By Frankie Lister-Fell
Women can now feel safer when walking in Peckham Rye Park at night thanks to a new volunteering initiative, Peckham Patrols, that launched on Monday.
In the wake of the Sarah Everard murder and the police’s violent response to the Clapham vigil last Saturday, East Dulwich resident Amy Todd, 28, was tired of feeling powerless.
She was tired of changing her behaviour to feel “safer” in public.
Taking matters into her own hands, Todd set up Peckham Patrols: a grassroots initiative where local people “patrol” Peckham Rye park in socially distanced groups of two every evening from 5pm to 10pm.
The volunteers are equipped with high-visibility jackets, torches and whistles to act as a deterrent to violence and crime. Todd, an experienced community organiser, and her partner are on hand to support the volunteers each night.
“It’s very simple,” explained Todd. “We’re just locals walking around a park, hoping that in some way we’re giving a sense of solidarity or instilling some kind of confidence in not only women but any local people that don’t feel comfortable using public spaces at night.”
So far, 79 people have joined the Peckham Patrols Facebook group, which Todd uses to coordinate volunteers. Fifteen people have signed up to patrolling shifts this week. ITV News also interviewed Todd for their 6pm broadcast on Tuesday.
The feedback from both online and on the road has been positive. “While I was handing out flyers about Peckham Patrols on Rye Lane, a young Black man approached me and was really sympathetic to our cause.
He said he didn’t feel Peckham was a safe place for women and he loved that ‘we were coming together’ as a community to do something about it,” Todd said.
On 9 March 2021, the Metropolitan Police announced detectives were looking into two linked sex offences in Peckham Rye Park.
But Todd believes that a community-led approach, rather than more policing, is the better way to go.
“The police are saying they’ve been patrolling the park more, but we haven’t seen any. I wouldn’t stand in the police’s way of course but at the moment I don’t feel comfortable asking them for help.
“Based on their recent behaviour, there’s a severe mistrust in these institutions that are supposed to support us,” she said.
Yesterday, Downing Street published “immediate steps” to improve women’s safety.
The measures include better street lighting and more CCTV, which Todd welcomes, and sending undercover plain-clothes police officers into pubs and clubs, which Todd cannot understand.
“I imagine a lot of these undercover cops are going to be men. If I’m in a bar, a space I’ve often experienced an awful lot of sexual harassment in before, and there’s a guy just hanging out on his own, looking over at me or whatever, it’s not going to make me feel comfortable,” she said.
Todd added: “None of these measures make me feel very safe. It’s an unconscionable response from the government.
“We have a problem with male violence, and we have a problem with the police, and the response is more policing? Why are we not listening to what women want?”
For her, and millions of women across the UK, the events and discussions over the past week have been triggering. “I didn’t really realise just how much I police my behaviour and dress sense until others started talking about it,” Todd said.
She cycles home instead of walks. She pretends to be speaking to someone on the phone when out alone at night. She feels uncomfortable wearing low-cut tops and skirts because it attracts unwanted attention. This behaviour is borne out of upsetting past experiences.
Subscribe to Blog via Email
Everyone at the South London Press thanks you for your continued support.
Former Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing:
“A free country needs a free press, and the newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure”.
If you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can make a donation which will allow us to continue to bring stories to you, both in print and online. Or, please make cheques payable to “MSI Media Limited” and send by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ