HerBarking — women on a mission to claim their rights to this city

What do you do when half the population of a place don’t feel safe after-dark?

What do you do when the majority of those people are women?

HerBarking aims to transform Barking Town Centre with small acts of activism in the built environment to shape spaces and places that don’t feel safe through a series of urban experiments and installations.

Our mission is to improve perceptions of safety in the town centre, so more women feel safe.

Barking Town Centre is set to become an affordable mini Manhattan with 6000 new homes and £2 billion of investment over the next 10 years. Violent crime rates in the borough are lower than in other East London boroughs; Hackney, Newham but perception of crime and public safety far outweighs this reality — with 51% of population who don’t feel safe after dark compared to 21% nationally.

HerBarking is a women led project, funded by a Young Urbanist small grant, engaging local people to map and identify locations in Barking Town Centre where women don’t feel safe.

One of four identified locations: Barking Station Forecourt

Mapping and identifying locations where women don’t feel safe was simple. Using sticky dots, we saw patterns emerging, here are some of the hunches people shared with us, affecting how safe people feel:

  • not enough ‘eyes on the street’
  • too many people (men in groups) drinking, shouting, speaking different languages on the street, in public spaces
  • narratives of violent crime or robbery in a specific place creating a shared history of fear
  • lack of night-time economy in the area
  • impact of social media e.g. Facebook on a place and it’s power to create a sense of (un)safety
  • wider perceptions of population/demographic change in the area and the often unconscious impact this has on (and open-ness to) feelings of safety, belonging and community
  • impact of litter, poor levels of care shown by the collective for environment
Feedback from community members

But, we wanted to go further than simply identifying spaces and places. We wanted to design changes we could implement and test to see what impact we could have on feelings of safety.

During a collaborative design session, we looked at each location in turn, asking:

If you were holding your best friend’s birthday party in this space what would you do?

The results were incredible. Through prototyping, we transformed each location into an experience of joy, colour and fun — with a budget of £50 per location. We gave women the permission to shape their streets and spaces.

HerBarking collaborative design session

The changes we’re proposing are not large-scale. They’re not expensive. But we think they could have a huge impact, even temporarily on how people (both men and women) experience space and place.

Sketch of co-designed ideas for Barking Station Forecourt

We’re currently seeking permission from the relevant landowners to build and trial each intervention for a two week period, during which we’ll observe and monitor any effects on behaviour and perceptions. We’re eager to collaborate and take action, implement and test the ideas, on a very small scale, to understand if we can alter or improve the perception or shared sense of narrative in a specific place.

Prototype for St Awdry’s Walk, Barking

After our temporary trials we’re hoping to be able to make the case for permanent interventions (and the funding required to deliver these) or recommend further testing at each of the locations.

I’ll update with progress on this. But if you’d like to see the other ideas, if you have links to connections or funds that could help us or if you’d like to be part of a collaborative movement we’d like to build for urban centres all over the world, please get in touch.