Since the clocks went back in October, streets and public spaces have been plunged into darkness from as early as 4pm, meaning that many people find themselves doing every day activities such as commuting and exercising in the dark. But a new report has revealed that millions will actively avoid certain places or change their behaviour in an attempt to feel safer when doing these sorts of everyday activities when it’s dark.

The Creating Safer Spaces report from the UK’s leading paving and building materials supplier, Marshalls, highlights a big difference between how people view spaces at different times of the day. We’re proud to be working in partnership with Marshalls to share these findings and encourage those that design public spaces to give more consideration to designing for the dark.

How safe do people feel in public spaces? 

Overall, the report found that four out of five people feel more unsafe when it’s dark in public spaces and are on average 12 times more likely to avoid such areas than in daylight hours.

The research found that, as a result, people commonly change their behaviour to improve their perceived levels of safety when out in public in the dark – including walking a longer route that is busier or better lit (64%), crossing the street to avoid others (58%), only wearing one earphone or listening at a lower volume (32%) and carrying a personal alarm (11%).

It also highlighted that 84% of women feel more unsafe when out and about alone compared with 44% of men, gay men are twice as likely to have safety on their minds compared with heterosexual men, and 43% of those with disabilities say they worry about their safety some or all of the time, compared to 27% overall.

Age also plays a critical role in feelings of personal safety with young people considering their safety more regularly than older people; almost 70% of those under 21 think about safety all the time, compared to just 10% of those over 60.

As part of the research, Marshalls found that parks and gardens were considered the least safe spaces when it’s dark, with 80% of people avoiding them during this time – 40 times higher than in the daytime. Waterways, such as canals, were seen as the least safe public spaces when it’s light; 11% stated they actively avoided such places during this time, however, when it’s dark, this figure increased almost seven times to 76%.

People said poor visibility where potential dangers are hidden, as well as a lack of other people around as reasons for feeling more conscious of their of safety when it’s dark.

Elaine Mitchel-Hill, ESG & Human Rights Director at Marshalls, explains: “If people don’t feel safe in public spaces when it’s dark then it can limit their opportunities in life; from education, training and employment, to fitness, socialising and access to cultural activities. Not only does this impact them as an individual, but it has knock on consequences to their local communities, society, the economy and environment. With 3.1 million classed as ‘night-workers’ and ambitions for 24-hour cities in the UK, the industry and government need to seriously consider how they can design and develop public spaces so people feel – and are – safe whatever time of day or night it is.” 

To support planners, designers, architects and local councils in creating public spaces where people feel safe from day through to night, Marshalls has outlined seven best practice design pillars within its report. From vision and wayfinding, to acoustics and technology, these considerations can be used by industry to provoke fresh thinking and debate, according.

Johanna Elvidge, Head of Design at Marshalls, said: “Simple design choices such as the height of a hedge, for example, can have a big impact on whether people feel and are safe in our shared spaces, but at these things are often overlooked when planning schemes. By considering safety early in planning it can integrate seamlessly and even enhance other aspects, including biodiversity and accessibility.”

Commenting on the report and the wider issue of improving safety in public spaces, John Hayward-Cripps, Chief Executive Officer at Neighbourhood Watch, said: "We know from our own members and research, fear of crime affects people’s behaviour in public spaces from avoiding parks when it is dark or only walking in well-lit areas to not going out at all. Two groups of young people we are working with in Nottingham and Mansfield recently identified street lighting as the number one thing that they think would improve their communities.

"By highlighting the need for designers and planners to take account of best practice in making public spaces safe for everyone, all of the time, we can help bring communities together. Reducing the fear of crime and connecting communities is the core aim of Neighbourhood Watch and we are delighted to be supporting Marshalls in their report and drive to highlight what makes people safer and feel safer in public spaces."

Find out more and read the Creating Safer Spaces report on the Marshalls website.