Surrey Police safer canal towpath project wins Tilley Award

A project to improve the safety of women and girls along a stretch of canal has been has been named as the overall 2021/22 Tilley Award winner.

Oct 20, 2022
By Paul Jacques
Surrey PCC Lisa Townsend with officers on the canal towpath

The Surrey Police ‘Basingstoke canal sexual exposures’ initiative was described as “a brilliant example of problem solving in practice”.

The project, which centred around the town of Woking, followed a spate of assaults and incidents of indecent exposure to women and girls along the canal towpath.

It involved installing extra CCTV cameras and signage, and cutting back overgrown shrubbery and removing graffiti to improve a feeling of safety.

Volunteers from the local Canal Watch also patrolled the towpath to deter and report suspicious behaviour to the police.

The award was presented at this week’s National Problem Solving Conference.

National Police Chiefs’ Council problem solving lead and conference host, Chief Constable Lauren Poultney of South Yorkshire Police, said: “I would firstly like to congratulate Surrey on receiving this prestigious award.

“It is very well deserved and the project is a brilliant example of problem solving in practice.

“The Basingstoke canal sexual exposures project, like all of the submissions entered to this year’s awards, not only highlights how problem solving is taking place across police and partners but that the knowledge of the SARA (scanning, analysis, response, assessment) methodology underpinning this approach is developing and becoming more readily used to resolve identified issues.

“We also know that with greater understanding and use of this approach, comes better targeted responses that resolve the root cause of an issue and improve the services we are providing to our communities.

“Therefore seeing the number and quality of submissions entered to this year’s awards, it really highlights how problem solving is now becoming embedded into our ways of working and that the shift in our working practices is taking place.”

She added: “This has been a key focus of the work undertaken by the Problem Solving and Crime Prevention Programme over the past few years, and through the work I’m doing alongside the Problem Solving Guideline Committee, I’m confident we can continue building on this going forward.

“It was pleasure to view the projects of all the category winners and having the ability to celebrate and share examples of best practice through this conference is invaluable. I’m now looking forward to seeing how all of the projects progress over the next year, and I again I would like to thank everyone who entered a submission to this year’s awards.”

Surrey Police T/Assistant Chief Constable for local policing Alison Barlow said: “Winning this year’s overall Tilley Award for our project to make the Basingstoke Canal in Woking a safer place for all who use it – especially for women and girls – is a huge achievement.

“This is a reflection of the hard work and dedication of everyone involved, and shows the true power of local policing teams working in partnership with the community. We are also grateful for the support of the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) in this winning project.

“We are proud to be a problem-solving force with a determination to continue to build on what we have already achieved to make sure our communities are safe and feel safer.

“We are firm in the commitments we made to the Surrey public to spot problems early, act promptly, and avoid quick fixes that don’t last.”

The Surrey project was among five ‘category’ Tilley Award winners announced last month after coming out on top in the ‘Business Support and Volunteers’ section.

A second Surrey scheme, Operation Blink, which was set up to tackle catalytic converter thefts, was the winner in the ‘Neighbourhoods’ category. It resulted in 13 arrests being made and reports of catalytic converter thefts dropping by 71 per cent acrosss Surrey.

The other category winners were: Police Now and Student Officer – North Wales Police, Secure your PDQ; Investigations – West Yorkshire Police, Focused Forensic Marking to Deter and Detect Domestic Abuse; and Partners – South Yorkshire Police, Operation Grow.

The winners of all five categories presented their projects to a panel of judges and audience members at the National Problem Solving Conference, who scored each of the presentations against the SARA methodology.

Each of the judges scores were then combined with the audience members scores to determine an average overall score for each project and identify the final winner, with the Surrey project scoring the highest overall mark. It will now be put forward for an international award.


Surrey PCC Lisa Townsend secured £175,000 from the Home Office’s Safer Streets Fund for the project to improve security measures along the 13-mile canal path following a number of reports of indecent exposure in the area since 2019.

The grant was spent on a series of significant changes in the area. Overgrown trees and bushes were cleared, while new CCTV cameras covering the towpath were installed.

Graffiti was removed after some respondents to Surrey Police’s Call It Out Survey 2021 said they felt unsafe because certain spots looked run-down.

Officers from Woking’s neighbourhood policing team and volunteers from the local Canal Watch group, set up with funding from the PCC’s office, were also given electric bikes to patrol the path more effectively.

In addition, the force teamed up with Woking Football Club to promote Do The Right Thing, a campaign that challenges bystanders to call out misogynistic and harmful behaviour against women and girls.

Ms Townsend said: “I’m absolutely delighted that all the hard work put in by both our amazing local policing team and everyone involved in this project has been recognised with this fantastic award.

“It makes me incredibly proud to see the funding my office was able to secure make a real difference to the local community and ensure it is a much safer place, particularly for women and girls.

“I first visited the area and met the local team during my first week as commissioner, and I know the huge effort that has gone in to tackling these issues along the canal so I’m thrilled to see that paying dividends.

“One of the key priorities in my Police and Crime Plan is to work with Surrey communities so they feel safe. I am absolutely dedicated not only to hearing residents’ concerns, but acting on them.”

Deputy PCC Ellie Vesey-Thompson added: “It was fantastic to see the team take home the award for such a vital project.

“Schemes like this can make a huge difference to how safe people in our communities feel here in Surrey. It’s a huge achievement for the force, and a reflection of the hard work and dedication of all of those involved.”

The Problem Solving and Crime Prevention Programme is led by South Yorkshire Police on behalf of all forces nationally.

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