Sheffield council warn ‘exercise in pairs after dark’ as thousands demand better park lighting

People have been urged to exercise in pairs after dark for their own safety if using parks across Sheffield.

Thursday, 21st January 2021, 10:44 am

The advice from Sheffield Council comes after more than 3,000 people signed a petition calling for better lighting in the city’s parks, where many people say they feel unsafe.

The petition was started by University of Sheffield student Evie Hairsine, who says it is more pertinent than ever during lockdown as some people are too fearful to head out after dark for their daily exercise which is so crucial to their mental health.

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Petition founder Evie Hairsine and Weston Park, which is one of Sheffield's many green spaces where many people feel unsafe exercising after dark

A similar petition was launched in 2017 after a 21-year-old woman was reportedly sexually assaulted in Weston Park, but that only attracted just over 800 signatures.

Ms Hairsine, who is part of the campaign group Our Bodies Our Streets, said: “I’m really surprised by the response. The petition was only related to four parks when it was launched but now we’ve had people mentioning around 15 parks where they don’t feel safe, which is very disappointing.

"The fact the original petition came from someone being sexually assaulted in a park suggests that could happen again, and it shouldn’t have to happen before something is done.

"I understand that putting lots of lights in every park isn’t very affordable but it would be helpful if the council consulted different residents about their needs as there might be other ways people can be made to feel safer. I just wanted to start the conversation.

"I feel really unsafe using Sheffield’s parks after dark and never do so on my own, which is really annoying because it means I have to wait for someone else to be free if I want to go running at night.

"For a lot of students, going through the park is also the most convenient way to get home after studying at the library.”

Responding to the petition, Councillor Mary Lea, cabinet member for culture, parks and leisure at Sheffield Council, said: “We recognise the important links between our green spaces and physical and mental wellbeing, particularly during this very challenging time.

“We work extremely hard to make our parks as accessible, attractive, user friendly and well maintained as possible but unfortunately there are limits to what we can do with the funding available to us. We bid for additional funding at every opportunity to help us make the most of our green assets, and where successful always spend the money to benefit as many people as possible in the city.

“Installation of lighting and the ongoing maintenance required is very costly and would take a huge amount out of our already depleted budget, and with more than 800 green spaces across the city, prioritising this need would be extremely difficult.

“I understand people’s concerns and I encourage anyone thinking using the parks in the early morning or the evening to keep themselves safe by going out in pairs or with members of your household or bubble, even in well-lit areas, as lighting gives no guarantee of personal safety.”