Waltham Forest Echo

Waltham Forest Echo

Councillor comment: Sebastian Salek, St James ward

The first of our new opinion column written by backbench councillors

Hero for Councillor comment: Sebastian Salek, St James ward
Labour councillor Sebastian Salek (courtesy of Sebastian Salek)
By Waltham Forest Echo 09 July 2022

I moved to Walthamstow during one of the more difficult periods in my life. Years of gruelling night shifts had taken their toll and my mental health had deteriorated sharply. For the first time ever, I was forced to find ways to manage these feelings of despair.I moved to Walthamstow during one of the more difficult periods in my life. Years of gruelling night shifts had taken their toll and my mental health had deteriorated sharply. For the first time ever, I was forced to find ways to manage these feelings of despair.

It quickly became clear that one of the best antidotes was visiting green spaces. Walthamstow Marshes became a sanctuary and I’d often spend my afternoons there. There’s something about the vast stretches of wildflower, geese commuting overhead and trains gliding rhythmically by that eases your worries and creates a profound sense of calm.It quickly became clear that one of the best antidotes was visiting green spaces. Walthamstow Marshes became a sanctuary and I’d often spend my afternoons there. There’s something about the vast stretches of wildflower, geese commuting overhead and trains gliding rhythmically by that eases your worries and creates a profound sense of calm.

As a St James councillor, I’m proud to be a custodian of this space, helping to protect it for future generations. The marshes are one of our proudest assets, drawing visitors from across the borough and beyond to walk, picnic or otherwise enjoy one of the best areas London has to offer. It was made even better by the opening of Walthamstow Wetlands, which the council brought into public use a few years ago.As a St James councillor, I’m proud to be a custodian of this space, helping to protect it for future generations. The marshes are one of our proudest assets, drawing visitors from across the borough and beyond to walk, picnic or otherwise enjoy one of the best areas London has to offer. It was made even better by the opening of Walthamstow Wetlands, which the council brought into public use a few years ago.

Many of us are lucky to enjoy this space without ever feeling unsafe but a number of recent events - including a violent bike mugging in Coppermill Lane and a string of sexual offences on Hackney Marshes - have left some people feeling understandably uneasy about visiting.Many of us are lucky to enjoy this space without ever feeling unsafe but a number of recent events - including a violent bike mugging in Coppermill Lane and a string of sexual offences on Hackney Marshes - have left some people feeling understandably uneasy about visiting.

When I join my ward colleagues, Catherine and Katy, for our regular listening sessions across St James, residents tell us how important it is to them that they feel safe in public, especially when it comes to sexual offences. The statistics speaks for themselves: a survey last year found 89% of local women had experienced street-based sexual harassment in Waltham Forest and 69% changed their day-to-day behaviour as a result.When I join my ward colleagues, Catherine and Katy, for our regular listening sessions across St James, residents tell us how important it is to them that they feel safe in public, especially when it comes to sexual offences. The statistics speaks for themselves: a survey last year found 89% of local women had experienced street-based sexual harassment in Waltham Forest and 69% changed their day-to-day behaviour as a result.

There are two things we can all do to help make sure everyone feels safe using Walthamstow Marshes and other green spaces this summer.There are two things we can all do to help make sure everyone feels safe using Walthamstow Marshes and other green spaces this summer.

The first is to report every incident, however minor. Government cuts mean our local police are often forced to choose where to focus their dwindling resources but every report helps them build a picture of patterns of offending, which they can use to prevent repeat incidents.The first is to report every incident, however minor. Government cuts mean our local police are often forced to choose where to focus their dwindling resources but every report helps them build a picture of patterns of offending, which they can use to prevent repeat incidents.

If the incident involves sexual harassment, it’s easier than ever to do so. You can use the Waltham Forest Safe Streets app (available on Android and in the App Store) to make a report and access specialist support. This app was one of the most popular suggestions from residents for improving street safety and I’m pleased it’s now a reality.If the incident involves sexual harassment, it’s easier than ever to do so. You can use the Waltham Forest Safe Streets app (available on Android and in the App Store) to make a report and access specialist support. This app was one of the most popular suggestions from residents for improving street safety and I’m pleased it’s now a reality.

The second way to help is to take part in the council’s bystander intervention training. By learning how to intervene safely, we can be empowered to stop incidents happening in the first place.The second way to help is to take part in the council’s bystander intervention training. By learning how to intervene safely, we can be empowered to stop incidents happening in the first place.

Together, let’s do what we can to make Walthamstow Marshes somewhere everyone can enjoy safely.Together, let’s do what we can to make Walthamstow Marshes somewhere everyone can enjoy safely.