A scheme in North Yorkshire is helping people feel safe and protected against hate crime when they go out.

Safe Places is a scheme linking individuals to businesses in their community which offer a ‘safe place’ should they need it.

As part of the national Hate Crime Awareness Week, North Yorkshire County Council and the North Yorkshire Learning Disability Partnership Board is highlighting the importance of the initiative and the positive impact it can have.

It is available to people with learning disabilities or mental health difficulties. Businesses and organisations sign up to the scheme and become a registered Safe Place, displaying a sticker in their door or window so people can see it.

Individuals who feel they need it can sign up. They then carry a card or wristband with a number for a Safe Places call centre, meaning a friend or family member can then be contacted to come and give the support needed.

The initiative in North Yorkshire is a partnership between the County Council and North Yorkshire Police.

Mark Hamblin, Co-Chair of the North Yorkshire Learning Disability Partnership Board, has spoken out about the importance that these Safe Places have in North Yorkshire.

Mark is a self-advocate, which means he speaks up about issues that affect him and others with a learning disability to make a difference. He has a strong interest in Safe Places.

He said: “Safe Places is for anyone who needs extra support when they are out and about by themselves. For example, people with learning disabilities, autistic people or anyone with a mental health condition or dementia might use this scheme.

“Safe Places is important to me because I go all over the place and sometimes I go alone.

“I often get panic attacks and it is comforting to know that I can go into a Safe Place and staff will get in touch with someone who knows me.

“I also know that I can go to a Safe Place venue if I experience a hate crime.

“If someone is violent, tries to steal from me or calls me a horrible name because I have a learning disability, then I know I need to ring the police.

“I might feel scared or upset, so it is good to know I can walk into a Safe Place and someone will be there to help me.

“I joined the Safe Places scheme in 2013 and it is free to join. If you join the North Yorkshire Safe Places scheme you get a card which you can show to the staff working at the Safe Place.

“It has your emergency contact details on and it also has images on it.

“If you are having trouble speaking you can point to the images so that people know why you have come in.

“For instance, if I am lost but I can’t talk because I am having a panic attack, I can point to the picture of a lost person and get help from the staff.”

Mark has also written an open letter to businesses to raise awareness of what the Safe Places scheme does – plus tips for staff on how best to deal with people who come in and need assistance.

Odette Robson, Head of Safer Communities at North Yorkshire County Council, said: “This scheme is helping people in North Yorkshire feel safe and protected against hate crime when they go out.

“The North Yorkshire Learning Disability Partnership has been instrumental in developing this scheme. We hope through further multi-agency partnership working we can continue to promote Safe Places and ensure those that need support get it at the right time and right place.”