WHEN York community arts collective Next Door But One first took She Was Walking Home on tour in 2022, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) had just released data on safety in different public settings.
One in two women felt unsafe walking alone after dark in a quiet street near their home or in a busy public place, and two out of three women aged 16 to 34 had experienced one form of harassment in the previous 12 months.
Now, as NDB1 take their revived testimonial-based performance to schools, colleges and universities throughout York and North Yorkshire, as well as to York Theatre Royal Studio tonight (5/10/2023), the need for more conversations around women’s safety and the role we all play in it has been strengthened by a report from the National Police Chiefs’ Council.
It reveals that more than half a million offences against women and girls were recorded in England and Wales between October 1 2021 and March 31 2022 and that violence against women and girls accounts for at least 15.8 per cent of all recorded crime.
First produced as an audio walk around York city centre in 2021, She Was Walking Home is a series of monologues created by writer Rachel Price from the testimonies of women living, working and studying in York.
“This project was initially called into action by the female creatives and participants we work with, who were all having more and more conversations around their own safety after a number of attacks and murders reported in the media,” says director Kate Veysey.
“With each stage of development, it has been the community that has guided us: the audio walk was created from 33 testimonies of local women; the 2022 tour was produced through feedback from listeners who wished to bring their friends, colleagues and social groups to engage in the conversation.
“The resounding message from that audience was the want from parents for their children to see this, for teachers wanting their schools to witness, and young women wanting their male peers to come with them. So that’s what we are doing.”
People think of York as a safe place to be, says NDB1 creative engagement manager El Stannage, “but as a woman I can tell you it isn’t”. “We collected documentary information both written and conversational, keeping that door open for information for about a month, and it came streaming in,” she says.
“We had plenty to work with, then collected our own thoughts and commissioned Rachel to put those stories together as one tapestry, telling stories of women at different stages of life, their different experiences, whether harassment or abuse, focusing on the impact it’s had on their their lives, the ripples it’s had.
“For the latest tour, we’ve stayed with the original piece of theatre but kept abreast with what’s been happening, and we’ve kept in touch too with IDAS [Independent Domestic Abuse Services] and the Kyra Women’s Project, the York charity that helps women to make positive change in their lives.”
This autumn’s performances in schools, colleges and universities will not only inform students of the lived experience of women in their own communities, but also empower them to make the change now and see the benefits in their own futures; understanding the impact of their actions, ways in which they could intervene, question their own thinking or those of their peers.
El says: “We’re really excited to be working with schools [age 14 upwards], colleges and universities this time, after the feedback we got from last year’s public performances that we needed to do that.
“The young people we get to work with in our participation programmes are bright, forward thinking and actively seeking ways to play a part in the growing world around them, so for us it just makes sense to bring this conversation to them, as they are the next generation to make change.
“But also, real change can only happen when the full community listen up and play their part too. That’s why we’re hosting public performances in the evenings at the same schools, colleges and universities, so that parents, carers, siblings, friends, teachers and other local residents can join in the same vital conversation.”
Through the autumn tour of this all-female production, performed by a cast of Fiona Baistow, Anna Johnson, Emma Liversidge-Smith and Mandy Newby, the mission will be to amplify the voices of York women, while also prompting conversations around where responsibility and accountability lies for their safety.
“Since the original walk, listened to by almost 800 people, there have been further attacks and murders of women, and still the rhetoric seems to be skewed towards rape alarms, trackers, self-defence classes and dress codes being the solution,” says NDB1 artistic director Matthew Harper-Hardcastle. “We needed to continue and challenge this conversation. The invitation is to come and watch but also to think.”
One audience feedback quote on NDB1’s website is particularly illuminating. “I like to think I’m aware of these issues and as a man have been ultra-conscious that just being on the same street can heighten anxiety,” it reads.
“This performance made me cry, but it’s such an important way to foster change, I left feeling that if more men could see and engage with it, we might just be able to smash that ‘block of granite’.”
Next Door But One’s She Was Walking Home is on tour until October 27 with student performances complemented by public performances at York High School, Malton School, York College, Scarborough TEC, York Theatre Royal Studio tonight at 7.45pm, University of York, October 20 at 7.45pm and York St John University, October 25 at 7.30pm. Box office details: www.nextdoorbutone.co.uk