are bucking the trend in Sheffield and investing a huge £1.5 million in our parks and green spaces over the next three years.

The money will go towards improving parks and facilities in communities that most need them; people who struggle financially.

In a few weeks I will be at a ceremony to mark the start of this work at Norfolk Heritage Park. £250,000 of combined funding, from the council and other partners, will be spent to revamp the park. We are working hard to reduce health inequality.

Parks Tennis CIC is a social enterprise that is delivering low cost and free tennis coaching in parks across Sheffield.

Access to all is vital if we are going to achieve our ambition of being the most active city by 2020.

Our parks and green spaces remain very safe places for you to visit and a key asset for improving your health and wellbeing.

Sheffield residents Jenni Sayer and Laura Appleby, who visited more than 100 parks and green spaces in Sheffield last year to raise money for charity.

Over the last year we have visited over 100 parks and green spaces in Sheffield as part of our project, Sheffield Park Project.

Fortunately, we have rarely encountered examples of crime or anti-social behaviour, other than a prevalent graffiti problem, within the spaces we have visited.

A possible reason is because we only visit parks and green spaces during the day because neither of us would feel safe after dark.

However, the lack safety we feel in parks is not limited to those spaces as there are very few areas of Sheffield we would walk around after 9pm at night.

Improved lighting within parks is a solution that is often floated, however we worry about how this would affect wildlife and its habitat.

Parks and green spaces provide much needed wildlife refuges within the urban environment and excessive lighting would upset natural rhythms both for animals and plants.

In addition, park lighting would add a huge amount of light pollution to the city.

A possible solution would be strengthening community ties to parks and green spaces to encourage better use and therefore love and care for the spaces.

Communities can do a lot to reclaim their parks and better use could help to deter criminal behaviour.

Providing better facilities for young people could also help to reduce anti-social behaviour through offering more opportunities and activities for them, however this a hard to achieve solution with so little public funding available.

Fran Belbin, who helps to run the award-winning Pitsmoor Adventure Playground

Pitsmoor Adventure Playground is fenced off and locked up when we are not open, some of the equipment - the zip wire and tractor swing - is also secured with a padlock so people can't jump over the fence and use them. The building also has a security alarm.

Undoubtedly people do leap over the fence from time to time and we've had some very minor vandalism but nothing serious.

Public safety was one of the main reasons we set up the charity to keep the playground as a staffed facility, one of the council's proposals was to take the fencing down and leave it as completely open access, but residents felt it would be quickly taken over by more anti-social elements in the area and cease to be a play facility where all children felt welcome.

The parks with more crimes taking place are much bigger, not staffed, and difficult to close off at night I would have thought, plus people use them as access routes and not just as a play facility.

Personally speaking, I'd say Sheffield parks are a mixture of safe and unsafe.

The parks around here in Pitsmoor, including Abbeyfield and Osgathorpe, feel pretty safe during the day but much less so at night.

Lack of lighting is a key factor in making them feel unsafe - CCTV maybe less so as I think people quickly learn where cameras are and how to avoid them.

If parks are left open as access routes at night then they really need decent lighting as a minimum.

Chief Inspector for Sheffield Stuart Walne

Sheffield’s parks are one of our greatest assets and in around half of all areas, crime levels have reduced from 2016 to 2017.

Recorded crime in parks reduced overall from 2015 to 2016.

Where we have seen an increase, it is possibly down to a growth in confidence from members of the public in reporting crime in as well as improvements in the way that we record crime.

There are also many instances where an increase is from one reported crime to two.

Like geographical areas, parks vary in size and it would be unfair to compare statistics from one green space to another because of factors including proximity to shops and housing estates, etc.

Both Firth Park and Hillsborough Park have seen a reduction in recorded crime.

Graves Park falls within the Sheffield West neighbourhood policing team that monitors crime trends and data.

Where there is an increase, for example last year there was a rise in anti-social behaviour, the team will carry out specific patrols and use social media to raise awareness.

We can reassure communities that where issues are raised, or we see an increase in a specific area, we will target resources accordingly for example increase patrols, and work with park owners to carry out a crime survey.

We monitor crimes on a daily basis and would encourage members of the public to report any issues to us.