Women in Reading do not feel safe on a night out

With almost 250 reports of violence and sexual offences made to Thames Valley Police in December 2023 alone, it is understandable that many have concerns about going out at night.

With more than 23,000 students, the University of Reading’s population is a huge driver for the town’s night time economy.

But not all students feel safe going out in the town centre.

Ish Aa Sujai, welfare officer of the university’s student union, said: “Students generally feel like the University’s venues are safe, but there is a growing concern about the places in town.

“One thing that I’m working on right now is a security review where I’m asking the students if they feel safe in the community.

“I wanted to get into this role because I want to be a voice for women and make them feel empowered.”

Ms Sujai said that many women do not feel safe at venues in Reading town centre due to a reported ‘surge’ in drink spiking since the pandemic.

She said: “There is still growing concern about drink spiking. I went out in town last year with my friend and her drink was spiked which was really scary.”

Ms Sujai relayed how she and her friend told staff at a venue that her drink tasted different and then asked to see CCTV footage.

“We had to argue with them for a long time and even got security involved. Someone had come and sat very close to her at the bar and left very quickly which we thought was a little strange.”

When the staff finally agreed to share the footage it was clear that the man had put his hand over the drink and had indeed attempted to spike Ms Sujai’s friend.

Ms Sujai recently arranged a Reclaim the Night march through Reading town centre back in November – a female-led protest against violence against women on nights out.  

When The Chronicle spoke to women on a night out in Reading we asked whether they felt safe or not in the town centre.

Transportation and getting home safely was a key concern. 

Lois Wilson, 23, from Ascot, said that the lack of Uber in the town makes her feel very unsafe.

“I don’t like jumping into black cabs outside purple turtle,” she said. “I like to be in taxis that can be tracked via an app with a named driver and star ratings.”

Issy Mclaughlin, 23, from Reading, said she felt the same.

She said “I don’t feel safe and ideally I would always want to be in a taxi with friends. But if I wanted to leave town alone I would feel unsafe going in the back of an unmarked black taxi.”

When asked how they would feel if an app were to be introduced with all the black cabs on it, they both said that this would make them feel safer.

“I would feel very positive about this,” Ms Wilson said. “It would make me much more likely to get into a black cab on my own.

Locals can track black cabs via the Free Now app, but not every taxi is aligned to this.

Although Uber is allowed to operate its Uber Eats food delivery service in the town, it is not allowed to provide rides to customers.

Uber tried and failed to get a license to operate in 2016 following a decision by Reading Borough Council’s licensing application sub-committee.

It is also understood that Uber has made no fresh attempts to obtain a license in Reading since being rejected in 2016.

A spokesperson for Reading Borough Council has said: “Uber applied for and were refused a Private Hire Operator Licence in 2016. The refusal was based on them not being able to fulfil all the conditions attached to a private hire operator licence issued by the Council. Primarily, Uber did not wish to have a staffed office in Reading to deal with customer bookings and complaints, and inspection and enforcement visits from council enforcement officers. Uber did not appeal the application refusal.

“Uber can re-apply for the grant of a private hire operator licence and all applications are considered on their own merit. 

“Reading currently has around 50 licenced private hire operators in the town with the majority now using some form of app-based booking service. Reading’s Hackney Carriage fleet also use apps for bookings, in addition to taxi ranks.

“We would also emphasise that Hackney Carriages in Reading have demanding safety levels and licence conditions to ensure the drivers are checked, safe to operate and display their licence information inside and outside the vehicles.”


Reading Chronicle | West Berkshire