Since the killing of Sarah Everard in March 2021, there has been an increased national focus on male violence against women and girls (VAWG) and improving safety for women and girls at night. Round three of the Government’s Safer Streets Fund was set up to improve the safety of public places, with a particular focus on reducing VAWG.
Safer Cornwall was recently awarded over £67,000 from the Fund to help prevent VAWG in Falmouth. This was a great opportunity for us to work with the local community, particularly young people aged 16-24, on developing and delivering initiatives that would challenge cultural, societal and gender norms, and truly create a safe environment for going out at night for women and girls.
Falmouth and neighbouring Penryn have campuses for both Falmouth and Exeter universities, which support approximately 11,000 students and as such, has a disproportionately large number of young women aged 16-24, more than any other area in Cornwall. Falmouth and Penryn also have higher rates of non-domestic VAWG crimes than the Cornwall average by around a third.
When we spoke to students in Falmouth about how we could improve safety at night for women and girls, there were three clear asks – social change, support and increased security. As a result, our programme of work from October 2021 through to March 2022 focused on these priorities.
Social change – ‘don’t be a bystander’
To successfully prevent violence in the future it is essential to tackle the root causes of violence, which includes challenging existing attitudes and values that can lead to violence. Social norms can be shifted to challenge undesirable behaviour by empowering people to become active rather than passive bystanders.
As such, we looked at engendering social change through awareness raising, training and targeted education around the gender inequality and entrenched behaviours which underpin VAWG: Our work in Falmouth around bystander interventions was based on taking people through the different stages required to move from inaction to action.
We delivered training for 70 people working in Falmouth’s night-time economy, specifically staff from bars, clubs, public transport and relevant support services, on how to spot risky situations and intervene appropriately to prevent VAWG crimes happening.
The training also focused on raising awareness of the prevalence of sexual violence and abuse in society and provided opportunities for the groups to discuss the role of the community to prevent this in a number of different ways.
Alongside this, we worked with Cultivating Minds UK to deliver ‘train the trainer’ training for 16 local professionals so they can now deliver bystander sessions throughout their community to further improve resilience and awareness of VAWG.
Finally, we collaborated with staff and students from BA (Hons) and MA Creative Advertising degree courses at Falmouth University to undertake research and develop concepts for a communications campaign in response to a brief we developed. The objective was to engender behaviour change and engage people to be active bystanders and safely challenge undesirable behaviour.
Many young women in Falmouth told us they would value the provision of a ‘safe space’ on evenings and the night-time that was based in the town centre and could support women and girls who have experienced sexual assault or are feeling unsafe.
We had piloted a Safe Spaces initiative at Boardmasters festival in Newquay in 2021 and we trialled a similar offer for Falmouth to provide a safe and welcoming environment for women and girls. There were six evenings in March when this ‘safe space’ was open from 6pm-2am at Good Vibes Café on Killigrew Street in Falmouth, and women and girls were invited to come along and have open discussions about issues concerning harassment, sexual violence and consent with specially trained support volunteers from The Women’s Centre Cornwall.
The owner of Good Vibes café, Jade Phibbs, was present for most of the evenings when this was trialled and said it had gone well.
“There have been people coming in and getting footfall, which you obviously don’t want, but it shows it’s needed and that’ll hopefully mean the project can secure some more funding in the longer term too.
“It feels amazing to be able to offer the space essentially to anyone who needs support, especially those feeling vulnerable with regards to sexual or domestic violence.
“I think the more people know about it, the better. It’s getting people talking about what they need and just having open conversations about it to help work out what will work for people in the future.”
We also worked with Falmouth and Exeter Student’s Union to establish a student- led VAWG group with £5,000 to support them to create their own projects which tackle VAWG. This group was successfully set up with students taking on the roles of Chair and Deputy Chairs, and allocated spend so far includes bystander training for students and self-defence classes.
We worked with Falmouth Town Council to install six new CCTV cameras in prominent Town Centre locations with high footfall for the Night-time economy. The new cameras perform well in low-light and can be monitored live by operators based at the Control Room in Tolvaddon who have direct radio links to the police.