Visitors to the Basingstoke Canal may have noticed a few changes to the area in recent weeks after Woking’s Safer Neighbourhood team joined forces with the local community to improve feelings of safety in the area.
The 13-mile stretch of canal running through the borough, a much-loved local beauty spot popular with dog walkers, cyclists and joggers, has been cleared of overgrown shrubbery and has seen the installation of new CCTV cameras which cover the towpath.
The extra safety measures were put in place after a number of reports of indecent exposures and suspicious incidents, particularly against women and girls, which occurred along the canal path since 2019. In response to the reports, local neighbourhood officers commissioned an in-depth analysis of the area.
The analysis highlighted several geographical issues which were helping to facilitate the offences, including overgrown shrubbery which isolated some areas of the path and a lack of CCTV which meant that investigating the offences was difficult.
On top of this, evidence of crime in the area (such as graffiti and litter) was found to be contributing to some parts of the canal path feeling unsafe. This sentiment was reflected by some of the responses to Surrey Police's Call It Out Survey in 2021, in which some people reported feeling unsafe along the canal due to certain spots looking run-down.
In late 2021, Surrey’s Police and Crime Commissioner Lisa Townsend secured £175,000 worth of funding from the Home Office’s Safer Streets project to fund the work needed to tackle the issues along the canal.
Since then, with the help of Woking Borough Council and the Basingstoke Canal Authority, the Force has:
• begun to install new CCTV cameras to cover the length of the towpath
• invested in electronic bikes, allowing officers and volunteers from Canal Watch to patrol the path more effectively
• cut down overgrown shrubbery to improve visibility and allow more room for users of the canal to safely pass each other
• begun to remove graffiti along the canal, making the area a nicer place to be
• invested in signage which promotes early reporting of suspicious incidents, which is due to be installed in the coming weeks.
Part of the funding was also put towards promoting behaviour change among the community when it comes to violence against women and girls.
To do this, the Force teamed up with Woking Football Club to promote Do the Right Thing, a campaign by Sussex’s Police and Crime Commissioner, which challenges bystanders to call out the misogynistic and harmful behaviour which allows violence against women and girls to continue.