Alternative Leeds red light zone report to focus on 'real experience' of residents

A coalition of community organisations has welcomed the publication of a review into the management of the red light zone in Leeds but is pressing on with its own report.

Saturday, 11th July 2020, 4:45 pm

Voice of Holbeck said the 10 or more groups, including churches, charities and primary schools, that contribute to its work need time to reflect on the recommendations made an independent review into the Managed Approach (MA) released this week.

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In the meantime, work is continuing on its own research which focuses specifically on the way MA has impacted upon the lives of local people since 2014.

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Voice of Holbeck is gathering its own evidence about the impact of the Managed Approach to street sex work in the area.

The Rev Rolf Mason, who chairs Voice of Holbeck, said: “We’re absolutely really glad that the review has been published. We want to take time to really digest it and we want to cultivate an ongoing relationship with Safer Leeds and other stakeholders, and relationships with Holbeck residents.

"There’s a clear call for evolution and change within the report with the community in the lead, we would say.”

Leeds City Council last year commissioned a team at the University of Huddersfield to investigate how effective the controversial MA scheme was, amid questions from some councillors about whether it should be abandoned.

Begun as a pilot by the Safer Leeds community partnership in 2014, it allows sex workers to operate on certain non-residential streets in Holbeck and within agreed hours without fear of arrest.

The aims from the outset have been to reduce the prevalence of street-based sex working, lessen the problems it creates for residents and local businesses, and better engage with the women involved to improve their safety and health.

On the question of its future, the review concluded: “The MA was found to be more effective at reducing the impact of problems associated with on-street sex working than any other approach or model.”

It went on to stress that the MA must continue to adapt when needed, with examples being the introduction of a dedicated policing team in 2018.

Recommendations include recommendation of a campaign to promote the positives of life in Holbeck and respect for all, and greater community involved in shaping the future of the scheme.

Mr Mason said that while the published review had drawn on some evidence given at Listening Well sessions organised by Voice of Holbeck, the two pieces of work were not to be confused.

The Listening Well campaign was instigated in 2018, with the support of Leeds Citizens, to gather the lived experience of residents when it comes to MA.

Mr Mason said it was about understanding the "real experience" of the people who live in Holbeck.

Those personal accounts will form the basis of a separate report on the MA that is being worked up by Dr Louise Warwick Booth, a sociologist from Leeds Beckett University.

Community workshops will follow its publication, giving local people the chance to identify the key themes and campaign issues that should be taken forward.

Mr Mason said: “It’s clear the independent review did not speak to as many as residents as we had hoped and we had asked – but we’ve got a good relationship with the council.”

He said the priority now was community-led change, adding: "We want to remove the need for anybody to work on the street selling sex but recognise there's a need for pragmatism."

Save our Eyes, one of the group's within the Voice of Holbeck coalition, has already spoken out and expressed anger at a number of the independent review's recommendations.

It also took issue with the decision for the community to be represented by a local councillor, rather than a Holbeck resident, in a media briefing ahead of the review's publication.

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