Reclaim the Common!

One of our members Alice, concerned by recent attacks on the Common, has written the following blog post about how we might get more involved with this issue. We think it is a great idea and would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions!

As any Southampton resident knows, the parks are best to be avoided at night. Attacks frequently happen here on those who find themselves walking alone at night, in both the 4(?) parks in central Southampton and the Common.  But this week a woman was sexually attacked whilst out running in the common early in the morning, Sunday 19th January, as reported in the Daily Echo and here on the Hampshire Constabulary website.

For attacks to be happening in broad daylight is shocking. The Common is a local landmark, frequented regularly by dog walkers, runners, families and all sorts of visitors, so for it to become a dangerous place for anyone is outrageous. These shouldn’t be happening and should be a place where residents can feel safe, either running, walking, cycling or playing. It’s disturbing for this to become so commonplace that readers of the Daily Echo, commenting on the news article on the website, state that the area has always been known to be dangerous so should simply be avoided. I don’t think this is right – for it to be so well-known as a crime hotspot should make it all the more important for the council to step up and put a stop to it.

I believe we should start a campaign to the council to put pressure on them to increase the safety of this area, either through a stronger police presence in this area, CCTV, better lighting or another way.

I have sent emails to the local MP for the area, Alan Whitehead, (alan@alan-whitehead.org.uk) and the 3 local councillors, Matthew Claisse, (councillor.m.claisse@southampton.gov.uk) Linda Norris (councillor.l.norris@southampton.gov.uk) and Adrian Vinson (councillor.a.vinson@southampton.gov.uk) to ask what they have to do with this issue and to hopefully raise their awareness.

I’ve had a response from Cllr Matthew Claisse:

Thank you Alice

I agree that the Common should be used without fear.

I`ll speak to the local police and see what action is being taken.

Regards

Matthew

 Conservative Ward Councillor for Portswood

Southampton City Council

Email: councillor.m.claisse@southampton.gov.uk

Tel: 07914 882944

And one from Cllr Adrian Vinson:

Dear Alice,

I fully share your concern for safety on the Common.

While policing is of course carried out by Hampshire Constabulary, rather than the Council, the Council’s City Safety unit has a part to play. I regard the proposed disbandment of City Patrol and other ‘economies’ in city safety as a retrograde step in this and other respects. The Liberal Democrat Group will be opposing this in our budget proposals next month.  

I have regular meetings with the local Police Inspector and will reinforce this issue on the next occasion.

Lighting is a somewhat controversial issue, as some would argue that it illuminates the legitimate walker and jogger to the advantage of potential assailants. However I have been involved with the Council’s project to upgrade ‘Lover’s Walk’ for the benefit of both pedestrians and cyclists.

The Council also contributed a couple of years ago to the purchase of special bicycles to enable the police to more easily cover the Common.

At the end of the day, however the Common, though one of Southampton’s glories, is a vast area which it is impossible to monitor throughout on a 24/7 basis. Users are advised to as far as possible stick to the more populated or open areas (I have contributed to the work of the Little Common Group who have done excellent work clearing over-growth which could shelter wrong-doers in the area adjacent to the University’s Avenue Campus), avoid hours of darkness and, again when possible, keep company.    

Yours,

Cllr Adrian Vinson

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Portswood Ward

This response seems to be focusing on the politics in the council rather than the issue at hand, and I’m not sure I agree with lighting being a controversial issue here. Surely it illuminates a potential attacker rather than the potential victim, and he does not mention the Cemetery Road section which is the hazardous area where attacks seem to take place.

 If other Sotonettes members could write to the MP and councillors, perhaps the greater pressure on them would push them into taking action.

Running buddies is also an idea to give women a greater sense of security when exercising on the Common, and I wonder if any members might be interested in this, or starting a running club of our own. I have recently started running locally myself, and was planning to head to the common to train, but now I’m thinking twice about it. Some members may even run there now, and I’d be interested to hear their thoughts on this issue? Do you avoid certain areas, or run with a friend?

Personal safety is of course important, so being aware of who’s around us, where we’re heading, having planned a route, and possibly carrying a personal safety alarm too in case we do find ourselves in danger.  The Suzy Lamplugh trust offers advice on carrying an alarm which you may find helpful.

I hope that Sotonettes members can help in getting behind this issue, as it is something that I feel we can help to find a solution to.  It really shouldn’t be happening in a public space that is there to be enjoyed, not to be feared and avoided.

Let’s Reclaim the Common!

Alice

What the Sotonettes thought of Frankenstein…

For November’s meeting, the Sotonettes book club read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. We found Frankenstein was not a horror story as we might have expected, but more or a morality tale, which brought together key issues of the time. The book has some very interesting and topical themes which generated lots of discussion! Below is a summary of the key themes of our discussion:

Warning, spoilers follow if you haven’t yet read the book…

The pursuit of knowledge and power
The scientist Victor Frankenstein is driven and obsessed with his experiments to create the spark of life, to create a living being. His tunnel vision pursuit of science reveals a lack of compassion and causes the destruction of the people around him. The creatures are formed from body parts collected by grave robbers, which at the time this book was written, was a controversial issue – experiments were carried out on stolen corpses to advance medical science. Frankenstein immediately rejects the Creature, his creation, based on his appearance, because he isn’t perfect. The Creature requests a female partner. When the Creature negotiates for a female companion, Frankenstein agrees and becomes obsessed with the physical perfection of his new creation. Frankenstein, with no regard to the value of life and fuelled by his feeling of power, destroys the female creature which instigates the spiralling acts of revenge in the book. The North Pole (another scientific theme is the public consciousness at the time of writing) sets the stage for Frankenstein’s final days where he recounts the story to his companion Walton. The character of Walton has a specific purpose in the book- can society learn from its mistakes? After hearing Frankenstein’s story, Walton has the choice to continue his pursuit of the North Pole, or turn back.

Who was the real monster? Victor vs. the Creature
The character of Victor is selfish with no care and compassion and rejects his creation based on appearance. Rather than take responsibility for his actions, for his creation, he rejects it and pushes it away. In contrast the Creature is at first innocent and abandoned, attempting to survive in a hostile world. The creature learns of cruelty through these experiences. We found the Creature to be more of an emotional and complex character and the behaviours of these characters raised the issue of nature vs. nurture – are we born with certain behavioural tendencies, or are they learned? We also saw moments where Frankenstein may have said opportunity to make different choices to attempt to recover the situations, but these weren’t taken.

Role of women
The female characters of the book are presented as passive victims. Overall, men are presented as bad and women as good or innocent. At the time the book was written the majority of women had limited power and control over their own lives- they suffered with the consequences of the actions of men. With this context, the presentation of women in this book is a clever tool to highlight this social issue. The female characters of this book can be seen to represent the defenceless.

The author – Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley, the well-educated daughter of a feminist, write the first interation of Frankenstein at just 19 years old in 1816 whilst on a trip with fellow writers to the Swiss Alps. The concept was drawn up as part of a competition among the writers to come up with the best ‘ghost story’. We were all impressed that the story was written by Shelley at such a young age! The story, a moral tale, reflects Shelley’s observations of the world and society and the concerns of the time.

Film/play adaptations
The film versions of Frankenstein have become visually iconic and influenced our expectations of the book. The appearance of the Creature described in the book – the Creature isn’t green with bolts through his neck! The National Theatre adaptation again presents a different interpretation – very intense and more graphic/extreme than the book.

Overall, we had mixed feelings about the book- some thought it was good and others found it had some interesting themes, but didn’t find it as an enjoyable read. We all agreed that it excellently raised issues relating to science and progress which are relevant to today’s society. An interesting read!