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Envisioning a safer Richmond—and beyond

By Hannah Scott

Published 3:53 PDT, Mon May 9, 2022

A group of young adults has set out to make Richmond a safer place through the creation of BOLT Safety Society.

Initially a high school student when she co-founded the society, chief executive officer Vedanshi Vala explains that BOLT is now a nationally-registered not-for-profit. Its aim is to end violence, harassment, and abuse by offering information and programs like Safe Buddies—volunteers who help people get safely to their destinations.

“So many women look over their shoulders, just afraid to walk down the street after school or after work, and it really shouldn’t be the case,” says Vala. “Everyone should be able to go about their lives with safety and dignity, and not fear for their safety—it’s a human right.”

The BOLT team made a presentation to Richmond’s community safety committee earlier this year, and councillors referred a motion that will see staff investigate potential partnership opportunities with BOLT. Vala, herself a Richmondite, says she’d like to see future partnerships with other cities across Canada.

“Ideally speaking, every single person in that city should have access to the resources they need to go about their days and feel safe while they’re doing that,” she says.

Motivated by a desire to see communities help keep people safe, the group used technology to deliver its message right from the start. 

“As young people, there are certain advantages that we had: we knew that our generation is always on our phones, and we like to have everything be pretty quick and accessible, (so) that gave us a lot of good perspective,” says Vala.

While BOLT team members aim to centralize resources and make them accessible, they recognize they are not experts, so have forged connections with professionals like doctors and social workers to provide useful and accurate information. BOLT’s website includes self-defence tips and information about victim-blaming, among other things.

BOLT gets a boost from a variety of grants including recent support from L’Oreal Paris. While the majority of the team is female, there are also members who do not identify as women.

“It shows that safety is not just a women’s issue, it’s something that everyone needs to work on together—it’s a human issue,” says Vala.

And while she’s happy to be part of an organization championing community safety, Vala says ideally one day BOLT won’t be necessary because people will have “fostered a culture of consent.” 

Anyone over 18 can apply to be a volunteer with BOLT. Safe Buddy volunteers must go through vulnerable sector criminal record checks, which can take up to two months.

“It’s just really about working with community members who are keen, eager, and passionate about stepping up to help,” says Vala. “I think it is possible, we’ve just got to give it time.”

Future goals include providing education programs in schools, supporting more women’s shelters, and serving more people through the Safe Buddies program.

“Safety doesn’t happen in isolation,” says Vala. “I think each person can play a role in being that safe person. Make sure your friends get home safely, look out for each other, (and) together we can build a safer Richmond.”

For more information on BOLT Safety Society, visit its website at boltsafety.org

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