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Police and Crime Commissioner and Cllr Helen-Ann Smith looking at a mobile phone

Ashfield leading the way with innovative safety app to protect women and girls

A pioneering trial, being managed by Ashfield District Council, is underway to test the effectiveness of a series of smart phone safety apps to help protect women and girls on the streets of Sutton-in-Ashfield.

The Police and Crime Commissioner, Caroline Henry, and Cllr Helen-Ann Smith, Cabinet Member for Community Safety, walked around Ashfield together to trail the apps themselves and discuss the impact these apps will have on the safety of women and girls in the area.

The trial is being funded by the Safer Streets partnership after feedback from women in surveys and focus groups revealed strong demand for a reliable smart phone app that could increase their feelings of safety and help prevent them from being targeted.

The apps provide varying features from enabling users to make a voice or touch-activated SOS call to live streaming when a call for help is made through to fake calls. Settings for women to use in uncertain situations and motion sensors to detect trips and falls are also being trialled. Other apps deliver pin locations of reported crimes using police data.

Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner Caroline Henry submitted a successful bid for £550k from the Home Office's Safer Streets Fund, in partnership with Ashfield District Council, Nottinghamshire Police and Nottinghamshire County Council.

The funding is part of a £23.5million national pot to help the Government tackle violence against women and girls and boost their safety with physical security improvements.

The partnership is trialling six apps and has recruited six female volunteers to pilot each solution. The strongest-performing app will then be subject to a further trial involving 30 local women over a two-month period for full evaluation.

Cllr Helen-Ann Smith, Cabinet Member for Community Safety, said:

"This is a fantastic project that shows how technology can be used to help make women and girls feel safer when they're out in our communities. We are trialling six state of the art apps and will roll the most effective to a larger group of residents to trial in the New Year.
"This is just one of many innovative projects the Council is working on as part of Safer Streets. We are committed to making Ashfield a safe place to live and work for women and girls."

Commissioner Henry said:

"This is a very exciting project and we are proud to be out in front nationally in trialling these smart phone safety apps.

"Women have told us they already use technology to make them feel safer. This pilot is about making sure we offer them the very best solution on the market to increase reassurance, reduce fear and above all, protect them from harm.
"We are very grateful to the volunteers who have stepped forward to take on this task and those that will join in the second phase of the pilot. As partners, we want to involve women at every stage of our plans so we can deliver the solutions that women want and need."

Sarah Dagley, chief executive of Nottinghamshire Independent Domestic Abuse Service (NIDAS), said:

"NIDAS are committed to this pilot as the domestic abuse provider for women and families living in Ashfield and Mansfield. Our staff and clients are supporting the trial of this project to ensure that we are not losing the voice of the survivor. By trialling this app we can ensure it meets the needs and will continue to benefit other women and girls in the future."

Inspector Mark Dickson, district commander for Ashfield at Nottinghamshire Police, said:

"Safer Streets funding is already having a very real impact on our community. Improvements to CCTV cameras and street lighting are a great way of helping us to design out crime by making things as hard as possible for criminals.
"This initiative is another example of how we can use the latest technology to achieve this goal. This is an exciting trial of new technology to achieve this goal. This is an exciting trial of new technology that shows our ongoing commitment to ensuring everyone feels safe in our community."

Extensive trials on the most successful app will take place between January and March followed by a full debrief and recommendations on whether the app should be widely adopted.

A safety survey launched prior to the bid's submission revealed a detailed picture of the circumstances contributing to women's feelings of safety in the town.

Respondents said they felt most unsafe when they were confronted with an intoxicated person or person displaying irrational behaviour (94%) followed by an area's reputation (91%), a lack of CCTV (88%) and the time of day (88%).

The most frequently cited coping strategy cited by responses was avoiding streets or certain areas (89%) followed by sticking to main roads next to houses where they could shout for help and then using their mobile phone or pretending to do so in risk locations (69%).