Artwork proposed for Leeds park to make it feel safer for women


An artwork project is to be designed by community groups for Woodhouse Moor in Leeds with the aim of making the space more welcoming for women.

Wow Park - a co-creative public art project – is being developed by the University of Leeds following a recent study of women and girls from across West Yorkshire which found that most feel unsafe in parks in some situations.

The study carried out by researchers in the School of Law concluded that feeling vulnerable in parks is a barrier that needs to be urgently addressed to ensure that women and girls feel able to use, enjoy and benefit from them. 

Woodhouse Moor is an open space which borders the university and is used by thousands of students, as well as local residents, as a social space, and to walk to and from campus. Research in 2016 showed that it is the city’s most popular park, hosting over 3 million visits a year.   

This is a fantastic opportunity to explore and showcase the powerful role that arts and culture can play in animating places

Professor Ben Walmsley, Dean of Cultural Engagement and Chair of the Cultural Institute’s Steering Group

The University’s Cultural Institute will now use the findings of the study to explore whether creative solutions can help to transform the park, to make it feel safer and more inclusive and welcoming for women, girls and local communities.   

Professor Ben Walmsley, Dean of Cultural Engagement and Chair of the Cultural Institute’s Steering Group, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity to explore and showcase the powerful role that arts and culture can play in animating places and making them safer and more inclusive, as well as more attractive. 

“This project shows how the University of Leeds can work across its diverse Schools and Institutes to translate research into action and make a positive difference to people’s lives through sustained community engagement. 

“We’d like to thank Research England for supporting this pilot project, we are really excited to see the designs by and for local women and girls.”

The original research identified several barriers preventing women and girls from using their local parks, including inadequate access routes, poorly lit areas, and male dominated public spaces that feel intimidating and exclusive.

Creative solutions

The Cultural Institute will work in partnership with Leeds City Council and the Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin who funded the original research, to develop and test-drive a series of creative solutions to address those barriers.

“We are determined to create a safer, fairer region and that means ending violence against women and girls,” said Mayor Brabin.  

“I am delighted to see our creative sector playing a role in changing the experience of women and girls across our parks and open spaces. It means we are putting West Yorkshire on the map for innovation nationally, and ensuring our communities feel safe and can flourish.”

The work is being funded by Research England and will be carried out by the Bradford-based social enterprise organisation Street Space who will engage with residents, students, community and faith groups in and around Woodhouse Moor Park, using an inclusive and participatory approach to create the artwork.

The project will begin in the next few weeks with the creative designs coming to life by late spring and early summer. 

Sense of belonging

Dr Anna Barker, who led the What Makes a Park Safe or Unsafe Study and who was instrumental in drawing up national guidelines to help make parks and green spaces safer for women, welcomed the project.

She said: “As the nights draw in, as many as four out of five women in Britain say that they would feel unsafe walking alone in a park, compared to two out of five men. 

“Building a sense of belonging through spaces and facilities which give diverse groups of women and girls the sense that they are welcome is one of the key recommendations in our guidelines and this creative project will go a long way towards achieving that on Woodhouse Moor.” 

Councillor Mohammed Rafique, Leeds City Council, Executive Member for Climate, Energy and Green Space, said: “Leeds City Council has a goal to make our parks accessible for everyone, so we welcomed the guidance, produced by University of Leeds and partners last year, about how we can make our parks feel safer and more welcoming for girls and women and have already started implementing some of the recommendations.

“We are now looking forward to exploring the subject further with the Cultural Institute and local communities at Woodhouse Moor.”

Those involved with the project hope that it will help to provide some guidance that can be applied to parks across the city and beyond, making them more accessible to groups who are currently marginalised by poor design and anti-social behaviour.

Further information

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Photo credit: Mark Bickerdike